Recog­ni­tion at last

Central Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By JOE DAW­SON

A MAN who fought for four dif­fer­ent al­lied armies dur­ing World War II has fi­nally had his ser­vice with the Amer­i­cans recog­nised.

Theo Agter­berg joined the Dutch Re­sis­tance at age 14 be­fore fight­ing with United States, Bri­tish and Dutch forces.

Late last year the longterm Mt Roskill res­i­dent had his ser­vice with the US army ac­knowl­edged, decades af­ter it ended.

Mr Agter­berg, 86, who is se­ri­ously ill, says re­ceiv­ing a com­mem­o­ra­tive medal and let­ter of recog­ni­tion from the US Con­sul Gen­eral in Auck­land, Jim Done­gan, is an im­por­tant moment in his life.

The story of his war ef­forts was brought to the at­ten­tion of the US Con­sulate by Mt Roskill MP Phil Goff, who was there when the medal and let­ter were pre­sented.

Mr Agter­berg fought in Europe and the Pa­cific. Mem­o­ries of the war stayed with him for the rest of his life and night­mares have been a reg­u­lar fea­ture of the last 50 years.

But not hav­ing part of his ser­vice of­fi­cially recog­nised al­most made it seem like it never hap­pened.

‘‘I had a sig­nif­i­cant time and ex­pe­ri­ence with them and they seem to re­alise that now.

‘‘It means ev­ery­thing – even if I don’t get any­thing else, to have that is worth ev­ery­thing to me.’’

His war ad­ven­tures be­gan when he joined the Dutch Re­sis­tance in the south of the coun­try. The Re­sis­tance helped Jews flee­ing the Nazis and English pi­lots shot down over Europe, through a for­est to safety.

He was even­tu­ally picked up by the Ger­mans in a cafe – ‘‘some­one must have told them there was a lot of Re­sis­tance work go­ing on’’ – and loaded on to a cat­tle truck and then a train bound for Ger­many, but he was able to make his es­cape at the bor­der.

He joined the US army, then the Bri­tish Armed Forces which saw him sent to Malaya, and then the Dutch Jagers in In­done­sia.

He re­turned to Europe in 1948.

His ef­forts with the re­sis­tance, the Jagers and the Bri­tish were recog­nised ear­lier, leav­ing ac­knowl­edg­ment from the Amer­i­cans as the miss­ing link.

He linked up with the US in 1944, aged 18, and fought in Bel­gium un­der the com­mand of Gen­er­als McAuliffe and Pat­ton, in­clud­ing in the Seige of Bas­togna. He stayed with the US army un­til the war ended in Europe, when he joined the Bri­tish forces and headed for the Pa­cific.

Bas­togna was a har­row­ing time.

‘‘We were told to go into the lit­tle town­ship and not give in, and we didn’t. We had to fight house-to-house, room-to-room.

‘‘All hell broke loose, we had to take the town five times in 51⁄ weeks, in win­ter.

‘‘I had very lit­tle English. I had an older sol­dier to watch over me but he was only 24 him­self.

‘‘Our group started with 42 men, but when we fin­ished we had only 11 of the orig­i­nal 42.’’

Mr Agter­berg moved to New Zealand with wife Elizabeth in 1954. They had two chil­dren and now have five grand­chil­dren.

Mrs Agter­berg learned of her hus­band’s some­times hor­rific ex­pe­ri­ences only af­ter they were mar­ried and in New Zealand.

To see him fi­nally given the recog­ni­tion he de­served was mo­men­tous for her too.

‘‘I’m very pleased. We’ve been try­ing to get recog­ni­tion that he fought,’’ she says.

‘‘When he talked about it, he got the feel­ing [other veter­ans] shouldn’t lis­ten be­cause he had noth­ing to show for it.’’

Pho­tos: JA­SON OXENHAM

Recog­ni­tion: Theo Agter­berg with the com­mem­o­ra­tive medal ac­knowl­edg­ing his time fight­ing with the US Army.

Com­plete pic­ture: Pho­tos of the young Theo Agter­berg with medals and pins from his World War II ex­pe­ri­ences, in­clud­ing from the Dutch Re­sis­tance, the Dutch Jagers, the Bri­tish Armed Forces and the US army.

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