NZ Defence Force present replica medals to veteran’s whānau

By Mānia Clarke
  • Waikato/Bay of Plenty

In a first of its kind, the New Zealand Defence Force has presented replicas of two medals that belonged to a Māori Vietnam soldier to his whānau at Mōkai Kainga Marae in Kāwhia.

A sign of honour for fallen soldier Lieutenant Corporal Barry Wahanui, whose medals are laid on the cloak of his foster father, the stalwart of King Movement, the late Henare Tuwhangai.

Wahanui’s brother Nick Tuwhangai told Te Kāea, “I'm glad that we've brought closure for him. Although he didn't return to us alive, his spirit can now rest.”

Delivered personally by the NZ Defence Force for the Vietnam soldier of Whiskey 2 Company.

Te Ope Kaatua o Aotearoa elder Anaru Ruawhitu Pokaia says, “This is the appropriate way, hopefully, this will remain within the heart. The purpose is to do things face-to-face, not send through the post, but deliver it by hand.”

Commanding Officer 3/6 Battalion Lieutenant Colonel Olly Te Ua says, “The medals today represent his service when he was in the army, from the operational service medal through to medals from the first campaigns he served in.”

In 1969, Wahanui was killed in a vehicle accident while on R&R in Singapore.  Recently the family discovered the two medals that returned with Wahanui, had been sold overseas, and he was to receive 12 other medals.

Family member Miki Apiti says, “There were two medals laying at his side at his funeral.  The medals were given to the family, but they don't know where they went or whether they were sold.”

The medals will remain under the care of the Tuwhangai whānau, who will decide later how best to display them in honour of their loved one.