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Old mates Jim Weston and Pete Frost, who served in the Vietnam War, had recently flown over from their homes near Newcastle, New South Wales, to attend their first New Zealand Anzac Day service. They were accompanied by their wives Aurian Weston and Mary Frost.
Mrs Weston said the day was an important occasion for both families, and they had wanted to ‘‘spend Anzac Day with some New Zealanders’’ for a long time.
‘‘The boys have gone to so much effort and it means so much to them.
‘‘We’re very proud of our men.’’
Mr Weston served with the Australian Army’s 1 Field Squadron as a sapper, one of the legendary ‘‘tunnel rats’’ responsible for search-and-destroy missions in the Viet Cong’s labyrinthine underground complexes.
‘‘Every time the infantry went out, two of us went with them.’’
The 67-year-old said he served alongside Victor Company and Whisky Company, two New Zealand Army rifle companies integrated into the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF), joining an Anzac battalion based at Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy province, South Vietnam.
‘‘I spent quite a bit of time with the Kiwis.’’
1ATF was deployed to Vietnam between 1966 and 1972. The first New Zealand combat unit deployed to Vietnam, 161 battery of the Royal New Zealand Artillery, was originally attached to the United States Army when it arrived in July 1965, before coming under 1ATF command the following year.
The New Zealand Special Air Service (SAS) also had a squadron based at Nui Dat.
Thirty-seven New Zealanders on active service lost their lives in Vietnam and 187 were wounded, while two civilians serving with the Red Cross and surgical teams also died.
Australia had a much larger contribution to the Vietnam War than New Zealand. About 60,000 Australians served in total between 1962 and 1972, and 521 were killed. More than 3000 were wounded.
Mr Weston was honoured to be part of the Dunedin service, describing it as ‘‘absolutely fantastic,’’ if a bit colder than its Australian counterparts.
‘‘We were told by some people that Anzac Day wasn’t such a big thing in New Zealand, but this is just outstanding.’’
He had not known Mr Frost in Vietnam. They met by chance when they became neighbours 15 years after he returned from the war, in 1971.
Mr Frost (68) said it had not taken long for the pair to come across ‘‘about half a dozen’’ Kiwi veterans of the Vietnam War yesterday.
‘‘When we formed up for the march, a couple of guys came up and introduced themselves and looked at our medals and saw they were from Vietnam immediately.’’