Tahlia does Maori Battalion grandad proud
“I didn’t realise until after I went to Vietnam what it was like for them,” Willie Simonsen says.
For him, Thursday’s Anzac Day was a day to remember his family, veterans who are no longer around and particularly his father who shared a birthday with the day of remembrance.
“He used to have this joke where he’d thank the government for putting a public holiday on his birthday.
“He didn’t talk about the war, was very quiet. He worked hard, drank hard and used to have moods because of shell shock.”
Simonsen’s father fought in World War II and finished the war as part of the Italy campaign.
After getting bored out of his mind in a grocery store, Simonsen followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the army in 1968.
He served a year in Vietnam as part of 22 years in the army before finishing off as a warrant officer class one.
Simonsen was glad to see several younger veterans joining in the parade.
“Anzac Day is just as much for the younger veterans as much as us old fellas because they’ve been on operational service and should be recognised and be on the parades.”
Mist hung around the Masterton Anzac Service which kicked off just before 6am after a parade.
Hundreds gathered around the Masterton cenotaph, with Masterton RSA president Trevor Thompson remarking that people were close to spilling out the gate.
Among the speakers was Tahlia Riddell who told the story of her grandfather – 97-year-old Epineha Ratapu who served in the 28th Maori Battalion during World War II.
She spoke of Ratapu’s experiences in the desert campaign and on the Italian Peninsula – how he and other soldiers from his area were labelled cowboys because horses were their main modes of transport.
After sitting down to breakfast at the Services and Citizen’s Club Riddell said the speech had been nerve-wracking.
“But it was worth it. I’m proud of my poppa.”
Ratapu said his granddaughter was “the bomb”.
“I liked everything she said and did,” he said, adding with a laugh, “I’m used to Anzac Days now, I’ve been to so many.”
Thompson said he’d fielded many calls from people asking if the Masterton event had been cancelled.
“I had to remind them that this is heartland New Zealand . . . rain, hail or shine we will commemorate Anzac Day.
“It’s fantastic to see a large number of our community here, lots of young people with their kids. That’s the most important thing for me.”
Thompson said it was good to see a large number of veterans.
“This town has given more of its people than most towns as far as service in the armed forces goes.”