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"Joe Hak" (Hohepa Hakaria)

Mike Subritzky

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I think it was in March/April 1973 that about six of us were sent from 161 Battery down to the School of Artillery in Waiouru, so as to attend the Gun Detachment Commanders course. From memory the other students on the course were Guy Timu, John 'Nungalie' Nagle, Jimmy Bell, Bill James, Whitu Rakei, and Alex Whyte.

Every Monday morning we as students were required to attend the Army Schools Parade, which was a most unpleasant experience and one which we all dreaded as it was the RSM of Army School's best resource provider for 'volunteer' Piquets on the following weekend.

This particular Monday morning was filled with added trepidation because it was rumoured that the inspecting officer was none other than "Uncle Po". The Viet Cong might have had their Uncle Ho, but our Uncle Po (Colonel Brian Poananga) was about as hard as the Military made its men. He was a World War II veteran, a Maori and a no nonsense kind of officer with a short fuze and no sense of humour.

We formed up in our various Platoons and the Sergeant detailed to command the Platoon in front of ours was Sergeant "Joe Hak". Joe Hak wasn't very tall, but he was built like a brick shipyard. He was something of a legend in the New Zealand Artillery as he had been in the Army for more years than most of us could remember and had done more overseas tours than most of us had fingers. He stood in front of his Platoon with a row of about a half a dozen gleaming medals in recognition of his service on operations; including several tours in the Republic of South Vietnam, the Malay Peninsular and also Borneo. Being a Maori he looked like a brown version of "Action Man", from the sparkling brass Gunners badge on his headdress, right down to his highly spit polished, hob nailed boots.

Our Platoons marched out onto the RF Depot Parade Ground, got yelled at, inspected and then stood like statues for what seemed like an eternity. In due course an RNZ Military Police Land Rover drove onto the Parade Ground, followed closely by the Camp Commandent who was none other than the dreaded Colonel Poananga. The hush of fear was quietly audible, interspersed with moans of 'Oh God" and "Help me Jesus".

Then the inspection started; there must have been 500 odd men on that parade ground and Colonel Poananga visibly inspected every single one. When he got to the Platoon in front of us, we saw Sergeant Hakaria call his men up to attention and then shoulder arms, march out the required amount of paces, halting in front of the Colonel before throwing a salute across the stock of the M16 he was carrying. There was a pregnant pause for a second or two and then Colonel Po looked down at Joe Hak's gleaming row of medals. The Colonel then looked him straight in the eye and spoke

"Are those your own medals that you are wearing Sergeant Hakaria?"
"Err...Yes Sir" replied Joe Hak
"Sergeant Hakaria you are incorrectly dressed!" said Colonel Po in a raised voice.
"Err...Yes Sir" replied Joe Hak in a voice that was now barely audible.
"This is my Parade Ground Sergeant, and you appear on it being incorrectly dressed" said the Colonel.
"Err...Yes Sir" whispered Joe Hak
"Sergeant Hakaria, double off my Parade Ground and don't come back until you are dressed correctly...now go!" said Colonel Poananga.

And with that Joe Hak threw his weapon into the "High Port Arms" position, turned left and doubled off the Parade Ground in the direction of the Senior NCO's barracks which was about 150 metres away on the other side of the Depot Road.

Clink! Clink! Clink! went the medals, Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! went his hob nailed boots, and apart from that every other sound ceased. In the ranks of my own Platoon no-one dared move a muscle, and all the while Colonel Poananga and several other Officers stood there right in front of us, with Po quietly tapping his knee with his swagger stick. In the ranks, although no-one moved, I think that all five hundred of us, officers included had the same thought. Joe Hak was full of bullshit and was wearing someone else's medals; he had just been ordered back to the barracks so that he could take them off. No-one dared hardly breath as we waited for Sergeant Hakaria's return and the wrath that awaited him in the person of Colonel Poananga. Presently we heard a door slam shut and then the distinctive crunch of hob nailed boots pounding on the pavement. Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! went the boots but there was no audible clinking of the medals; he must have taken them all off.

Next thing the soldiers in the forward Platoons began whispering "shit" and "look at that". Then into our own view doubled Sergeant Joseph Hakaria... rifle in his right hand, while his left hand clutched just above his left breast pocket, restraining a "second" row of medals that he had just added to his uniform. He halted in front of the Colonel, pulled the weapon into his right shoulder and once again saluted.

Colonel Poananga returned his salute and then in a loud clear voice, the Colonel spoke "Sergeant Hakaria, when Her Majesty the Queen, or His late Majesty the King awards you a medal, you will in future wear it on my Parade Ground... Is that Understood?"
"Yes Sir!" replied Sergeant Hakaria.

And with that Colonel Poananga moved on. After the parade was over all of us Gunners went over to where Joe was standing, looking more than a little embarrassed, and I think it was Steve Richards who asked the question "Sarge, why didn't you wear all of your medals?"
To which Joe replied "To be honest with you Ehore, I'm a really vain bugger and this top row of medals makes me look too old".

An interesting and yet sad Post Script to this yarn was that Joe Hakaria died several years ago, probably from an Agent Orange related cancer, and about six months after he was laid to rest he was awarded yet another medal; the 'J' Force Medal for his service in Japan at the end of the Second World War.

Mike Subritzky

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Mike Subritzky
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