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Journey to Vietnam

Harry Haitana
written on the death of Nig Nepia

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I knew Nig Nepia well, starting a friendship with him, Chris Cooper, Willie Walker, Jim Naera and John Hudson and other guys who were with 1 Armoured Regt RNZAC when I was posted to Waiouru. Eventually we all served in Vietnam. Willy of course being with the OP during the battle of Long Tan.

Nig was with the Battery OP party when we eventually met up in Nui Dat. I remember too that he did a stint driving APCs on loan to 1 Aust Cav RAAC, when they lost some of their APC crews, and returned to the Battery prior to coming home to NZ.

I left NZ and travelled to Viet Nam on HMAS Sydney with Lani Paerata, Dave Sergeant and Brian Varney, our mission was to deliver two further 105mm Pack Howitzers to 161 Battery, as they upgraded to a Six Gun Battery. Lcpl Sergeant was our leader.

On board the Sydney we shared the same Mess Deck with I Aust Cav RAAC personnel, who invited us to attend their APC driver training course. We drove their APCs from Australia to Vietnam, passed the course, but never moved an inch, everything was on assimilators, except for live firing that was carried out over the stern of the ship. Arrived Vung Tau. Loaded onto LCTs and stormed up the beach (just like D-Day) with four Landrovers, half a gun each, and miscellaneous stores, and not a clue where we were supposed to be going. Aussies had their problems at the beachhead and were not overly concerned with 4 x Kiwi atts and dets so we just cruised around until we saw the smiling face of a Maori SSgt who pulled us over. Turns out to be the BQMS of 161 Battery, George Anderson, fresh on the scene from Bien Hoa, carrying some instructions to join a convoy that would deliver us safely to Nui Dat, where we would meet up with the Battery. Brilliant tactics I thought, until George explained that the Battery was still up north, and we would be required to secure the Battery Position in Nui Dat.

Really brilliant. Three ex grunts and a truck driver, with three SLRs, a suspicious looking thing called a Heavy barrel SLR, a quarter master armed with a non issue Pistol, two unassembled Pack Howitzers, four Landrovers, four one ton trailers, miscellaneous stores, and Aussie Starvation Ration Packs, now we can head North to take on Charlie in the Phuoc Tuy Province.

Simple plan: Surround the enemy, show them our fire power to show them we mean business, show them our rations so they can see we would be able to eat well for months and they would die laughing.

Arrive at Nui Dat secure the Battery Position, dig shell scrapes, sort out sentry roster and prepare to defend our position and fight to the death, or at least until the Battery arrived. Two days later the Battery advance party arrived, one of the first people I recognised was Nig Nepia. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.

Harry Haitana, 2006

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