We are not a militaristic nation, we Kiwis. However we have a proud fighting tradition, standing up for democracy and human rights all over the world. We lost many men and women in the World Wars and on many other fronts such as Viet Nam and Korea. Once a year on ANZAC Day, we remember them and those who have fallen since, in Afghanistan, East Timor and other fronts. In RSA Clubs around the country the dwindling numbers of vets and their families have a beer, share a yarn, have a dance and a sausage roll and club sandwich and share the ANZAC Prayer.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”
Then they play the last post, we stand proud and we remember.
My late father in law was a few months from his final rest after a terrible fight with cancer. He served in the Air Force in Guadal Canal and other locations during World War II and my mother in law was a Wren. You should have seen her march in the parade, as erect as she would have been in her youth. Now we are left with photos and memories, not only of our people, but of their reunions with their fellow service people, remembering the fun times and remembering the fallen and the horror as the nights went on. The things that they could only discuss with those who had shared the experiences. The things we civilians can’t appreciate because we weren’t there. The trenches, the mud, the desert, the beaches, the waiting, the camaraderie, the fear, the relief, the moments of respite, the people in the countries where they served, who looked at them with gratitude and relief, coming home with their cobbers, coming home without their mates.
Today is ANZAC Day and we remember our lost and respect those who remain. I’m proud to be a Kiwi, even though I am an import. In some ways more so because, while I haven’t experienced war first hand, I was born in Holland and the Allies rescued our country from the ravages of 5 years of occupation.
When I was in the USA again last year, I was humbled by the respect shown to all veterans in all places. Everywhere I went, I met and shook hands with people who had served. Everywhere I went, people thanked them for their service. Every concert I went to, we stood and people were thanked for their service. Of course the numbers of people who have served in the USA are so many more on a ratio than in New Zealand. They are more visible as well. While there is a lot of negativity towards US involvement around the world, I have to wonder with a shudder what our world would be like if they weren’t there. I also think about the fact that we are talking about individual people, with partners, children, parents, who are stepping outside of their lives to do the right thing for their country. They all have their own stories.
That’s what motivated me, after 6 months of research, to write the song Another Stretch in Iraq, my Christmas song for 2007. I remember performing it in a ‘biker friendly’ bar in Florida, seeing a couple of 6 foot something men coming to the stage and thinking “I’m going to get beaten to a pulp” as the came towards me with tears in their eyes. But no, they came to thank me and welcome me into the arms of their Desert Storm ‘family’, saying that I had taken them straight back to their Bradleys and MRE‘s.
Yet, as I sit here in my lounge and watch the ANZAC commemorations in New Zealand, I am reminded that we, at the bottom of the planet, far removed from all the fronts and global politics, do serve. We tend to be in peacekeeping forces these days rather than at the front lines, but you will find Kiwis in most countries where there is freedom to be preserved. We fight for human rights. We take global responsibility as we can and we care fiercely about freedom and democracy. To a large degree we do that because of those who lead by example, who took arms and piled onto planes and ships and those who didn’t come back.
We will remember them. We do remember them. Even if our eyes aren’t wet every day as they are this morning. We remember them and we honor them by trying to do the right thing for the future of our children.