War vets return to Asia with students

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Geneva Ruri (centre) feels privileged to head to South East Asia with veterans Wayne Hutchinson (left) and Dick Shepherd (right). Photo/John Stone

By Mikaela Collins

Geneva Ruri says there is only so much the internet will tell you about New Zealand's military history.

This is why the 15-year-old is excited to head to southeast Asia in New Zealand with fellow students from Tikipunga High School Services Academy and war veterans; some who were the same age as the students when they joined the army.

"We hope to learn about things you read on Google, stories you can't find on the internet. We want to get all the stories before they're lost forever," Geneva said.

About 20 students from the academy, which provides military-focused programmes while also supporting students to achieve NCEA, are fundraising for the trip to Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia where they will visit sites of New Zealand military significance.

"Going to southeast Asia is very rare in itself but going with veterans who served there is even more special," she said.

Dick Shepherd, who was Sergeant Major of the 128-strong V6 company in Vietnam in 1970, the last infantry combat company to be in Vietnam, will be returning for the second time.

"The theme of the trip is to follow the footsteps of New Zealand soldiers who were in south east Asia for 40-odd year," Mr Shepherd said.

"For me I think it will be emotional. The emotion has sort of come up a little bit."

Mr Shepherd said the trip would reflect the deployment of New Zealand soldiers and where they served. He said the veterans would be there to answer their questions and tell them about the sites.

Wayne Hutchinson, who was the section commander in the same company as Mr Shepherd, will be returning for the first time.

"I'm only going back because of the students. I had no personal desire to go and visit these places just to see the sites. To me it's all about passing on the stories while we have the opportunity," he said.

Geneva, who won the Whangarei RSA Anzac Day speech contest, said students learned about Vietnam last year and would be learning about the sites prior to leaving in November.

Currently they are fundraising for the two-week trip and will be hosting a dinner on Saturday at the school. Students have also been weeding at Karanui, and carrying out pest control work and preparing the ground for kiwi release in the Pukenui Forest.

Visit givealittle.co.nz/cause/tikipungahighservicesacademy if you would like to donate.

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