Sixty years since graduating at the Royal Military College in Duntroon, the memory of 'the boy from Parkes' Captain Anatoly 'Tony' Danilenko lives on through his army mates and his former high school.
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One close friend in particular, Major Robert Freebairn (ret) who graduated with Tony or Dani as he calls him on December 11, 1963, has made sure he is remembered in his home town.
Captain Danilenko was killed in action during the Vietnam War on April 25, 1968.
As the diamond jubilee of the class of '63 nears, Major Freebairn wanted to do something special for his mate.
"Sixty years ago he graduated too," he said.
So he called Parkes High School principal Sandra Carter and asked if he could present the school's Tony Danilenko Memorial Prize - an award he instigated - at this year's Year 12 graduation night.
"I was thinking about Dani in 2008 and I told our other class mates that year that I was going to Parkes (on Anzac Day), and asked if they wanted to join me," Major Freebairn said.
"I wanted to see he was remembered in his own home town.
"And the boys all came. Without my intention [it started something] and that was it for life.
"People came who hadn't come to the reunion. I always credit Dani with that, he brought them here."
It was the 40th anniversary of Captain Danilenko's death and Major Freebairn arranged for a special frame to be made and presented in his honour, which includes his medals, military patches, service pins and the signature of his class mates. It hangs on the wall next to the military section at the Parkes Services Club.
With the leftover funds from the frame Major Freebairn decided to also instigate the high school memorial prize in Captain Danilenko's honour and on behalf of the class of '63, for the most outstanding contribution to the community by a Year 12 student.
"I didn't want to focus on academic and sporting achievements," he said.
"This is Dani, this is how he operated, he was very community minded.
"It's been presented at the school ever since."
Major Freebairn has presented the award half a dozen times in the past, and on Friday morning he made the trek to Parkes again from Scotts Head on the Mid North Coast with wife Louise, who is also the president of the Partners of Veterans Association of Australia NSW branch.
That night at the Parkes Leagues Club, Year 12 graduate Breeanna Lowe was announced the 2023 Tony Danilenko Memorial Prize winner. Breeanna is the daughter of Reagan and Andrew Lowe.
Major Freebairn also presented the ADF (Australian Defence Force) awards on the night.
He and his wife stayed on in Parkes for Remembrance Day on Saturday, laying wreaths at the community service at the cenotaph in Cooke Park - one for Dani. And they laid a wreath at his war grave too.
Major Freebairn has visited Parkes many times to see Dani at the Parkes Cemetery, on Anzac Days and other occasions. In 1999 it was on the 100th anniversary of the Boer War and he stopped by with his horse.
Tony Danilenko was born of Russian parents who migrated to Australia after World War II. He went to Parkes High School and entered the Royal Military College at Duntroon in 1960. He graduated into the Infantry in December 1963.
After service with the 1st Battalion RAR as a Platoon Commander he volunteered for the Special Air Service Regiment where, in 1966, he served as a Troop Commander with 2nd Squadron during confrontation in Borneo.
He was transferred at his own request to the Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam in February 1968, working with the Montagnard Tribe School. He was appointed to the 5th Special Forces Group as a Company Adviser with a Mobile Strike Force Company.
In April 1968 Captain Danilenko's company and two others were deployed to an area of operations north of Dak Pek to locate North Vietnamese Army units.
They came under heavy fire and Captain Danilenko was killed during the ensuing battle on April 25.
He showed outstanding devotion to his duty as an adviser and complete professional dedication. For his conduct during battle, he was 'mentioned in dispatches' (mid), where his name appeared in an official report written by a superior officer and sent to the high command, in which their gallant or meritorious action in the face of the enemy is described.
Major Freebairn served with the 3rd Battalion RAR in the Malaya Peninsula in 1964 as a lieutenant, in Borneo in '65, and in Vietnam with the US Special Forces in '65 before joining 7RAR as a captain in '67 and '68.
He saw Captain Danilenko just a few weeks before he was killed.
Major Freebairn was in the army for 20 years before retiring.
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