In June 1964, Korean War veteran Gerard Grieve was one of the first Kiwi sappers to arrive in Vietnam with the New Zealand Army Detachment (NEWZAD).
Part of 25-strong contingent of the Corps of Royal New Zealand Engineers, Grieve spent nine months in Vietnam before replacements arrived in March 1965. He took exception to the non-combatant label applied to members of the Corps of Royal New Zealand Engineers serving in Vietnam:
We were pretty well armed for non-combatants. They gave each of us 300 rounds of ammunition and six grenades. I had two weapons, one for night and one for day. We had flak jackets and steel helmets as well. Nevertheless, we were there to do engineering tasks.
Grieve travelled to Vietnam with fellow sapper Mike Oliver. Oliver recalls the first NEWZAD contingent departing New Zealand for Saigon without fuss or fanfare. He was under no illusions about the Kiwi sappers’ role in those early days of New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War:
We were there as the showpiece for New Zealand representation, assisting the Americans or the South Vietnamese. It was a show of force, a token gesture by the New Zealand government towards the war.
He recalls little public awareness of the Vietnam War, and no protests:
I certainly didn’t know where Vietnam was. One of the first things I did was ask, “Where the hell is Vietnam?”
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Edited extract from No Front Line: Inside stories of New Zealand’s Vietnam War, by Claire Hall, Penguin NZ, 2014.