Viet­nam vet­eran ‘lived five life­times in one’

Central and North Burnett Times - - FRONT PAGE - ERICA MUR­REE erica.mur­

BIGGEN­DEN is morn­ing the loss of one of its com­mu­nity icons — Kevin “Lofty” Wendt — who lost his bat­tle against cancer on Mon­day night. Mr Wendt’s life was about ser­vice to coun­cil and com­mu­nity, but what was most pre­cious to him was fam­ily. The for­mer Reg­i­men­tal Sergeant Ma­jor died at the Biggen­den MPHS on Mon­day, just 12 months on from be­ing named Biggen­den Cit­i­zen of the Year on Aus­tralia Day.

At the award pre­sen­ta­tion, Coun­cil­lor Rob­bie Radel said Mr Wendt was a gen­er­ous per­son, and if he saw a job that needed do­ing, he would gladly con­trib­ute.

“He is a prac­ti­cal clear-think­ing per­son who likes tak­ing on a chal­lenge,” Cr Radel said.

“In his lead­er­ship and ser­vice roles in the com­mu­nity he had been able to use his mil­i­tary ex­per­tise, re­li­a­bil­ity and vi­sion to help oth­ers out.” Mr Wendt OAM served his coun­try for 30 years and coun­cil for 24 years, and could be de­scribed as a quin­tes­sen­tial Aussie who be­lieved in a fair go, hard work, and mate­ship.

KEVIN “Lofty” Wendt’s sis­ter, Narelle Downie, is glad to have had her beloved big brother in her life.

Mr Wendt lost his bat­tle with cancer on Mon­day night, aged 76.

Mrs Downie said he had al­ways been Kev to her.

“He got the nick­name Lofty in the army,” she said.

Af­ter fak­ing his age to join the army, Kevin rose through the ranks to be­come reg­i­men­tal sergeant ma­jor, the high­est rank of a non­com­mis­sioned of­fi­cer.

Six­teen years his ju­nior, Mrs Downie can re­call when her brother bought his first car, a Mini Miner.

“Kev came home with his best mate, Peter Haynes, who was only five-foot-six and see­ing Kev at six-foot-five get out the car was like watch­ing a snake weave out,” she said.

She also re­mem­bers his pas­sion for cream puffs.

“When he came home, Mum would make at least five dozen,” Mrs Downie said.

“I would have to fight my way be­tween Kev, Peter and my other brother, Daryl, to get two.”

Daryl, too, went to the Viet­nam War.

Mrs Downie said Kev would wan­der in and out of their lives.

“He came home for hol­i­days and Christ­mas when able,” she said. “Kev was al­ways mil­i­tary through and through, stood and spoke it.”

Mrs Downie said Kev and her dad ar­gued about Viet­nam as Kev would tell him it was dif­fer­ent.

“Dad didn’t want ei­ther of them join­ing the army as he knew it was hard and harsh from his ex­pe­ri­ences in the Sec­ond World War in Pa­pua New Guinea,” she said.

“They broke his heart as he knew he could lose them, but at the same time so proud of them.

“But there was no chang­ing Kev’s mind. He told me it was the best thing he ever did.

“Nei­ther of them spoke about their in­volve­ment in the wars.”

She re­mem­bered when the fam­ily got the news that Lofty had been hurt by a land­mine in Viet­nam.

“We lived in Ge­orge St then and the con­sta­ble of the time came to the house to de­liver the news,” she said.

“Dad knew it was se­ri­ous and won­dered which one of his sons had been hurt.

“Kev was flown to Greenslope­s as his ears and eyes were in­fected.

“The blast was so se­vere he lost an ear drum.”

She said her dad had to go to the pay­phone in front of the post of­fice to be told by Can­berra that Kev was fine.

It was a fur­ther six weeks be­fore the ban­dages were re­moved and they learnt that Kev’s sight was fine but he had lost hear­ing in one ear.

“It was a tough time for Mum and Dad,” Mrs Downie said.

She de­scribed Kev as funlov­ing but al­ways se­ri­ous, but “you knew he loved you”.

“I was so proud to be his lit­tle sis­ter,” she said.

“There was al­ways an ar­gu­ment, but it was in jest be­tween the two broth­ers who was the best – grunts (sol­diers) or cav­alry,” she said.

“He loved his life in the army. He was a man to look up to and helped out if you had a prob­lem. I am go­ing to miss him so much.”

Mrs Downie said the fam­ily were pre­pared for Kev’s death, but 11 days be­fore that Daryl died sud­denly.

“That took the wind out my sails,” she said.

“I can now look up to heaven and they will be hav­ing a good time. They have each other and our sis­ter Shirley. I have lost all my sib­lings in 20 months – at least they are all to­gether now.”

Mrs Downie has a beau­ti­ful photo of Kev with the Queen Mother look­ing up at him when he took Aus­tralian sol­diers over to Eng­land for the Chang­ing of the Guard.

“I asked him what the smile was about,” Mrs Downie

said. “He told me he said to the Queen’s mum, ‘When that daugh­ter of yours gets out the way we’ll go and in­spect the troop.’ Her re­sponse was ‘you’re a cheeky lad’.”

Mrs Downie said Kev had lived five life­times in one.

“He was so happy, loved Biggen­den, loved the peo­ple, the coun­cil and An­zac Day,” she said. “At the end he fought hard, but it was a bat­tle he wasn’t go­ing to win.”

Pic­ture: File

SORELY MISSED: Kevin “Lofty” Wendt lost his bat­tle with cancer on Mon­day night.

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