Forty years after serving with the New Zealand Red Cross in
Vietnam, Dunedin woman Leonie Clent (72) is thrilled to be
presented with the New Zealand Operational Service Medal
and New Zealand General Service Medal 1992 (Vietnam) at the
Dunedin Club this week. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Love and loss in war-torn Vietnam reads like a novel
But the scenario is a real and unforgettable chapter in
Leonie Clent's life.
The 72-year-old Dunedin resident was this week presented with
the New Zealand Operational Service Medal and New Zealand
General Service Medal 1992 (Vietnam) for her service as a New
Zealand Red Cross nurse in Vietnam between September 1974 and
Mrs Clent (nee Bowden) accepted the medals on behalf of her
Red Cross team-mates, including her former partner and team
leader, Mac Riding.
He was on an Air Vietnam DC4 which was shot down while flying
from Cambodia to Vietnam in 1975 and died along with everyone
else on the plane.
Soon afterwards, a distraught Mrs Clent and her two other
team-mates, Joe Pemberton and Mary Garner, were evacuated by
United States military personnel. Vietnam had become too
dangerous for the Red Cross workers and they returned home.
Although Mrs Clent had lost her love, she had no choice but
to ''get on with life'' and within a few years she had
''Back then, there was no such thing as post-traumatic stress
disorder,'' she said.
Her husband, John Clent, said he was proud to see her receive
the medals, having initiated their presentation.
''I knew some of the Red Cross personnel had been recognised,
so I wrote to the Minister of Defence. She's a very special
lady,'' he said.
About 30 people attended this week's medal ceremony at the
Dunedin Club, including Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull and his
deputy, Chris Staines, as well as representatives of the New
Zealand Defence Force, Red Cross and the Returned and
Services Association (RSA).
Mrs Clent was part of the 6th welfare team posted to Pleiku
in central Vietnam, where she worked to rehabilitate the
Montagnard (also known as Degar) indigenous highlands
''We were going out to the villages, nursing and teaching
them, and trying to get wells and other things established.
''The tribespeople were being moved out of the highlands as
the North Vietnamese moved to take over the South. In the
end, the whole thing collapsed,'' she said.
Mrs Clent had been nursing alcohol and drug-dependent people
in Auckland when she answered a public notice for Red Cross
workers, but upon her return to New Zealand she settled in
her home city of Christchurch, where she was close to Mr
''We were all devastated he had died, and they became
In 1983, Mr and Mrs Clent moved to Dunedin, where she spent
nine years leading the school of nursing after it had been
transferred from the hospital to the polytechnic.
The couple returned to Christchurch, but again shifted south
after the earthquakes.
Mrs Clent said her medals were recognition for the whole Red
''This is really wonderful. I accept for the team, the others
who are not here. You don't ever forget.''
Vietnam team-mate Mr Pemberton died within a few years of
returning to New Zealand and Mrs Garner was still alive, and
although she could not attend the ceremony, she sent a letter