Local Vietnam veterans about Maori, Pakeha brotherhood

EDITORIAL

A reception at Parliament tomorrow night will mark the 50th anniversary of New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War, a conflict that still casts a long shadow over this country — including servicemen and their families in this district.

Coming at the height of the Cold War, New Zealand was drawn into the conflict as a member of SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organisation). It completely divided the country in a way that has arguably only been surpassed by the 1981 Springbok tour.

The treatment of returning veterans remains a national disgrace. They were landed at Whenuapai at night, told to change into civilian clothes and go home. That disgrace was not even partly lifted until 2008, when Prime Minister Helen Clark, an opponent of the war, made an apology on behalf of the country.

Official figures show 3500 New Zealanders served in Vietnam, with the contingent peaking in 1968 at 543. There were 37 killed and 187 wounded. Those killed include four from this district — from Te Araroa, Ruatoria, Whangara and Te Karaka.

The war has cast a longer shadow for participants, with many veterans and in some cases their children and grandchildren suffering illnesses they believe arose from exposure to Agent Orange, the highly toxic vegetation defoliant used by the Americans.

The Tairawhiti Vietnam Veterans and Whanau Association has a case before the High Court seeking more support from the government. Photos of their four dead comrades were carried into court in 2014 and 2016.

One man who knows this background chapter and verse is our regular correspondent Wally Te Ua. He tells us that about 250 veterans from this district served in Vietnam. They are hoping to get the result of their court case in the next two or three weeks, and are waiting for that rather than taking part in tomorrow’s function.

One really important message from Wally is that the Tairawhiti Vietnam veterans are about brotherhood, Pakeha and Maori fighting and dying together. If that spirit spreads, Vietnam would finally leave a valuable legacy.

A reception at Parliament tomorrow night will mark the 50th anniversary of New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War, a conflict that still casts a long shadow over this country — including servicemen and their families in this district.

Coming at the height of the Cold War, New Zealand was drawn into the conflict as a member of SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organisation). It completely divided the country in a way that has arguably only been surpassed by the 1981 Springbok tour.

The treatment of returning veterans remains a national disgrace. They were landed at Whenuapai at night, told to change into civilian clothes and go home. That disgrace was not even partly lifted until 2008, when Prime Minister Helen Clark, an opponent of the war, made an apology on behalf of the country.

Official figures show 3500 New Zealanders served in Vietnam, with the contingent peaking in 1968 at 543. There were 37 killed and 187 wounded. Those killed include four from this district — from Te Araroa, Ruatoria, Whangara and Te Karaka.

The war has cast a longer shadow for participants, with many veterans and in some cases their children and grandchildren suffering illnesses they believe arose from exposure to Agent Orange, the highly toxic vegetation defoliant used by the Americans.

The Tairawhiti Vietnam Veterans and Whanau Association has a case before the High Court seeking more support from the government. Photos of their four dead comrades were carried into court in 2014 and 2016.

One man who knows this background chapter and verse is our regular correspondent Wally Te Ua. He tells us that about 250 veterans from this district served in Vietnam. They are hoping to get the result of their court case in the next two or three weeks, and are waiting for that rather than taking part in tomorrow’s function.

One really important message from Wally is that the Tairawhiti Vietnam veterans are about brotherhood, Pakeha and Maori fighting and dying together. If that spirit spreads, Vietnam would finally leave a valuable legacy.

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