After being buried in Malaysia for 49 years, the body of Warkworth resident Jill McClean’s twin brother was finally returned to New Zealand on August 21.
Private John Stewart Williams, more commonly known as Jack, was killed on his first mission following a Viet Cong ambush in the Vietnam War on June 17, 1969.
He was just 20 years old with a two-month-old son back home. He was one of 37 New Zealanders to be killed in Vietnam.
Jill says it was a nice feeling to properly bury him in their home town of Waipukurau, in Hawkes Bay, after all these years.
A total of 28 hearses assembled at the airport.
“When he died, it was difficult to get closure because we only had a memorial service. It was lovely to finally have him returned to the place he grew up in,” Jill says.
“I did visit his grave in Malaya in 1973, but it wasn’t in a Commonwealth-designated cemetery, so access after that became difficult. We can now visit him as we wish.”
A total of 28 Kiwis who fell in Vietnam, Korea and Malaysia were returned last month as part of a $10 million government initiative.
The bodies were flown in caskets to Auckland International Airport, where Jacinda Ardern, Minister of Defence Ron Mark, service people, family members and other invited guests were present.
“It was an incredible occasion to attend with over 700 people there, and quite moving when the current service people carried the caskets from the plane to the hangar.”
Jill and her family were allowed time with Jack’s casket in the hanger before his body was taken to the domestic terminal. It was then flown to Wellington and from there driven to Hawkes Bay.
“There were 28 different hearses that took each body away, a real sight to watch.”
Jack was buried at the Waipukurau Cemetery on August 25, following a service at Terrace School, which he attended as a child.
“Jack was a real Kiwi kid who loved fishing, playing rugby and anything outdoors so it seemed appropriate to bury him where he did all of that.”
A service was also held the previous day at Central Hawkes Bay College with a plaque unveiling for Jack and one other former student, Stuart Ellwood, who also died in Vietnam.
Jill says in addition to this he is to have a street named after him in Hawkes Bay, something he would have been “well chuffed” with.