When John Kingi left Vietnam for the last time, he never looked back. "There is no honour or glory in war," he says. "There's just the smell of blood, the smell of cordite in the nose. Fear, sweat, noise."

He tried not to think about the Vietnam War, and the bloody fight in the jungle that had claimed the life of his comrade, Private Michael Wickman.

Until now, that is.

He joined five other members of the Victor 3 One Platoon patrol at Waiouru Army Camp last month to share their recollections with a new generation of soldiers.

Their discussions, and Kingi's musings, are captured in a Maori Television documentary that screens tomorrow evening on Anzac Day.

Maurice Dodson, who led the patrol, was partially blinded by shrapnel but still managed to call in mortar fire to help fight off the Viet Cong. He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry, was promoted to Major-General, and commanded the NZ Army from 1998 to 2002.

Lance Corporal Dave Ropeta was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal, and Sapper Wiki Kahika was mentioned in dispatches after dragging the severely injured Wickman into cover, under enemy fire.

In an age where the most trifling sports achievement will now see someone dubbed a "hero", documentary director Te Rangitawaea Reedy says: "These men are real Kiwi heroes."

It was June 22, 1968, and patrol leader Lieutenant Dodson had agreed with the artillery to push further forward into Viet Cong territory.

Kingi, the lead tracker, came across footprints and the nine men followed them - until suddenly, they disappeared. Kingi was initially bemused, until he realised the enemy had walked backwards in their own footprints.

It was then that he spotted a slight movement in the foliage. Just 2m away - the tropical undergrowth was that thick - were three Viet Cong, their guns raised. He and Dodson opened fire and killed them.

"Then," Dodson recalls in the documentary, "all hell broke loose."

They had walked into the middle of 70 or 80 Viet Cong. In the shooting, Wickman was fatally injured and Dodson suffered wounds to the eyes.

As Dodson lay in the mud calling in mortar fire on the radio, Kahika pulled Wickman into cover.

The mortars landed just 10m away - even closer, some of the men think. Kingi reckons one went between his legs, but fortunately didn't detonate.

But they did the job - while the New Zealanders were partly protected by the trees, many of the Viet Cong were on the edge of a paddy field. The bombardment took them out.

The fight lasted an hour and 50 minutes. The men saved their bullets. Between them, they fired only 1046 rounds - fewer than 10 a minute.

Kingi says: "There was a time when we were dead men."

But when the smoke cleared, eight of the nine soldiers were still alive.

At Waiouru Army Camp last month, the men said they had never been formally debriefed - and they had never had a chance to say "thank you" to each other.

"Seeing those guys just took you back to the last time we had all been together," Dodson says. "So bittersweet really. But, I have to say, more sweet than bitter."

On returning from his third tour of duty, Kingi tells the Herald on Sunday, he was attacked as he paraded down Queen St in Auckland. "New Zealand society rejected us - so I rejected New Zealand society."

He travelled to Africa, South America, India - and then returned to live in a Viet Cong-style bunker deep in the Ureweras. But eventually, his wartime comrades persuaded him to rejoin society. Today, he is 66 years old and lives near Gisborne - but he still suffers flashbacks to that day in the Vietnam jungle in 1968.

"It made us what we are today; it turned us from boys into men," he says in the documentary. "It was the day that we were baptised in the fires of war."

Victor 3: Baptism by Fire screens 8.30pm Anzac Day on Maori Television.