Fallen trio given emotional farewell
"We are the dwarves that stand on the shoulders of these three giants," the chief of the Defence Force said at the memorial service for New Zealand's latest slain soldiers.
Hundreds gathered in Christchurch yesterday to honour the lives of Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and Private Richard Harris, 21. The trio were killed by a roadside bomb in Bamiyan province a week ago.
Speaking before the three flag-draped caskets at Burnham Military Camp, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said the fallen soldiers epitomised the Defence Force values. "Luke, Jacinda and Richard have helped light the way for those that follow," he said.
Grieving family members of each soldier took the stage and spoke of how proud they were of their loved ones. Tamatea's younger brother was flanked by his family as he spoke through tears.
"I didn't think I'd see my brother like this. I thought he was bulletproof," he said. The navy man, who had served time with both Baker and Harris, said he would have joined the army but he didn't want to live in his brother's "massive shadow". Tamatea's greatest legacy was his "four beautiful daughters", he said.
The mother of Baker, who was the first female soldier killed in action since World War II, said her daughter was "still my little girl".
"I have always been proud of her, I have always loved her with all my heart and I will miss her forever," Joyce Baker said. Another relative said: "She came into this world as a surprise and unfortunately left in the same manner."
Baker's partner, Geoff Fosbender, thanked Harris and Tamatea for ensuring she was "in the safest hands possible even up to that last moment". "By our actions we are known," he said.
The family of Harris said they were "very sad but also extremely proud". They hoped the rest of his comrades who were still serving in Afghanistan would return home safely. The three soldiers' deaths came only two weeks after Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone, both 26, were also killed in action in Bamiyan, bringing the total number of Kiwi soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 10.
Five soldiers wounded fighting alongside Durrer and Malone were also present at the service, including one who was wheeled in on a hospital bed by a medical team.
Wounded soldier Major Craig Wilson was the commanding officer of the five dead soldiers.
With his arm in a sling, Wilson spoke of Harris who had "lived by the army culture", Baker who was the "mother hen" of her team and Tamatea who was a "legend to us all". "It was an honour to serve with you all," he said.
Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae called the three soldiers "brave children of Tumatauenga - the god of war". "Warfare has taken your lives but you lie here in great honour," he said.
Both Mateparae and Prime Minister John Key acknowledged it was "natural" to ask why Kiwi troops were still serving in war-torn Afghanistan after five deaths in a matter of weeks.
"It matters that we stand up for what is right and just in the world. It matters that we care," Key said.
Tamatea, Baker and Harris had made the "ultimate sacrifice" and they were owed a "great debt by this country and by the people of Bamiyan", he said.
After the service the three soldiers' bodies were given a final salute and marched out of the base.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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