Kelly Makiha is the Rotorua Daily Post's head of news

Maori entertainer acknowledged for war effort

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Legendary Maori entertainer Ronnie Ransfield from Rotorua remembers being on stage performing to Vietnam soldiers in the 1960s while bombs and gunfire could be heard in the background.

The dangerous situation he and his band mates were in meant nothing to these young chaps - they were riding a wave of show business that would span more than four decades mainly in clubs and venues throughout Australia.

But this weekend, the sacrifice they made during the war will be officially acknowledged when they are presented with Vietnam medals from the New Zealand Defence Force.

Mr Ransfield, Terri Sorenson and the late Len "Shifty" Ropeta Ransfield from the band The Sheratons are to be given the medals at the Rotorua Citizen's Club on Saturday at 1pm by New Zealand First Deputy Leader Ron Mark.

The Sheratons were a New Zealand Maori showband that left New Zealand in the 1960s and made it big in Australia, performing to packed clubs and venues.

The medals are presented to entertainers who performed to allied troops during the Vietnam War for more than 30 days between 1965 and 1972.

The New Zealand Defence Force has acknowledged New Zealanders such as medical support staff and humanitarian workers who played crucial roles during the conflict, often in dangerous situations.

"One of the saddest memories is singing to 18-year-old soldiers in Vietnam today and then hearing they were killed tomorrow," Mr Ransfield told the Rotorua Daily Post.

We'd ask 'where is so-in-so' and they'd say, 'he went out in a jet and it was shot down'. We got to know these soldiers.
Ronnie Ransfield

"It was very sad to stand on the airport terminal and watch 500 to 1000 alloy caskets being shipped home to be buried. I couldn't bring myself to photograph that."

He said there were many memories that would stick with him forever.

"Hearing gunfire and bombs going off while you are performing was nothing out of the ordinary. But we were young and had no fear."

The Sheratons performed for the American forces via the American USO and performed on the bases spread across East Asia including countries such as Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, Japan, Thailand, Malaya and Hong Kong.

They'd often do about 21 one-hour shows a week all with the aim of raising the spirits of those fighting for their countries.

Mr Ransfield, who is originally from Rotokawa but is now based in the Gold Coast after moving to Australia with the band in 1966, said he wanted to receive his medals in Rotorua because he was Te Arawa.

He invited members of the public to come along on Saturday to be part of the presentation. He also intended to grab a guitar and sing a few songs with his fellow band mates.

"We haven't sung together for years but we will be fine. You don't forget."

The medals
■ New Zealand General Service Medal 1992 with clasp, Vietnam
■ New Zealand Operational Service Medal
To be presented:
■ At the Rotorua Citizen's Club on Saturday at 1pm
To be presented to:
■ Ronnie Ransfield, Teri Sorenson and Leonard Ropeta Ransfield (son of the late Len "Shifty" Ropeta Ransfield)

- Rotorua Daily Post

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