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Comrades in arms

Tweet Bird, Bevan [Bev], Darren (Daz) and Richard (Richie), front row, Morrie Edwards and Lass the Labradoodle. PHOTO/LISA URBANI

We swore allegiance to Queen and country

Lisa Urbani

Masterton caterer Tweet Bird and Morrie Edwards didn’t serve together in the army – Tweet being in Victor 5 Company and Morrie in Victor 4 Company – but they “share a common bond” – both of them served in Vietnam.

Having already lost another friend, Ian MacLennan, to motor neuron disease [MND], when Tweet heard that Morrie had also been diagnosed with it, he wanted to do something in support of Motor Neuron Disease New Zealand.

Information gleaned from their website shows that MND affects the motor neurons, or nerve cells which control the voluntary movement of muscles.

It impacts the muscles for swallowing, chewing, tongue movement, facial expression, breathing, coughing, and limb movement, and degeneration of the motor neurons results in progressive muscle wasting and weakness, because the nerve supply to the muscles is impaired.

More than 400 New Zealanders are living with MND, and we have the highest rate in the world.

These sobering facts were presented to 73-year-old Morrie and his wife and daughter about two months ago when he was diagnosed after four and a half hours of tests, conducted by a neurologist.

When he experienced weakness in his limbs while driving, and then later in his arm last November, doctors at first thought he might have had a stroke.

While his wife and daughter were upset to hear his diagnosis, stoic Morrie only responded with, “sh** happens”.

He had done his mechanic’s apprenticeship and worked on his father’s dairy farm for a year, when he volunteered to join the army in 1968, at the age of 21, and stayed for three years.

Describing the difficult conditions, the hot, dry, and wet weather, tents, mosquitoes, the ever-present threat of Viet Cong in the jungle, Morrie says, modestly, “we were resilient soldiers”.

Both he and Tweet knew the sadness of losing men in their companies.

Tweet lost four, and Morrie lost seven – one on the very same day he was helicoptered in.

For Tweet, it was a matter of “being soldiers who swore allegiance to our Queen and country, we did our duty”.

It was a shock when they returned home to find themselves negatively portrayed in the media and to be rejected by some, but eventually this attitude changed.

Morrie returned home to dairy farming for many years, selling up years later in favour of investing in a commercial building.

A stint of truck driving followed, hauling logs from Carterton to the wharf in Wellington, and doing some roading work.

Seeing Morrie’s jetboating operation on the Ruamahanga River on his farm, an acquaintance asked him to run a tour boat on the Zambezi River in Zambia, Africa for a month at a time, and this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

He also assisted in the building of a cable car to descend the 220-metre gorge, and said he just loved the locals and the wildlife, recalling an interesting encounter with a herd of elephants.

After such an active and full life with many adventures, it’s hard for Morrie to accept that his MND diagnosis has changed his world.

MND NZ has loaned him a van with a ramp to be able to be mobile, and his motorised wheelchair was made by Greytown firm ViMo [Vitality in Motion].

Now his friends have rallied round, wanting to show their support by fundraising for MND NZ.

Morrie, his two sons and son-in-law, and Tweet are not shaving or having a haircut for three months.

On October 31, they plan to have a fundraising night of fun, with dinner and entertainment, at a venue yet to be determined, with a special auction to follow.

Guests will have the opportunity to bid on the right to cut or trim their hair in whatever fashion they choose, and Morrie and his shaggy friends will wear it for two weeks.

Many more activities are planned for the night including Morrie’s beloved Labradoodle Lass – being shorn by dog groomers, and a possible reunion of Victor 4 Company, as well as many generous sponsored prizes.

So, save the date and come to join in celebrating a life well lived and support a good cause.

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