Tears flow as fallen farewelled

By Samantha McPherson

Commanding Officer Major Craig Wilson pays his respects for Luke Tamatea, Jacinda Baker and Richard Harris. Photo / Getty Images
Commanding Officer Major Craig Wilson pays his respects for Luke Tamatea, Jacinda Baker and Richard Harris. Photo / Getty Images

Soldiers seriously wounded in this month's first fatal attack in Afghanistan were helped into Burnham Military Camp to pay their respects at the caskets of three soldiers killed this week.

One was wheeled into the military service with medical assistance, another was on crutches.

Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and Private Richard Harris, 21, died instantly when a 20kg roadside improvised explosive device destroyed their Humvee in Afghanistan's northeast Bamiyan Province a week ago today.

Major Craig Wilson, who was injured in a Bamiyan attack this month, saluted the three with his left arm - his right arm was in a sling.

Wilson was the commanding officer of all five soldiers who had been killed in Afghanistan this month.

With a tear in his eye, he recalled fond memories of the fallen trio. "Richard was one of the pure breds. He was dedicated to his job and showed a great deal of maturity and skill.

Jacinda was the mother hen who we wouldn't swap for the world. And Luke he is a legend to us all."

Major Wilson said Jacinda had told him that she didn't want to keep her partner Geoff Fosbender waiting another minute longer, which is why she was ready to come home. "She loved you, mate," he said.

Family members spoke through tears as they remembered the three.

Their bodies were flown home on Thursday where they were greeted with an emotional ramp ceremony attended by family and colleagues at Christchurch International Airport.

Each casket, with a New Zealand flag draped over it, was carried into the gymnasium by a bearer party, before being placed side by side on to a casket stand.

A wreath, framed portrait and medals were placed on top of each of the caskets.

Jacinda Baker's white casket was placed between those of Luke Tamatea and Richard Harris.

There was silence as each family and friends walked into the gymnasium clutching a framed portrait of their loved ones.

Geoff Fosbender wept as he spoke of his sweetheart.

"She was so close to us in many ways. She loved the outdoors and thought climbing to the top of a hill was fun and a bit romantic.

"She was a loving, caring person that I will miss dearly. I would like to thank Luke and Richard because I know she was in the safest hands possible. Jacinda, I love you so much."

Baker's 22-year-old sister said: "To the rest of the world Jacinda will be remembered as a soldier, to me she will be remembered as a sister."

Tamatea's younger brother, Hayden, who'd worked with Baker and Harris, said he had thought his brother was "bulletproof".

His brother's greatest legacy was his four beautiful daughters, he said.

The family of Harris thanked the military for its support through their grief and said they hoped the rest of his "comrades come home safely in October".

Each casket was loaded on to a gun carriage, then three volleys were fired.

The Last Post was played while the New Zealand flag was lowered to half mast.

New Zealand's military toll in Afghanistan stands at 10.

- Herald on Sunday

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