|I think it was
in March/April 1973 that about six of us were sent from 161 Battery down
to the School of Artillery in Waiouru, so as to attend the Gun
Detachment Commanders course. From memory the other students on the
course were Guy Timu, John 'Nungalie' Nagle, Jimmy Bell, Bill James,
Whitu Rakei, and Alex Whyte.
Every Monday morning we as students
were required to attend the Army Schools Parade, which was a most
unpleasant experience and one which we all dreaded as it was the RSM of
Army School's best resource provider for 'volunteer' Piquets on the
This particular Monday morning was
filled with added trepidation because it was rumoured that the
inspecting officer was none other than "Uncle Po". The Viet
Cong might have had their Uncle Ho, but our Uncle Po (Colonel Brian
Poananga) was about as hard as the Military made its men. He was a World
War II veteran, a Maori and a no nonsense kind of officer with a short
fuze and no sense of humour.
We formed up in our various Platoons
and the Sergeant detailed to command the Platoon in front of ours was
Sergeant "Joe Hak". Joe Hak wasn't very tall, but he was built
like a brick shipyard. He was something of a legend in the New Zealand
Artillery as he had been in the Army for more years than most of us
could remember and had done more overseas tours than most of us had
fingers. He stood in front of his Platoon with a row of about a half a
dozen gleaming medals in recognition of his service on operations;
including several tours in the Republic of South Vietnam, the Malay
Peninsular and also Borneo. Being a Maori he looked like a brown version
of "Action Man", from the sparkling brass Gunners badge on his
headdress, right down to his highly spit polished, hob nailed boots.
Our Platoons marched out onto the RF
Depot Parade Ground, got yelled at, inspected and then stood like
statues for what seemed like an eternity. In due course an RNZ Military
Police Land Rover drove onto the Parade Ground, followed closely by the
Camp Commandent who was none other than the dreaded Colonel Poananga.
The hush of fear was quietly audible, interspersed with moans of 'Oh
God" and "Help me Jesus".
Then the inspection started; there
must have been 500 odd men on that parade ground and Colonel Poananga
visibly inspected every single one. When he got to the Platoon in front
of us, we saw Sergeant Hakaria call his men up to attention and then
shoulder arms, march out the required amount of paces, halting in front
of the Colonel before throwing a salute across the stock of the M16 he
was carrying. There was a pregnant pause for a second or two and then
Colonel Po looked down at Joe Hak's gleaming row of medals.
The Colonel then looked him straight
in the eye and spoke "Are those your own medals that you are
wearing Sergeant Hakaria?" "Err...Yes Sir" replied Joe
Hak "Sergeant Hakaria you are incorrectly dressed!" said
Colonel Po in a raised voice. "Err...Yes Sir" replied Joe Hak
in a voice that was now barely audible. "This is my Parade Ground
Sergeant, and you appear on it being incorrectly dressed" said the
Colonel. "Err...Yes Sir" whispered Joe Hak "Sergeant
Hakaria, double off my Parade Ground and don't come back until you are
dressed correctly...now go!" said Colonel Poananga.
And with that Joe Hak threw his weapon
into the "High Port Arms" position, turned left and doubled
off the Parade Ground in the direction of the Senior NCO's barracks
which was about 150 metres away on the other side of the Depot Road.
Clink! Clink! Clink! went the medals,
Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! went his hob nailed boots, and apart from that
every other sound ceased. In the ranks of my own Platoon no-one dared
move a muscle, and all the while Colonel Poananga and several other
Officers stood there right in front of us, with Po quietly tapping his
knee with his swagger stick. In the ranks, although no-one moved, I
think that all five hundred of us, officers included had the same
thought. Joe Hak was full of bullshit and was wearing someone else's
medals; he had just been ordered back to the barracks so that he could
take them off. No-one dared hardly breath as we waited for Sergeant
Hakaria's return and the wrath that awaited him in the person of Colonel
Presently we heard a door slam shut
and then the distinctive crunch of hob nailed boots pounding on the
pavement. Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! went the boots but there was no
audible clinking of the medals; he must have taken them all off.
Next thing the soldiers in the forward
Platoons began whispering "shit" and "look at that".
Then into our own view doubled Sergeant Joseph Hakaria... rifle in his
right hand, while his left hand clutched just above his left breast
pocket, restraining a "second" row of medals that he had just
added to his uniform. He halted in front of the Colonel, pulled the
weapon into his right shoulder and once again saluted.
Colonel Poananga returned his salute
and then in a loud clear voice, the Colonel spoke "Sergeant Hakaria,
when Her Majesty the Queen, or His late Majesty the King awards you a
medal, you will in future wear it on my Parade Ground... Is that
"Yes Sir!" replied Sergeant
And with that Colonel Poananga moved
on. After the parade was over all of us Gunners went over to where Joe
was standing, looking more than a little embarrassed, and I think it was
Steve Richards who asked the question "Sarge, why didn't you wear
all of your medals?" To which Joe replied "To be honest with
you Ehore, I'm a really vain bugger and this top row of medals makes me
look too old".
An interesting and yet sad Post Script
to this yarn was that Joe Hakaria died several years ago, probably from
an Agent Orange related cancer, and about six months after he was laid
to rest he was awarded yet another medal; the 'J' Force Medal for his
service in Japan at the end of the Second World War.
**More to follow: Since his death
Sergeant Joe Hakaraia has been awarded THE NEW ZEALAND OPERATIONAL
SERVICE MEDAL, THE KOREAN WAR SERVICE MEDAL, PINGAT JASA MALAYSIA (PJM -
Malaysian Honour Medal), and the US Meritorious Unit Commendation.