Corporal Luke Tamatea, one of three soldiers killed in Afghanistan on Sunday, was a mountain of a man his home town could be proud of.
Tamatea, 31, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and Private Richard Harris, 21, were helping escort a fellow patrol member to a doctor when they were killed by a Taleban bomb in Afghanistan at approximately 9.20am (Afghanistan time, 5pm NZ time).
Kawerau mayor, and local butcher, Malcolm Campbell said he talked to Luke Tamatea in his shop the day before Tamatea left for his next deployment in Afghanistan.
"He was pumped up and excited to be going away again," Campbell said.
Tamatea had been visiting his mother, Lynn McSweeney, and had come into get some meat for a "boil up", Campbell said.
"He liked his mother's cooking.
"We joked about going back to a war zone and I wished him luck and told him to stay safe and I'd see him next time he was back home.
"Unfortunately he didn't make back - it's bloody tragic but it's a war and he didn't expect it to be easy."
Campbell said Tamatea was a career army soldier and Kawerau would be proud of him.
"He was a nice easy going guy, clean cut and huge mountain of a man.
"He towered over me."
It was too early to know if a memorial service would be held in the township, he said.
Tamatea grew up in Te Teko, 10 kilometres from Kawerau and left Edgecumbe College in 1996.
Tamatea's grandmother Loraine O’Brien told Te Kaea News that Tamatea phoned her about a week ago because he knew she was worried about him.
‘‘He said, ‘don’t worry about me nana. I’m alright’ and those were his last words to me,’’ she said.
‘‘We’d been hoping that [Prime Minister] John Key would have sent him back by now, after the last lot passed away.’’
Tamatea was very popular with all of his "army mates", she said.
- The Dominion Post