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  Parade '98
Vietnam Remembered
     
     
    Parade '98 was held on Queen's Birthday weekend in June 1998 in Wellington. It was the first ever parade for returned Vietnam veterans. It was not an official "Welcome Home" parade but was organised by a small group of veterans, with some financial assistance from local and central government.

What follows are some impressions recorded immediately after the weekend.

     
    Impressions of Parade 98: Vietnam Remembered
Memories of Victor Company, Vietnam 1967.

by Ross Himona, from a letter to a friend, June 1998.

Magic, in a spiritual sense. Sadness and joy, the two sides of the same coin. Started with a get-together on Friday night, renewing old acquaintances. The best bit for me was me and John "Scoff" Cootes (my old platoon sergeant in Borneo and Vietnam) meeting again with the boys from our platoon. They were pleased to see us too, I think.

Saturday morning started with a very moving ritual done by John Tahuparae, my friend and a respected tohunga (priest). It was a powhiri (ritual welcome) done on the waterfront, the water being an essential part of the ritual. It included the ancient rituals of bringing home the dead, stripping Tumatauenga (War God) from us all (30 years late), and rendering us noa (free of tapu). The rituals he had devised for us were laden with spiritual and psychological symbolism, and even though nearly all the people there didn't fully understand what was going on the rituals worked their magic anyway. The tears and the mamae (hurt) flowed out , and for many the past was finally put to rest.

It was perhaps the start of a long overdue healing.

Morvin Simon had composed a waiata (song) especially for the occasion, sung by the whole of the tohunga's group, and it was absolutely beautiful and stunningly emotional and evocative, even for those who didn't understand the words. As if the beautifully soaring voices were lifting our souls, and those of our dead. The interesting bit was the women wielding the taiaha (long club), stripping off the tapu. Only water, cooked food or women could lift the tapu, and render us noa, and in this case it was appropriate for the women to lead that haka (dance). Rarely seen.

Immediately after was the parade. Again an emotion charged event, particularly the fly-past by three Huey choppers near the end of the march - the unmistakable heart-stopping sound of Vietnam.

Our dead marched with us at the front of the parade, each represented by a NZ Flag carried by a family member. People lined the route through Wellington from the waterfront to Parliament, and clapped and cheered us. Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and the Australian Deputy Prime Minister (a vet himself) were both on the reviewing dais, and they mixed with us at Parliament after the parade. A much appreciated gesture.

I was introduced to the PM. She was wearing a long red coat, as she was going on to the Super 12 rugby final to support Canterbury. I told her she looked like a fire engine.

On Sunday morning we had an equally emotional field service conducted by all our old Vietnam chaplains, including Te Whakahuihui Vercoe, now Bishop of Aotearoa. The Hueys flew past again. The flags representing the dead were there. The dead were farewelled in military fashion with the laying of poppies and wreaths and with the bugle; military rituals just as symbolic and emotional and evocative as the Maori rituals. The two sides to the ritual, beginning on Saturday morning in the Maori tradition, and ending on Sunday morning in the Military tradition, were for me, beautifully complementary. And spiritually powerful and uplifting.

So were the dead honoured and farewelled, and the living blessed and remembered.

As for the living I hope that they will feel loved and honoured for the rest of their lives, still part of a first class outfit, and a comradeship that will endure as long as we live, although most of us will never physically meet again.

Spent hours in the boozer gassing with our guys, telling lies. That's a hell of a lot of orange juice. There was a re-bonding, and a re-discovery of the wealth within those bonds. Heaps of the guys turned up un-registered and un-expected. Colin Saunders died recently, his widow was there. Ces Fisk's widow spent time with us on Friday night . A lovely person who honours him all the days of her life, even though she's re-married (he was our platoon headquarteres machine gunner. KIA on his second tour to Vietnam.).

A real delight for Scoff and me was our terrible trio, the forward scouts that we relied on to keep us safe and well - George Aramoana, Bill Harris and Davey Charteris. It was as if those three guys had never been apart. Glunk Paipa (now running his own mortgage broking business), JD Hunt (Tasmania) and John Cunningham (Wanganui) were more of our platoon lot. My two sigs Eric Hunter & Albie Armstrong. My batman Aussie Ellis, still the same. And Bill Cornes, unchanged, still a country farmer and richer than most of the rest of us put together. Dick Easton doing well as an orchardist. Mac McKenzie & I had a good laugh over my effort to sell him to the Dayaks in Borneo in '66, for breeding purposes.

The core group of V Coy former officers and NCOs in the boozer was Red Beatson, Scoff Cootes, Fred Daniel, Shady Neal, Rata Rewiri (working for Dept of Conservation), Garry Haughey, Rob Leathley, and a handful of the boys including the assault pioneers and mortars. We did hours on duty being there in the V Coy watering hole chatting with the guys as they came and went.

Cabaret on Saturday was good. Crowded out. Maori Volcanics, Roger Fox, John Rowles, Anne Pacey, Midge Marsden, Supremes.

Back to the pub on Sunday after the Church Parade. For a born again teetotaller I did me enough pub time to last the next thirty years.

     
    Victor Company on parade at Parade 98
     
    ** A big acknowledgement to Fred Daniel for all the work he did helping the Parade 98 organisers to get many of us from the Originals to the parade. Fred's record keeping for Parade 98 has helped to get this website going. Thanks Fred **

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