REGION LOSES ONE OF A KIND
Vietnam veteran ‘lived five lifetimes in one’
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.”
SORELY MISSED: Kevin “Lofty” Wendt lost his battle with cancer on Monday night.