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Veterans pay tribute to fallen mates in New Caledonia

Published: 7:11PM Friday April 26, 2013 Source: ONE News

Eighty-four World War II Pacific veterans have held a special service in New Caledonia for their mates who died 70 years ago.

Twenty-five thousand New Zealanders served in the Pacific during the war, and 900 lost their lives.

A Maori welcome greeted the veterans at the New Zealand cemetery in Bourail.

For 92-year-old John Jones, it was a personal pilgramage. As the only surviving Pacific Coastwatcher, he laid a wreath for his friends - 17 men brutally beheaded in Kiribati, whose bodies were never found.

"Sorry I can't talk very much. But I do want you to know how much I appreciate coming here," an emotional Jones told ONE News Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver.

The Coastwatchers, along with others whose remains were never found, are recognised along a wall appropriately placed beside the Cross of Sacrifice.

Everyone at the service had a story to tell - memories that have survived seven decades.

"Some other fellows on the bigger ships, the LSTs, never got ashore. Some of them were killed and they never fired a shot," Rear Admiral Jack Steer, Navy Chief told the service.

Consul-General Linda te Puni said that both HMNZS Archilles and HMNZS Leander sustained damages and casualties in clashes with the enemy.

Des Price was on board the Leander during that attack.

"I went into a little compartment inside the ship and had to shut myself in there, hearing the noise that was going on with the Japanese firing at us still," he said.

Those who survived paid tribute to those who did not.

"It's amazing to see them here, very nice," said Murray Rowe, another Pacific veteran, visiting a row of headstones of the victims in the cemetery.

While it had been tough and emotional turning back the years and remembering those who have gone, the veterans said they wouldn't have it any other way.