Defence minister Ron Mark apologised on behalf of "all" New Zealand governments to the family of Vietnam soldier Private John "Jack" Stewart Williams, who was reburied in Waipukurau on Saturday after lying in a military grave in Malaysia for nearly 50 years.
Private Williams, who moved to Waipukurau from the South Island with his family at age 9, was 20 years old and serving with Victor 4 Company when he was killed in action in Vietnam in June 1969.
Buried at Terendak Military Camp in Malaysia for the next 49 years, Private Williams was among 27 service personnel and one child whose bodies were repatriated from Malaysia and Singapore last week as part of the NZ Defence Force's Te Auraki [The Return] project, which was announced last year by the previous National government after years of pressure from families and veterans.
The defence minister was among around 300 people who attended a memorial service for Private Williams at his old primary school, Terrace School in Waipukurau, before his body was reinterred at Waipukurau Cemetery.
Mr Mark spoke during the service on Saturday and told private Williams' brothers Grant, Wayne and Andrew, twin sister Jillian, and his son John - born just weeks before his father was killed in action - that he wanted to apologise not only on behalf of the current Labour-NZ First coalition Government, but all governments, for the wait of a nearly half a century for his body to be returned home.
"It is pleasing [and] satisfying to stand in front of Jack's family and see them have the closure they have been denied for 49 years. I'm sorry that it took this long."
Saturday's two-hour service also heard from Private Williams' family members, including his oldest brother Grant.
"Thanks to everybody for attending today. It's been a very long time, and now Jack will be at peace in his beloved hometown of Waipukurau. For that, we are truly grateful," he said.
Youngest brother Andrew, the only sibling to be born in Waipukurau, said he had fond memories of going with his parents to visit his brother at Waiouru Military Camp during his training, and of when he would return home on leave before going to fight in Vietnam.
'I was only 8 or 9 … It was just a real privilege at that age to see my big brother come home with his army uniform on. I was just so proud of him."
The fact that Jack had a twin sister Jillian - who said they were always referred to as "Jack and Jill", was well-known, but less well-known was that Private Williams was also a husband and father when he was killed.
His only child, son John, was born seven weeks before his father died. He said had no real stories of his father to share because he never got to meet him.
"But I do like to think in some way, he's been with me for all of my life and all of my 49 years."
CHB Mayor Alex Walker also spoke at the service and revealed that council, in conjunction with Jack's friend and developer, Bruce Turfrey, had named a new street in Waipukurau, Jack Williams Lane, in his honour.