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Sailor brought back from American Samoa

Thursday 3 May 2018 | Published in Regional

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AMERICAN SAMOA – Maori elders have performed a traditional service at a graveside ceremony in American Samoa before the repatriation of the remains of a New Zealand sailor.

Royal New Zealand Navy engineer Russell Moore is the third member of New Zealand’s defence force to be disinterred as part of a project to return those buried overseas back home.

Moore was killed in 1956 when heavy equipment crushed him as he was working on the dock in Pago Pago.

He was 19 and had sailed to American Samoa on the survey vessel HMNZS Lachlan.

“We’re saying karakia at the grave site for Russell Moore before we disinter him – but we’re talking to all of the cemetery and we’re talking to the country as well saying thank you very much for looking after our sailor and we’re now ready to take him home,” NZDF Group Captain Carl Nixon said.

Capt Nixon is the leader of Te Auraki, the New Zealand Defence Force’s repatriation project, charged with bringing back service personnel and dependants buried abroad since 1955.

Last weekend in Fiji, Royal New Zealand Air Force Flight Lieutenant George Beban and Fireman Leading Aircraftman Ralph Scott were disinterred in a similar ceremony.

In Pago Pago, representatives from the US Army Reserve attended the blessing alongside Maori elders.

“We always travel with our kaumatua and kuia and they are the elders that are clearing the way for us and keeping us safe,” Capt Nixon said.

A team of bio-archaeologists, forensic anthropologists and NZDF odontologists, or dentists, from New Zealand was involved with the disinterment with the help of local workers.

“We will take the remains back to a private facility where they will be identified and just confirm that he is sailor Moore before we prepare his remains into a casket that’s come from New Zealand.”

Capt Nixon said Royal New Zealand Navy sailors would stand guard over the sailor.

“Once sailor Moore has been placed into the casket, they will conduct a 24/7 continuous vigil on that casket.”

Russell Moore is one of 37 servicemen and dependants that are expected to be repatriated from six countries this year.

His remains will be returned to New Zealand on Sunday morning. -RNZI