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Annual pilgrimage .. Paying their respects to Vietnam soldier David Wright at his gravesite in the St Mary's Church graveyard in Esk Valley are (from left) bugler and former territorial soldier Les Glendinning, former territorial solder Kevin Collins, and Vietnam veterans Peter Anderson and Dick Bennett. The veterans' family members also joined this year's service. PHOTO: CLAIRE ALLISON

by Claire Allison

As the sun begins to rise on Anzac morning, a small group of men and women gather at a grave in a small churchyard in the hills south of Timaru.

They are there – as they are every year – to pay their respects to David Wright, a New Zealand soldier who fought in the Vietnam War and died of his wounds 52 years ago.

For at least 35 years, fellow Vietnam vets from Whisky 3 Company Peter Anderson and Dick Bennett, and sometimes their families, have visited David – he dorever 24, they now in their 70s.

It is a small and very personal ceremony. They travel south after Timaru’s dawn parade, and at about 7am, just as the sun is beginning to rise, they form up at attention and a bugler plays Last Post

After the Ode and the Reveille those present place poppies on David’s grave, pat his headstone and think of what has been and what could have been.

Messrs Anderson, Bennett and Wright served in Whisky 3 Company, as part of the 6th Royal Australian Regiment New Zealand (Anzac) Battalion and later with the 2nd Anzac Battalion.

Whisky 3 had a strength of 150 officers, NCOs and men, and the company served from November 1969 to November 1970, spending 320 days on operations in the field.

Three members were killed or died of wounds, and 16 were wounded.

The other Whisky 3 company men who died were John Gurnick (Pukekohe) and Tom Cooper (Ngaruawahia).

Life cut short . . . David Wright’s gravestone in the churchyard at St Mary’s Anglican Church in Esk Valley, where he is buried alongside his parents. PHOTO: CLAIRE ALLISON

Mr Wright was wounded in late February 1970 – one of three men wounded in that particular contact – and was flown to hospital in Sydney. His mates expected him to make a full recovery, so the news of his death only weeks later on March 19 was a shock.

His parents, Philip and Evelyn Wright, chose to fly his body home to be buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s Anglican Church, which was part of the St Andrew’s parish, of which Philip was minister.

Both his parents have since been buried alongside him in the churchyard, with views of the Pacific Ocean to the east and of the Southern Alps to the west.