It was a normal Tuesday in August when we received an interesting enquiry in the Online Cenotaph inbox. Taylen Heremaia was asking us to scan 150 of her grandfather Te Hira Wati Heremaia's old Kodak colour slides from the Vietnam War. Wondering if, perhaps, this was too good to be true, I responded asking for some more details. To my delight the offer was genuine and I was going to be able to scan these original photographs for posterity.
The Museum's collection consists of a very small number of images from the Vietnam War. This is in part due to veterans and their families still caring for these collections but also due to the fact that there weren’t as many New Zealanders serving as in previous conflicts. For example only 548 service personnel were on the ground in Vietnam in 1968, at the peak of New Zealand's involvement. Over the entire conflict a total of 3,730 New Zealanders served, three quarters of the number that served in Korea and about a quarter of that of Jayforce. On top of this the war, and New Zealand’s involvement in it, was very controversial back home. This led to many service people being understandably reluctant to discuss their involvement or share their military memorabilia and photos.
Country of Vietnam
Lance Corporal Te Hira Wati Heremaia (Ngā Puhi) served with both the New Zealand Special Air Service and as part of the New Zealand Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion. During his tours in Vietnam he took many photos, preserving his wartime experience. All too often our understanding of the conflict is dominated by American media, but New Zealanders often had a very different experience to that of their US counterparts.
Te Hira’s slides offer us a valuable insight into the life and times of a young New Zealander in Vietnam. The images, which you can see below, surpassed my expectations. This collection includes images of the cities, people and countryside of wartime South Vietnam as well as images that depict the practicalities of war.
Pictures of the Conflict
You can read a short interview with Nelson Bennett (NB) and Taylen Heremaia (TH) below, edited for clarity and length.
NB: How did you come into possession of the slides?
TH: My dad had them for as long as I can remember, and he gave them to me back when I was sixteen because I’ve always been a collector of weird things. He told me I was probably the only one in the family who will look after them and not lose them.
NB: What made you decide to share them with the Museum?
TH: I think that there is a big, valuable piece of history that is sort of missing. There isn’t a lot that people know about the Vietnam War and a lot of people from the Vietnam War don’t talk about it very much. I just thought, since I have these images and there are so many other people in them, it would be interesting for people to be able to see them and maybe see family in images they haven’t seen before. And then there is also my family having access, right now unless I bring the slides and the projector, they can’t see them properly.
NB: Do you know if your grandfather ever talked about his service in Vietnam?
TH: No, he didn’t. I’m told all he would say is that he’d been there, and then that was it.
NB:You looked up his record on Online Cenotaph before contacting us, have you been able to find anything else to add to his record?
TH: No, I haven't found anything more. He was a very quiet person and didn’t really share much about himself. Anytime anyone would ask [about his service] he would just change the topic...he’d just say something like, ‘You know I went, I’m back. Photos.’ That’s it.
NB: So what did he do after the war? What was his life like?
TH: He was sort of the quintessential kiwi bloke. Raised some kids, liked fishing a lot, my dad used to complain that he doesn’t like seafood now because they used to eat so much.
NB: Last, but not least, what do these slides mean to you?
TH: I never met him; he passed away before I was born. So, for me it’s a way for me to connect with him, it’s like the only thing I have of him. And since I don’t know much about him the slides are sort of all I’ve got. So, it’s just my way to connect with him, I guess.
Soldiers in Vietnam
Ngā mihi nui to Te Hira’s granddaughter, Taylen Heremaia, who generously shared her grandfather’s slides and story.
- Heremaia Contact Sheet
- Images taken by Lance Corporal Te Hira Wati Heremaia (38481) during active service in the Vietnam War c.1960s.
- Last updated on: 2 Dec 2022 | File Size: 4.2 MB
The full contact sheet of all his images can be viewed through the above pdf file. We encourage anyone who may recognise any of the service people in these images to please get in contact.
Cite this article
Vietnam through the lens of Lance Corporal Heremaia. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 3 November 2022. Updated: 26 April 2023.