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Recognition at last

JOE DAWSON
Last updated 05:00 16/01/2013
Theo Agterberg

COMPLETE PICTURE: Photos of the young Theo Agterberg with medals and pins from his World War II experiences, including from the Dutch Resistance, the Dutch Jagers, the British Armed Forces and the US army.

Theo Agterberg
RECOGNITION: Theo Agterberg with the commemorative medal acknowledging his time fighting with the US Army.

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A man who fought for four different allied armies during World War II has finally had his service with the Americans recognised.

Theo Agterberg joined the Dutch Resistance at age 14 before fighting with United States, British and Dutch forces.

Late last year the long-term Mt Roskill resident had his service with the US army acknowledged, decades after it ended.

Mr Agterberg, 86, who is seriously ill, says receiving a commemorative medal and letter of recognition from the US Consul General in Auckland, Jim Donegan, is an important moment in his life.

The story of his war efforts was brought to the attention of the US Consulate by Mt Roskill MP Phil Goff, who was there when the medal and letter were presented.

Mr Agterberg fought in Europe and the Pacific. Memories of the war stayed with him for the rest of his life and nightmares have been a regular feature of the last 50 years.

But not having part of his service officially recognised almost made it seem like it never happened.

"I had a significant time and experience with them and they seem to realise that now.

"It means everything - even if I don't get anything else, to have that is worth everything to me."

His war adventures began when he joined the Dutch Resistance in the south of the country. The Resistance helped Jews fleeing the Nazis and English pilots shot down over Europe, through a forest to safety.

He was eventually picked up by the Germans in a cafe - "someone must have told them there was a lot of Resistance work going on" - and loaded on to a cattle truck and then a train bound for Germany, but he was able to make his escape at the border.

He joined the US army, then the British Armed Forces which saw him sent to Malaya, and then the Dutch Jagers in Indonesia.

He returned to Europe in 1948.

His efforts with the resistance, the Jagers and the British were recognised earlier, leaving acknowledgment from the Americans as the missing link.

He linked up with the US in 1944, aged 18, and fought in Belgium under the command of Generals McAuliffe and Patton, including in the Seige of Bastogna. He stayed with the US army until the war ended in Europe, when he joined the British forces and headed for the Pacific.

Bastogna was a harrowing time.

"We were told to go into the little township and not give in, and we didn't. We had to fight house-to-house, room-to-room.

"All hell broke loose, we had to take the town five times in 5 weeks, in winter.

"I had very little English. I had an older soldier to watch over me but he was only 24 himself.

"Our group started with 42 men, but when we finished we had only 11 of the original 42."

Mr Agterberg moved to New Zealand with wife Elizabeth in 1954. They had two children and now have five grandchildren.

Mrs Agterberg learned of her husband's sometimes horrific experiences only after they were married and in New Zealand.

To see him finally given the recognition he deserved was momentous for her too.

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"I'm very pleased. We've been trying to get recognition that he fought," she says.

"When he talked about it, he got the feeling [other veterans] shouldn't listen because he had nothing to show for it."

- Central Leader

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