2 May 2018
The repatriation of a Royal New Zealand Navy engineer has begun in American Samoa today, following a graveside blessing ceremony at Satala Cemetery in Pago Pago.
Engineering Mechanic 1st Class Russell Moore died in an accident on the survey vessel HMNZS Lachlan in 1956.
The repatriation is part of project Te Auraki (The Return), under which personnel buried overseas after 1 January, 1956, will be brought home to New Zealand.
The blessing ceremony was attended by an NZDF contingent and members of the United States Army’s American Samoa Detachment.
Kaumātua conducted karakia (prayers) and other Māori protocols and an NZDF military chaplain delivered a short message to acknowledge the service of Engineering Mechanic Moore.
Group Captain Carl Nixon, who is leading Te Auraki, said the NZDF was committed to ensuring the process was as dignified as possible for the families of those being repatriated.
“Today we are beginning the journey home for Engineering Mechanic 1st Class Russell Moore,” Group Captain Nixon said.
“He is one 37 servicemen and dependants that we anticipate repatriating over the next six months as part of project Te Auraki.”
“We are grateful to the Government of American Samoa for agreeing to the dis-interment and for looking after the graves for many years.
“We would also like to thank the US Army’s detachment in American Samoa for providing logistical support.”
An expert dis-interment team of bio-archaeologists, forensic anthropologists and NZDF odontologists (dentists) from New Zealand will now begin the exhumation and identification process, led by an NZDF doctor.
It follows the dis-interment of Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Secretarial Officer Flight Lieutenant George Beban, MBE, and Fireman Leading Aircraftman Ralph Scott from Fiji last week.
Once the remains have been identified, the service personnel being repatriated will never be left alone, with a continuous vigil by NZDF personnel until they are handed over to their families.
The three fallen personnel from Fiji and American Samoa are due to return to New Zealand on May 7, to be handed over to their families at a ramp ceremony at Base Ohakea.