A time to remember
by Ann van Engelen
“When you enlist in the military, you join a family that understands what it is each member goes through as they serve to protect their country and humanity.
“Regardless of the service you are in whether they are navy, army or air force, there are respect and understanding, and no matter what happens, you stick together. The common bond never ends, and people outside the services can’t understand this because they are not in it,” says Canterbury District RSA president Stan Hansen.
Stan joined the army infantry in 1974 at twenty years old and eventually changed to the engineers’ trade as a firefighter.
“The military is a fantastic place to work. You gain self-confidence, dignity, respect, humanity and comradery — things that are old family values and important in life. You are a soldier first, ready for combat, and a tradesperson second. I was involved in the peacetime period. There are still soldiers around from the second world war nearing 100 years old.
“They are very gracious and humbled by how the new soldiers respect them. We have been involved in Korea, Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam. Veterans suffered terribly from being sprayed with toxins in Vietnam from friendly fire, which caused horrible health issues and our troops in Bosnia and has seen our worst atrocities since the second world war as peacekeepers.
“We have served in the Sinai, Timor, the Solomon Islands, Gulf one and two wars, and are currently on active service in Afghanistan for more than 10 years. These have served the most combat hours in our history, they are young people, and have a lot of combat experience playing on their minds.
“I have nothing but pride for our army, navy and air force personnel. All of these people are veterans, whether current, last year or 100 years ago, they deserve respect for preserving the life we are living.
“The transition to becoming civilianised is difficult. When people from the first and second world war returned, they were lost and bewildered. They sought solace amongst themselves to recover from combat, and hence RSAs popped up all over the place, and that has never changed. You come to realise that the only time you are really appreciated is on Anzac day or when disaster strikes.”
Stan says the Australian services are highly revered with absolute respect.
“Kiwis are not, and that is disheartening for those who have been in combat and done what they were trained to do for New Zealand’s freedom, but brother and sisterhood kick in to help those who suffer as a result of their service, and of course their families.
“Wives and partners need to accept they become part of the big machine, and when their partner returns from deployment, they sometimes return completely different. The RSA and Veteran Affairs and other agencies/groups help as well. People see things that we are not meant to see and are affected in various ways.
“That is why we have post-traumatic stress.
“Anzac day is an honour, but we would rather there be no wars. For troops overseas during Christmas and those times, it is the loneliest time of their lives, they want to be with their families, but it is all part of deployment.
“My son joined the navy and then transferred to the army. Although you know what happens, any parent who has been in the military and sees their children carry on the tradition has immense pride.
“We never glorify war. It is not about who won or how many people were killed. We had a job that we were sent to do. We did it and came home and always remember those we lost. The world would be an extremely different place if we didn’t do some of those jobs and everything we have known would have been destroyed, including our families.
“It is OK to be proud of our military, they do a darn good job. They help in natural disasters just rebuilt the bridge on the west coast working around the clock. The navy assists with people lost at sea and the air force patrol and protects our borders. Our defence men and women serve all around the world, for us to live peacefully.
“Marching on Anzac day is a proud moment for military people and I encourage those watching to cheer them on and give the recognition they deserve. No matter how old they are, or what capacity of conflict they have been in, we don’t want glory; we don’t want anything material, we just want a bit of heartfelt respect and remembrance.
“Will you remember us for just one day, one day every year regardless.”