'Biggest insult' - Vietnam veterans angry after repatriation ceremony snub

Vietnam war veterans say old wounds, over the way they were treated on their return to New Zealand, have reopened after they were denied access to a recent repatriation ceremony to honour the return of 27 soldiers who died while serving in South East Asia.

The veterans are bitter and angry that they were not allowed to be part of a recent ceremony or at least get close.

They said the feeling of rejection they felt on their return from Vietnam, when both the Government and the public ignored them is still raw and the repatriation ceremony snub keeps that feeling alive.

Official recognition did not happen until 2008 when a welcome home parade was held and an apology given to the veterans from then Prime Minister Helen Clark.

The repatriation ceremony took place at Auckland Airport last month.

The ceremony was held at Air New Zealand's engineering base at Auckland Airport and was restricted to 12 family members of each of the returned men, plus dignitaries, media and some serving military personnel.

Source: rnz.co.nz

Veterans were only able to view the ceremony from some distance behind a wire fence on the side of the road and often in pouring rain.

Vietnam Veterans' Association president Andy Peters said they did ask to be allowed to take part but this was declined.

"I was told no, there was policy laid down, and that was it."

Mr Peters said the veterans would have liked some recognition.

"They would have liked to have been in there and visibility was quite limited by the distance and other things obstructing them, yeah, we would all have liked to have been in there as part of what you might call the guard of honour from the plane to the hanger. There is disappointment."

Rose Matthews travelled from Hokitika to Auckland with her Vietnam veteran husband, Rex for the ceremony.

She said while it was great to see the fallen finally be returned home, it was sad that the veterans were kept behind a wire fence.

"They were not included in being able to honour their comrades, their fallen through the front door, they had to do it out the back behind the wire. That was absolutely appalling and I doubt that they will fully recover from what has happened."

Mrs Matthews said the veterans should have been able to play a part in the ceremony and they have been badly let down again.

"My husband kept on repeating, this is the biggest insult to us ever and he is the quietest man and I cried at times myself, like many others seeing these men in pain."

Mrs Matthews said she does not accept there was no room for veterans.

"There was like a paddock and a massive amount of concrete. The veterans would not have intruded on the family space."

She said the veterans only wanted to pay their respects in a dignified manner.

Another veteran, 81-year-old Richard Shepherd from Whangārei, who served in both Malaya and Vietnam, said he felt hurt that veterans could not play some part or at least be able to be closer to pay their respects as a group to fallen comrades.

"After all we had seen some of those guys die and that was the last time we saw them," he said.

"It would have been nice to have been able to be closer to them as they came off the plane and to pay our respects that way."

Mr Shepherd said they were able to acknowledge their mates as the fleet of hearses drove out of the airport but it was not the same.

He said the treatment of the veterans did bring back memories.

"A flash-back I guess of returning back to New Zealand and the treatment at that stage was raw and we are still there and all of that put together actually made the treatment and the hurt worse I think."

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) said in a written statement to RNZ that some veterans did approach them wishing to attend the ramp ceremony. It said they were advised the ramp ceremony was private for families of those being returned. It said the format of ramp ceremonies did not include non-serving veterans.

The statement said the arrival home was the one families never got for their repatriated relative, whereas colleagues were often able to farewell them at the time and attend military funerals.

The NZDF said representatives from veterans' associations were invited to the Auckland ceremony.

Project Te Auraki (The Return) organisers advised veterans of a suitable area for non-family veterans to gather to farewell the repatriated personnel as the hearses departed the airport.

The Vietnam war veterans were only able to view the ceremony from some distance behind a wire fence.
The Vietnam war veterans were only able to view the ceremony from some distance behind a wire fence. Source: rnz.co.nz

'Angel' takes disabled friend on 'wacky' world adventures and is rewarded with $10,000

A young woman who has taken a teenager with cerebral palsy on adventures around the world, donated a kidney to an old school friend and helped many others has been rewarded with $10,000 for more adventures and to look after herself for a change.

Leah Stewart, who's 23, is the winner of this week's ASB Good as Gold award on TVNZ1's Seven Sharp.

Donating an organ and helping others were on a bucket list Leah wrote when she was just 16, and she's doing a pretty good job of ticking them off. 

Nineteen-year-old Alicia Kapa - Leah's best friend - and Mum Joanna Kapa have really appreciated Leah's help.

Joanna explained that Alicia wasn't breathing when she was born and has cerebral palsy as a result of that lack of oxygen. 

"She loves adventure and her and her best mate Leah have travelled around the world and done all sports of crazy, crazy things," Joanna said.

These have included a cruise in the Bahamas, adventures in New York and bungy jumping.

Joanna said it means a huge amount to her that Alicia is "getting out and doing stuff that everybody at her age should be able to do, that she's safe, she hasn't got her mother hanging around with her, which is a big thing".

Alicia agreed with that last point.

She's everything that you would think when you think of an angel - Joanna Kapa

Joanna said Leah is "everything that you would think when you think of an angel".

While Alicia declared: "Leah is an amazing friend to me."

Leah and Alicia's adventures have been documented in videos on their own YouTube channel called 'Wheely Wacky Adventures".

Reporter Sam Wallace surprised Leah in suburban Auckland telling her ASB want to give her $5000 for some more Wheely Wacky Adventures, and $5000 "for you to look after yourself because you never do it".

"That sounds amazing," said a stunned Leah as she hugged Alicia in her wheelchair out on the street, surrounded by friends.

Leah admitted she has helped "a few" people and said just over a year ago she donated her left kidney to a friend from high school and "thinks" she saved her life.

The win will help with a trip she and Alicia booked themselves next week because they were missing each other. 

"And the whole thing went on my credit card because I had no money in the bank. And I knew I had some big student loans coming up. I was planning on calling the IRD on Monday and sorting out one of them," Leah said.

This giving friend can relax a little now - until the next wacky adventure.

Leah Stewart wrote her list when she was 16 and she's doing a pretty good job of ticking them off. Source: Seven Sharp



Auckland boy who lost his dad to cancer thriving through programme helping young rugby players

A programme in West Auckland is coaching rugby coaches to help young players develop life skills to deal with big challenges.

Jonesy's Youth Foundation was set up by Michael Jones - who shares his name with the legendary former All Black.

"The idea came to me through Massey Rugby Club. There was a boy who's mum got killed about 14 years ago, and for some reason it stuck with me all that time, 'what did the rugby club do to help him after the situation?'" Jones told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp. 

Through the foundation, men run courses for coaches of junior rugby players.

"What the courses will do is it'll teach the coach to be able to integrate rugby skills with character development and life skill development," Mr Jones said."

It's about developing the young players "as people first," he said.

Ben Allen - or 'Pies' as he's known coaches schoolboy rugby player Connor O'Donnell. Connor's Dad, Shaun, died four years ago from cancer.

Mr Allen said he teaches Connor, "things like communication and talking to his teammates and encouraging each other which are all important traits that you need in life".

"I'll never replace Shaun. He was an amazing Dad and and an amazing guy."

He's really good and he's helped me with confidence and things like that. - Junior rugby player Connor O'Donnell

Connor reckons 'Pies' is an amazing coach.

"He's really good and he's helped me with confidence and things like that."

Connor's Mum, Helen O'Donnell, said she promised his Dad before he died that she'd keep his love and passion for rugby going, but struggled with how she'd do that. She said Shaun would be "absolutely over the moon" that she's been able to keep that promise.  

The foundation has had some high-profile helping hands like former All Black Josh Kronfeld. 

Kronfeld said the coaches help the players with, "how to deal with pressure, how to deal with the bad moments, and loss, all those things".

Jonesy - who's also a Dad - says the foundation is there for for the long haul.

"We're here forever. We want to see him develop and grow [into] that 18 and 20-year-old when he gets a job."

Jonesy's Youth Foundation is having a Gala Dinner this Saturday. If you want tickets, the details are on Seven Sharp's Facebook page.

Jonesy's Youth Foundation is there for Connor O'Donnell, and others, in their time of need. Source: Seven Sharp


'My god she can run' - woman at centre of hilarious Kawakawa dog escape video says Lily is enjoying her 15 minutes of fame

A Bay of Islands woman told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp she is "never going to live this down" after footage of her rescue dog Lily dragging a bakery's flag down the main street of Kawakawa went viral around the globe.

CCTV footage of the freedom-seeking furball's runner — accompanied by Yakety Sax, the song made famous by the Benny Hill Show — has been viewed more than 500,000 times since it was posted to Facebook last night.

Lucie Green, a volunteer with Bay of Islands Animal Rescue, was taking the basset hound for a walk last week when she decided to stop at a local business to buy Lily a treat.

But the Basset Hound received a fright and bolted despite being tied to a large Coca-Cola flag forcing Lucie to give chase.

"For an animal with just little legs, my god she can run," Lucie told Seven Sharp.

Lily, Lucie and the rogue flag brought Kawakawa's State Highway 1 strip to a standstill, the whole escapade captured on CCTV.

"My partner owns a local CCTV company I got to the office and I told him what had happened.

"He didn't tell me he'd done it, but he edited footage and put the music on and uploaded it to Facebook and tagged me in it.

"I knew it was trouble when basically by the time we'd gone to bed last night it had hit 100,000 views," Lucie said.

Thousands of people have since commented on the video, with many of them admiring the dog’s spirit.

"I'm laughing my guts out it's so funny," wrote Facebook user Annie Hicks.

Lucie does see the funny side of events however.

"They say every dog has their day, so I guess Lily is enjoying her 15 mins of fame." 

Lily made a run for it when owner Lucie Green stopped at a shop in the Northland town. Source: Seven Sharp

Tracking down New Plymouth youth MP candidates after Andrew Little's 'hip' appeal

Labour MP Andrew Little released a tongue in cheek video encouraging young people from New Plymouth to get involved in politics today.

The video inspired TVNZ1's Seven Sharp to travel to Mr Little's old school to find the perfect candidate for its new youth MP.

Judge for yourself if New Plymouth Boys' High students Thomas Foy and Jarrod Wilson have what it takes in the video above.

Tamati Rimene-Sproat is on the case after the Labour MP's piece of political theatre. Source: Seven Sharp