Buried in S. Korea for six decades, New Zealand servicemembers finally return home
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The remains of two New Zealand servicemembers who died in South Korea shortly after hostilities ended on the peninsula finally began their journey home Friday.
Army driver Herbert Hunn, 24, and navy telegraphist Peter Mollison, 19, were brought aboard a New Zealand Air Force jet after a repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base’s passenger terminal. The pair were to be returned to family members Sunday at Royal New Zealand Air Base Auckland.
“These two men beside me were not killed in combat and in fact died after the armistice agreement,” New Zealand Ambassador to South Korea Philip Turner said during the ceremony. “They were part of New Zealand and the international community’s commitment to security here.”
Both Hunn, who died in a vehicle accident in 1955, and Mollison who succumbed to meningitis in 1957, had been interred at a United Nations cemetery in Busan.
“Between 1955 and 1971, a New Zealander who died while serving abroad was buried overseas unless their families paid the repatriation cost,” Turner said.
Legislation passed last year brought about a program aimed at bringing those servicemembers home. It’s called Te Auraki — Maori for “the return.”
“When it’s finished, Te Auraki will see 35 people returning to New Zealand from six countries and nine locations, Turner said. “South Korea is the final country in what has been a significant national project for New Zealand.”
Friday’s ceremony, which began with a Maori prayer, brought traditional New Zealand song and dance from the island nation to Osan, including the Haka — a traditional Maori war cry. A dozen New Zealand army and navy personnel then carried their respective servicemember’s caskets through heavy rain and onto the jet.
“We at United Nations Command salute them for their service here and we pray for their families and their countrymen to find closure in their returning home,” said Gen. Vincent Brooks, head of U.S. Forces Korea and United Nations Command.
New Zealand was one of 16 countries to serve under the U.N. flag during the 1950-53 Korean War, which ending with an armistice instead of a peace treaty. Turner said more than 6,000 of his country’s servicemembers deployed to South Korea in the 1950s.
Six New Zealand servicemembers now serve in South Korea under the UNC, according to the New Zealand Defense Force website.
This was the first major repatriation ceremony at Osan since 55 remains presumed to be U.S. servicemembers were returned from North Korea in August.