The bodies of New Zealand Defence Force personnel buried overseas since 1955 will be brought home to their families in a $7 million mission.
Government policy from 1955 to 1971 meant families had to pay to bring their loved ones back to New Zealand.
The policy changed last year, and the Government offeredto repatriate the bodies buried since 1955 at public expense.
The mission, Te Auraki (The Return), began yesterday with a blessing ceremony at Suva Military Cemetery for Royal New Zealand Air Force secretarial officer Flight Lieutenant George Beban, MBE, and fireman leading aircraftman Ralph Scott.
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Beban and Scott died of natural causes, in 1956 and 1960 respectively, at the RNZAF station in Laucala Bay. They are the first of 37 defence personnel to be returned home over the next six months.
The Fiji service was attended by an NZDF contingent, High Commissioner to Fiji Jonathan Curr and members of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
"We are committed to ensuring this process is as dignified as possible for the families, who have waited many years for their loved ones to be brought home to New Zealand," said NZDF group captain Carl Nixon.
The NZDF will visit Fiji, American Samoa, Malaysia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Korea this year to do the disinterments.
A team of bio-archaeologists, forensic anthropologists and NZDF odontologists will do the identification work.
There will be another blessing ceremony in American Samoa for Royal New Zealand Navy engineering mechanic Russell Moore, who is being disinterred from Satala Cemetery in Pago Pago on May 1.
Moore died in an accident on the survey vessel HMNZS Lachlan in 1956.
The three fallen personnel are due to return to New Zealand on May 7, to be handed to their families at a ramp ceremony at Base Ohakea.