Three centenarians took centre stage at the New Zealand Battle of Crete Association's 77th commemoration memorial service at the Mount Maunganui RSA yesterday.
Eric Wilson and Bill Bristow, both aged 100 from North Shore, and 102-year-old Brant Robinson from Pukekohe, are the last three known remaining Kiwi veterans from 1941 campaign in Greece.
About 100 people took part in the special service with the three men seated together and warmly acknowledged by speakers and those in attendance.
Wilson, a driver with the 24th Battalion who turned 100 last month, said it was a significant and important service and something he had looked forward to attending.
Wilson said services such as this brought memories of his time in Crete flooding back.
"It's a special day not only for New Zealanders but for the people of Crete," he said.
The Battle of Crete was one of the most dramatic engagements of World War II.
Commonwealth troops including New Zealanders fought in the 12-day battle that began with an airborne invasion by German parachutists on to the Mediterranean island.
After 12 days of fierce, bloody fighting against Nazi paratroopers, often at close quarters with bayonets fixed, 672 Kiwis were dead.
A further 967 were wounded and more than 2000 taken as prisoners of war as the Mediterranean island fell into Hitler's hands.
Peter Moss, the President of the association, said it was an "absolute privilege" to have Wilson, Bristow and Robinson attend the service.
"We are so pleased to be able to honour these three veterans' service in particular, who hold a special place in history," he said.
Mayor Greg Brownless also paid tribute to those who had died and the returned servicemen who suffered the physical and emotional scars from fighting in the battle.
The keynote speaker was retired Colonel Raymond Seymour who shared insights into the battle, which his father Jim Seymour fought in, and its aftermath.
He said the battle was "brutal" with significant losses on both sides.
The battle was etched into the memories of Kiwi families and the people of Crete, who suffered at the hands of the Germans for harbouring Commonwealth soldiers, he said.
Anglican vicar Reverend Marie Gilpin delivered the opening prayer and reflection and Bill Taare read The Ode.
The Tauranga Brass Band performed the national anthem, and bugler David Travers-Watt played The Last Post and the Reveille.
The flag bearers were members of the NZ Cadet Forces.
Once the official ceremony finished, Tauranga's Athena Dancer Group entertained with a lively display of Greek dancing in the clubhouse.