The New Zealand Army’s last remaining Regular Force Vietnam War veteran, Major Gordon Benfell, is retiring after 52 years service.
Major Benfell joined just before he turned 15, originally to be a radio technician, but then decided to do something weapons-related.
He spent three years as a Regular Force cadet, graduating as a Lance Corporal.
At 18 he was a weapons instructor at the Training Wing of the nearby First Battalion Depot, then started training for deployment to Vietnam.
“I’d had several iconic infantry mentors and knew I was in the Army for the long haul and needed to be doing something that thrilled me. I made the change and have never regretted it,” he said.
He served in Phouc Touy Province of South Vietnam with V Coy 6RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion of the 1st Australian Task Force as a section commander – the youngest ANZAC section commander of the Vietnam War.
“I believe the NZ Infantry companies were as well trained for their ANZAC role in Vietnam as they could be,” Major Benfell said.
“In combat they performed admirably and with great courage.
“They were held in high esteem by our allies.
“I believe our soldiers have always been as good as any anywhere, and better than most,” he said.
“New Zealand is so well served by its Defence Force and can be rightly proud of its service people.”
Major Benfell later served in East Timor and Afghanistan.
In Waiouru tomorrow night there will be a dinner for 200 people, including members of Major Benfell’s family, and other Vietnam veterans, including soldiers from his Vietnam platoon and section, to farewell the old soldier.
The corps will be represented by members of the Army’s infantry battalions – reflecting his enormous contribution to the infantry and the army.
Major Benfell holds the Queen’s Medal as an Army Champion Shot and was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2007.
Although he is leaving the Regular Force, he will serve on as a reservist.
He will also advocate for former soldiers in a private capacity.