Tribute 08 Wrap Up
4th June, 2008
Tribute 08 Wrap
Vietnam veterans marched to Parliament in a long-awaited homecoming ceremony on Saturday morning over Queen's Birthday weekend.
More than 30 years after the war’s end, veterans and their families gathered at Civic Square, and then marched in their old unit groups to a welcome many felt had been denied them when they first returned.
At Parliament they were welcomed by Prime Minister Helen Clark with a whakanoa, or ritual cleansing ceremony.
Thousands of onlookers clapped and cheered as the 3000 veterans and their families, many wearing medals and a red ANZAC poppy on their chest, paraded along Lambton Quay.
Wellington district police communications officer Kaye Calder said a small group of about eight peace protesters opposed the march, but they were silent and well-behaved.
Ms Clark made a formal apology for the government’s failure to recognise Vietnam veterans’ loyal service in the name of New Zealand and their suffering in a toxic environment.
She said the whakanoa’s traditional purpose was to lift the tapu acquired by warriors who had gone to war.
This never occurred when the soldiers returned from Vietnam and the ceremony was to put that right.
Opposition Leader John Key acknowledged the service of all veterans living and dead.
He especially stressed the importance of remembering soldiers who did not return from Vietnam.
Tribute08 chairman Chris Mullane accepted the government’s apology on behalf of all veterans and said they believed it to be sincere and underpinned by action.
He compared the difference between Saturday’s welcome and that which occurred when veterans first returned home.
“We came here [after the war], but the doors were shut.
“Today the doors are wide open.”
Veterans and family members at the event said that things had now changed for the better.
Rodney Edwards, who went to Vietnam in 1965 with the 161 Battery, said that when he returned home it felt like it was not my land anymore.
He said he felt differently now.
“I emotionally feel at peace now.
“This is my country and I went [to war] for it.”
Vietnam veteran John 'Scoff' Cootes’ daughter, “JJ” said previously her father didn't like to talk about the war, but now the stories were slowly starting to emerge.
“We are going through the emotions together.”