Veterans humbled by hero's welcome

By Lawrence Gullery

The two surviving Hawke's Bay returned servicemen of the famous 28th Maori Battalion were given a hero's welcome at services in Te Hauke and Hastings as part of ANZAC Day commemorations yesterday.

Adam Puriri and Rangi Whaanga were treasured by other returned servicemen and their families who gathered at Kahuranaki Marae yesterday morning and then at Waipatu Marae before noon.

Mr Puriri, who plans to celebrate his 90th birthday in October, said he was humbled to hear a dedication read out for him and Mr Whaanga when the two appeared at Waipatu.

"Today was remarkable, a procession of remembrance for our fellow men who together made a sacrifice which in the end spared our lives. They did it for King, for country and for our families and it is indeed a grand honour and privilege to be here today as one people.

"I am also grateful for my culture and for what I have been taught by my parents, grandparents and all my relatives in New Zealand."

Mr Puriri remembered he was attending Hastings High School when the Second World War broke out.

"My friends and I used to attend armour training at the high school every Friday afternoon and so we planned to go and enrol to go overseas.

"When we went to enrol, there were other families there from my area who saw me and asked what was I doing? I said I was going to war and they said no, go home. They were worried they would get into trouble with my family if they let me go."

Mr Puriri told them he'd go and speak to his father about the decision to enlist.

"I went home and my father gave me some wonderful advice and support about going overseas. We talked about my grandfather who enrolled to go to South Africa and the Boer War. But he was able to come home.

"At the time I was the only one in my family who felt the need to go and serve our country."

A week after he enlisted he was called to the army base in Trentham to start military training. Soon after he was ready to embark for Egypt, where he would continue training in preparation for deployment to Italy.

"We were part of the reinforcements but by the time we completed our training in Egypt and then Italy, the war was coming to an end."

Mr Puriri said he hoped more families and young people would embrace the ANZAC tradition, in any way they felt comfortable, to honour returned servicemen.

"I come from a large family with my brothers and sisters and now my own children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. They are all here to join with me and prepare for the ceremony. So today is a very memorable day for us and for families around the country."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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