One final hope for an old soldier

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BROTHERS IN ARMS: Vietnam veterans Rex Matthews (right) and Bruce Panther at a Victor 2 Company reunion in Hastings. PICTURES/SUPPLIED
BROTHERS IN ARMS: Vietnam veterans Rex Matthews (right) and Bruce Panther at a Victor 2 Company reunion in Hastings. PICTURES/SUPPLIED

Rose Matthews knows it's a long shot, but she is clinging to "one last pinhead of hope" that someone knows what became of two books that were stolen from her and husband Rex's car outside the Waipapakauri Hotel 46 years ago - and that they will be returned.

Mrs Matthews (nee Hobson, who grew up at Awanui), said she and Rex (originally from Opononi) had been fretting about the loss of the books for almost half a century.

She had met her future husband in Auckland in 1968, after he returned from service in Vietnam.

Rex served in 1RNZIR [Infantry] in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam with Victor Two Company. "They were the company that faced the Tet Offensive," she said.

Back in Auckland in 1969, he received, from the NZ Defence Force, a two-volume history of the Anzac Battalion, detailing its service in South Vietnam 1967-68.

"On the day he received his books we had planned to visit my parents, Frank and Peggy Hobson, in Awanui, so Rex just put the parcel of books in his car and away we went. He didn't even turn a page," she said.

"We called at the Waipapakauri Hotel to see someone, and to our horror our car was broken into and all of our gear taken, Rex's important books and all. It was reported to the police but with no joy.

"To this day it has caused us grief to think that someone took these books that were earned by Rex, who served in the Vietnam War, and not those who thought they deserved to have our gear.

"Whoever stole the books would be quite old now, like us. Rex is 72. The thief would now know the significance of those books, and if they have a conscience they might have wondered who they belong to. Maybe they are sitting on someone's bookshelf ... We doubt that Rex will ever get his books back, and this will be our last attempt to at least tell our story in the hope that it will remind someone they have two important books that belong to Rex Matthews, a Vietnam veteran."

People did silly things when they were young, she added, and whoever stole the books would no doubt have forgotten all about them. Or they might still be living with a guilty conscience.

"The books might be in a cupboard at someone's Nana's place, and no one realises their significance. Who knows? This is our last pinhead of hope, that someone will know what became of them. Hopefully they were not thrown into the creek," she said.

Sometimes, she added, it seemed that the war had never ended. Her husband and his comrades had fought in Vietnam, then since their return had been constantly battling the government, for the recognition they had earned and over the awful repercussions their exposure to chemical warfare had had on their health and the health of their children.

The loss of the books was just one more cause for grief.

The couple now live in Hokitika, where they have had their home for the last 45 years, but anyone who has any information about the books is able to contact them via Danielle at the Northland Age, phone (09) 408-0339.

- Northland Age

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