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Vietnam veterans reunite to honour fallen comrades

Wednesday 24 April 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Local, National

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Vietnam veterans reunite  to honour fallen comrades
Veterans of the Victor 4 (V4) Company who served in Vietnam (May 1969 to May 1970) as part of the 6th Royal Australian Regiment and New Zealand ANZAC Battalion lay poppies on photographs of their fallen heroes. MELINA ETCHES/24042307

Cook Islanders and New Zealanders who served in the Vietnam War as part of the Victor 4 Company are holding a reunion in Rarotonga to remember their fallen comrades.

Cook Islanders have a long and proud history of service with the New Zealand Defence Force, and all its three services – the Navy, Army, and Air Force.

It began as far back as the First World War and continued through the Second World War, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam, Afghanistan, East Timor, and many other conflicts and overseas postings.

And they continue to serve around the world.

Veterans of the Victor 4 (V4) Company, who served in Vietnam from May 1969 to May 1970 as part of the 6th Royal Australian Regiment and New Zealand ANZAC Battalion, are enjoying a special reunion from in Rarotonga.

The group of 90 including their families held a special Memorial Service at the Cook Islands Returned Services Association (CIRSA) yesterday morning for their comrades who have passed away.

Five Cook Islanders were acknowledged for their service with Victor 4: PTE ‘Padre’ Tairea (42420), PTE ‘Charlie’ Tangiia (42432), PTE ‘Bill’ Framhein (721362), SGT ‘Theo’ Marama (539360), and Lance Corporal ‘Bill’ John Greening.

PTE ‘Bill’ Framhein made history as the only veteran who served in the V2, V3, V4, and V5 battalions – a special significance for the group.

Padre Tairea, a former taekwondo instructor in Rarotonga, died at the age of 75 and is buried at the Porirua RSA in Wellington.

His wife Teremoana Tairea flew in with the group from Aotearoa New Zealand over the weekend.

She attended the memorial with her daughter Cathy Ukarangi.

“It was really emotional for me and I’m happy to be here, I didn’t want to miss this since it was happening here at home,” said Teremoana.

“Flying in, the captain made a special announcement to welcome our V4 Company Reunion to Rarotonga, it was very special,” she added.

Geoff Dixon, a veteran, brought 10 family members to the reunion, including two children who travelled from Darwin, Australia.

“This is a gathering of ourselves and now our younger generation,” said Dixon.

“It used to be just the dads, and the wives and kids would stay home, but now it’s family including our young generation.”

One of the veterans has brought along four generations of his family.

Last year Denise Doherty, the daughter of local businessman Bill Doherty who served in V4, put in a bid to host the reunion in Rarotonga.

“The guys are getting older and getting together, they keep in touch and reminisce,” Denise said.

“For me, it’s about these guys getting together and letting them know that we do remember you, we do appreciate you, we are your whanau.”

The memorial service to remember their fallen was conducted by David Page, and the welcome address by Denise Doherty.

For the laying of the wreaths, the V4 wreath was laid by Bill Doherty and Dina Matapo, and the Cook Islands RSA wreath by Denis Dwane and Gail Eraio.

New Zealand’s involvement in two World Wars saw some Kiwi soldiers hailed as heroes.

However, the Vietnam War made many Kiwi veterans feel their service wasn’t valued.  Over 3000 Kiwis served in Vietnam during the 60s and 70s, in a war that was highly controversial and attracted protest.

Denise said when these soldiers returned home from the war “they were not recognised, and disrespected”.

It wasn’t until 2008 that the servicemen and servicewomen who served in Vietnam received a formal apology during a “welcome home” ceremony from the New Zealand government.

In 2011, the V4 Company released a book titled “A Soldier’s View of the Vietnam War”.