Jim Lott was one of two New Zealan­ders who died serv­ing in the United States mil­i­tary in the Viet­nam War. His brother Garry sur­vived – but like so many of “Kiwi” Jim’s fel­low Marines, the loss of a much-loved brother and wartime mate cast a long shadow. M

North & South - - In This Issue -

Jim Lott was one of two New Zealan­ders who died serv­ing in the US mil­i­tary in the Viet­nam War. Ben Stan­ley fol­lows the threads of his short, shin­ing life – and the loved ones he left be­hind.

I. “Keep Your Head Down, Gar.”

Bound for Da Nang, the chop­per was due to leave at mid­day. Wan­der­ing up from the hooches, the boys got to the airstrip early and waited for the Huey to ar­rive.

It was early May at the Marine Corps Air Base in Chu Lai, South Viet­nam. The sun made its lazy way across the sky. The hottest part of the year was over.

Garry Lott (above left) had a hang­over, but the pain had been worth it. The last day with Jim (above right), had been a cracker. Af­ter land­ing at five o’clock the evening be­fore, May 6, 1968, on an in­bound chop­per from Dong Ha, Garry found his older brother down by the beach, knock­ing back cheap beer in the en­listed men’s club. Jim gave Garry a big hug, and slapped him on the back. The Lott boys hadn’t seen each other since Aun­tie Madge’s in Kansas City.

That was nine months ago, and though they were both out of boot camp by then, they were still kids. Now, they were Marines. Hard bas­tards. True

hack­ers. They looked it, too. Jim, with his stout, top-heavy rugby player’s build – his wide, mus­cu­lar chest hold­ing up two broad shoul­ders that led down to Pine­tree-like mitts. With curly, slick brown hair and a con­fi­dent smile, Jim had all the swag­ger a 21-year- old kid could hope for.

Garry, two years younger, didn’t ooze the same con­fi­dence but did have half a head and the best part of a stone on Jim, which al­ways pissed off his brother. Garry’s sandy blond hair was more South­ern Cal­i­for­nia than Auck­land, and his nar­rower chest more of a surfer’s than a sec­ond five’s. But here they were – the Lott boys of Mt Al­bert, slap-bang in the mid­dle of the Viet­nam War.

It was a good time to visit Jim. A mini skirt-wear­ing girl band from Tokyo had also ar­rived and per­formed a range of Top 40 hits for the as­sem­bled Marines. Jim scored the broth­ers fron­trow seats, and kept Garry con­stantly sup­plied with cold San Miguels.

Af­ter the show, they headed to the hooches, where one of Jim’s bud­dies was hav­ing a leav­ing party. Ro­tat­ing back to the States, he was sent off with booze and greasy food. The Lott boys ate ham­burg­ers without buns, and some­one pro­duced a bot­tle of bour­bon. Jim could put away his booze, but Garry couldn’t. He knocked back three glasses straight and ran for the door, spew­ing when he made it. Inside, the lads all laughed and car­ried on.

Next morn­ing, Jim and Garry headed down to the beach, stripped down to their cut- off fa­tigue shorts and went for a dip in the South China Sea. Jim showed Garry around the base, posed for a cou­ple of photos with him. Garry got ready for the chop­per. Jim’s mate from the party was leav­ing on it, too.

The Viet Cong had been quiet while Garry was in Chu Lai, with no at­tacks on the base. He joked with Jim that it was the soft­est place in South Viet­nam.

Right af­ter 12, the chop­per swooped in, its ro­tor blades cut­ting through the air to beat that fa­mil­iar whop-whop­whop. A cou­ple of Marines jumped out, and Jim’s mate ran for the door. Garry turned to his brother to say good­bye. They both grinned, and hugged. With their faces inches apart, Jim told his brother, “Keep your head down, Gar.”

Garry nod­ded, turned and ran for the chop­per. The blades spun into top speed again, and off the Huey went. Jim watched the chop­per hover up, point it­self north and slip back into the war.

In Dong Ha that night, Garry sat down and wrote to his mother.

I just ar­rived back from Chu Lai, af­ter see­ing Jim. We had a ball in the short time I was there. At the mo­ment, I’m on watch, things are pick­ing up here, it’s re­ally get­ting busy – war’s hell! Dong Ha got hit bad, but luck­ily I was down in Chu Lai.

II. A Ti­toki Tree at St Luke’s Angli­can

At the top of a small rise be­side St Luke’s Angli­can Church in Mt Al­bert, there is a tall tī­toki tree that went into the soil nearly 50 years ago. A hardy tim­ber, tī­toki was prized by Māori and early Euro­pean set­tlers for its strength, and the oili­ness of its seeds. The Māori phrase “peka tī­toki” was of­ten used as a whakatauki ( proverb) to com­pare its har­di­ness to ran­gi­tira, whose sur­ren­der cost a high price.

Usu­ally early in the week, and ev­ery week for more than two decades, a tall, age­ing man with an ex­pand­ing belly would walk up the con­crete path from New North Rd to the small ceme­tery by the church. He would brush away any leaves that had gath­ered at the base of the tree, and clean the plaque that sat be­neath it. As An­zac Day ap­proached, he’d place a poppy – and say gid­day to his brother.

I met that tall, age­ing man last Novem­ber, in the of­fice of Macdon­ald Hal­li­gan Mo­tors in Eller­slie, just off the South­ern Mo­tor­way. Garry Lott worked at the used car deal­er­ship there.

“A friend of mine got me into car sales and I never left,” he said, lean­ing over his desk. “It’s one of those jobs – once you’re in, you can’t get out. Once you want to get out, no one wants you be­cause you’re a used car sales­man.”

His build gave some in­di­ca­tion of his life; he was rough-hewn, with a big beer gut and a firm, provin­cial hand­shake. His voice, low and re­signed, added lit­tle gar­nish to any tale he told.

“People al­ways say, ‘Why don’t you re­tire?’ – which I can,” he said. “But I can’t go fish­ing or play golf seven days a week. I quite en­joy the con­tact here. My fam­ily has grown up and I’ve been di­vorced for years. It’s only me; I like be­ing alone, ac­tu­ally.

“I like to go home at night, run around in my bloody un­der­wear and pour my­self a nice pinot noir or grab a beer out of the fridge – and not have the has­sle of be­ing nagged.

“I do have to nag my­self, though. ‘What time do you call this, Garry? Why don’t you do the dishes in the sink?’ All jok­ing aside, I can’t main­tain liv­ing with a woman day in, day out.”

Garry didn’t look a healthy man to me. Nei­ther of us knew then, but he was dy­ing. There was cancer in his liver, which would spread through his body over the com­ing months. Most of those months he’d spend as he had the past 25 years: work­ing Wed­nes­day through Sun­day at the deal­er­ship, us­ing his two re­main­ing days for buy­ing gro­ceries, see­ing his daugh­ter and grand­chil­dren – and vis­it­ing his older brother, Jim, at St Luke’s Angli­can.

Born in Auck­land on April 17, 1947, Jim Lott was one of only two New Zealand­born ser­vice­men who died serv­ing in the United States mil­i­tary in the Viet­nam War. A ran­dom search of the Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial Wall web­site last win­ter led me to that Eller­slie used car deal­er­ship of­fice. Of the 58,318 names in­scribed on the wall in Wash­ing­ton DC, only two are listed with New Zealand as their home of record: James Ed­ward Lott and Harry Payne Bur­ton.

Born in Christchurch in 1942, Bur­ton moved to Bal­ti­more as a kid. A sergeant in the 11th Ar­moured Cavalry Reg­i­ment, “Skeeter” Bur­ton was killed as­sault­ing a bunker com­plex near Tay Ninh on April 13, 1969.

Oth­ers would serve, like Hau­rak­i­born Er­rol Palmer, who taught English to Viet­namese chil­dren while serv­ing in the US Air Force; Auck­lan­der Mike Go­la­boski, who now lives on Great Bar­rier Is­land; and Jim’s brother, Garry.

Over the course of nearly a year, the story of the Lott broth­ers would send me, a Kiwi jour­nal­ist who splits his time between Mem­phis and Taupō, to a Ca­jun res­tau­rant in Ba­ton Rouge; a river­side casino in Tu­nica, Mis­sis­sippi; the me­mo­rial wall it­self; and through a win­dow into what the Viet­nam War was, and re­mains, for those who loved, or knew, Jim Lott.

III. The Lott Boys

The river that ran to Chu Lai, via Mt Al­bert, be­gan in Bal­ti­more, Mary­land, when Al­bert Ed­ward Lott Jr was born in 1921. His fa­ther, Al­bert Ed­ward Lott Sr was 29 when his first son was born. As he was listed in the 1940 US Cen­sus, Al­bert Sr had the “dark, ruddy com­plex­ion” that his grand­son Jim would have as an adult.

In June 1918, Al­bert Sr had been drafted to fight in World War I. Still in train­ing when the con­flict fin­ished that Novem­ber, he reskilled as a ma­chin­ist on the Bal­ti­more docks.

His wife, Beatrice Gale, was 27 when Al­bert Jr was born. The cou­ple would have one more – Ed­ward Ge­orge – 14 years later. From the hospi­tal, Al­bert Jr was taken back to 2138 Hollins St, the fam­ily home where Beatrice’s fa­ther, Clarence, also lived.

Like his fa­ther, Al­bert Jr went dock­side. By the time World War II broke out in Europe, he had se­cured an ap­pren­tice­ship as a ship­build­ing ma­chin­ist and was a tal­ented wood­worker.

War reached Amer­ica when the Ja­panese at­tacked Pearl Har­bour in Hawaii on De­cem­ber 7, 1941. A fit 20- year- old, Al­bert Jr signed up with the US Army. Af­ter ba­sic train­ing, he was posted to the 25th In­fantry Divi­sion, which was sent to Guadal­canal in Novem­ber 1942. In Jan­uary 1943, Pri­vate Lott got his first taste of ac­tion there be­fore fur­ther com­bat in Vella Lavella and New Ge­or­gia later that year. The 25th Divi­sion was then sent to Auck­land for re­tool­ing between De­cem­ber 1943 and Fe­bru­ary 1944.

That sum­mer, Kiwi author­i­ties or­gan­ised a se­ries of so­cial events for the rest­ing Amer­i­can troops. At one of them, a 24-year- old teacher from Pon­sonby caught Al­bert Jr’s eye.

Joan Linda Hannken was born in 1919, the daugh­ter of Roy “Clarry” Hannken and Linda Wil­liams. The pair mar­ried in Auck­land in 1916, just be­fore Clarry vol­un­teered to fight in Europe.

Pri­vate Hannken fought at Pass­chen­daele and Messines be­fore re­turn­ing home in 1918. A pre-war carter, he be­came a cab­i­net­maker and built a home for his new fam­ily at 44 Sains­bury St, Mt Al­bert. A son, Gra­ham Roy, was born in 1924.

Af­ter leav­ing school, Joan took a job at LD Nathan as a clerk be­fore be­com­ing a pri­mary school teacher. Although most wartime ro­mances didn’t stay the course, Al­bert Jr re­turned to New Zealand af­ter the con­flict ended and mar­ried Joan at St Luke’s Angli­can Church on July 27, 1946.

The fol­low­ing April, their first son James was born at the Jes­mond Dene Nurs­ing Home at 737 New North Rd. On March 22, 1949, a sec­ond son, Roy Garry Lott, was born. The fam­ily moved back to Bal­ti­more in 1950, but Joan didn’t like it much and the mar­riage broke up. While Al­bert Jr stayed in the US, she and the two boys re­turned to live with her par­ents in Mt Al­bert.

Their beloved Pa, Clarry, died in 1954, leav­ing Joan and Linda to raise the kids. Not long af­ter, Al­bert Jr was back on the scene. “Mum got a call from him,” Garry, who has never gone by his first name, told me. “He wanted to come back and rec­on­cile.”

To earn his keep, Al­bert Jr turned the fam­ily’s garage into his work­shop. He in­stalled a lathe, and made pool ta­bles that he’d sell around Mt Al­bert. De­spite those ef­forts, Al­bert Jr was said to be a lazy man who en­joyed drink­ing, smok­ing and bludg­ing off his hard-work­ing wife.

“He bought a whole lot of tools at Farm­ers and left them on tick for Mum to pay off,” says Garry. “He loved to drink [and] he used to leave cig­a­rette burns all over the place. He’d smoke Lucky Strikes. I re­mem­ber when he came out, when I was seven or eight, he had car­tons of Lucky Strikes. No fil­ters on them, ei­ther.”

The Lotts’ sec­ond at­tempt at mar­riage failed and Al­bert Jr left Auck­land for Christchurch in 1957. Jim never saw him again, and Garry only twice. The only con­tact now was empty en­velopes he’d send to their mother. “It was prob­a­bly just for show, for his mates, that he was pay­ing [child sup­port] for us,” says Garry.

Jim and Garry’s child­hood was lit­tle dif­fer­ent from that of most sub­ur­ban Pākehā Ki­wis in post-war New Zealand, where rugby was True North. The boys played rugby at Mt Al­bert Pri­mary (where their mum was a teacher), Kōwhai In­ter­me­di­ate and Mt Al­bert Gram­mar [MAGS]. Sum­mers would see them wan­der down to Mt Al­bert Pri­mary to play force-back on the fields. “He was the in­tel­li­gent one – I was the typ­i­cal prick,” says Garry. “We weren’t tooth and nail, though. We did ev­ery­thing to­gether.”

To the fam­ily, James was al­ways Jim or Jimmy. Garry was al­ways Gar, or “Me Too”, be­cause he fol­lowed along with what Jim was do­ing. Garry liked wind­ing up his pro­tec­tive older brother. When they were kids, Jim had dozens of plas­tic army sol­diers he would lay out in bat­tle scenes; Garry would walk right over them.

By the time they got to high school, the Lott boys – they and their mother Joan kept Al­bert Jr’s last name – were keen rugby play­ers. Jim played any po­si­tion in the back­line ex­cept half­back, while Garry was usu­ally a full­back or cen­tre. In 1963, Jim made MAGS’ 3A team, es­sen­tially the 2nd XV. Fu­ture All Black le­gend B.G. Wil­liams was in the team the fol­low­ing year.

Af­ter gain­ing his School Cer­tifi­cate and UE, Jim left MAGS af­ter sixth form for teacher’s col­lege, want­ing to fol­low in his mother’s foot­steps. Not long be­fore that, when he turned 16, he re­ceived a let­ter from the US Depart­ment of De­fense telling him he was el­i­gi­ble to join the US mil­i­tary. Garry got the same let­ter the fol­low­ing year. While the boys couldn’t be drafted, as they weren’t full Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, their fa­ther’s home coun­try was giv­ing them the choice to serve if they wished.

The let­ter planted a seed in Jim. It grew for two years; at 18, he de­cided he was go­ing to be a Marine. With Go­la­boski, a fel­low Kiwi-amer­i­can, he left in early Septem­ber 1965, bound for Hawaii – the near­est Marine re­cruit­ment of­fice.

“Me Too” would fol­low the next year. Their mother was wor­ried but knew she couldn’t stop them. Her only re­quest was that they write reg­u­larly.

“To me, it was an es­cape – a big OE,” says Garry.

IV. The Tat­too

A garage door in sub­ur­ban Ba­ton Rouge, Louisiana, slowly jolts open, re­veal­ing a big black and white sticker on the back of Richard Smart’s 2013 Lexus. “FUCK JANE FONDA,” it reads.

Smart, a 70-year- old former Marine, still de­spises the Hol­ly­wood ac­tress for vis­it­ing Hanoi in 1972. By then, tens of thou­sands of Amer­i­can men and women had died serv­ing in Viet­nam. He still sees the star’s visit to the en­emy as the ul­ti­mate be­trayal.

Smart, who goes by the nick­name “Max”, af­ter the 1960s tele­vi­sion se­cret agent Maxwell Smart, leads a lonely life. Mostly house­bound these days, he re­tired about eight years ago. His last wife, his fourth, has since left him, though he of­ten sees his 20-year- old son, Zack, a Ba­ton Rouge col­lege stu­dent and jan­i­tor.

Ev­ery Fri­day, this pudgy man with a trimmed white beard es­capes with a friend to a nearby Hoot­ers for a lunch of ribs, hot wings and sweet tea. “We tip well,” he tells me.

Smart’s res­ig­na­tion – and his hon­esty – takes a truly Amer­i­can form, but I’d en­coun­tered this at­ti­tude be­fore, in Eller­slie. Garry Lott and “Max” Smart had much in com­mon, though they never met.

Although 37 Ki­wis were killed in the Viet­nam War while serv­ing in our own mil­i­tary, New Zealand’s in­volve­ment was very lim­ited. Early in the con­flict, the White House put pres­sure on Prime Min­is­ter Keith Holyoake to send troops. Though per­son­ally re­luc­tant, Holyoake knew – due to the 1951 Anzus Treaty, – he had to make some com­mit­ment.

“The gov­ern­ment’s ad­vi­sors warned that the war was un­winnable,” says Dr Ian Mcgib­bon, who wrote 2010’s New Zealand’s Viet­nam War. “We did the min­i­mum we could do, re­ally.”

Small sur­gi­cal and en­gi­neer­ing units were sent in 1963 and 1964, be­fore 161 Bat­tery and com­pany- sized de­tach­ments from the Royal NZ In­fantry Reg­i­ment were sent over the fol­low­ing two years. All up, more than 3000 Ki­wis served in South Viet­nam.

Though con­tro­ver­sial back home and the sub­ject of reg­u­lar protests, the Viet­nam War didn’t re­shape New Zealand so­ci­ety the way it did in the US. As doc­u­men­tary mak­ers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick showed in last year’s ac­claimed 17-hour PBS se­ries The Viet­nam War, the con­flict changed the way Amer­ica looked at it­self. Cou­pled with the civil rights and counter- cul­ture move­ments, many Amer­i­cans’ trust in their gov­ern­ment was shaken to the core. Af­ter all, the ad­min­is­tra­tions of three pres­i­dents – Kennedy, John­son and Nixon – had been wildly dis­hon­est about their nation’s in­volve­ment and po­ten­tial for suc­cess in Viet­nam.

For Smart, the scep­ti­cism that bred, along with the mem­ory of how he was treated upon re­turn­ing, is as vivid to­day as it was then – as it is to hun­dreds of thou­sands of Amer­i­cans who served in South­east Asia.

What do you do if your in­volve­ment in some­thing as a kid changed your life, and the di­rec­tion of your coun­try as well? For Smart, it even­tu­ally meant a tat­too for a mate killed a cou­ple of feet away from him.

He shows it to me not long af­ter we walk back into his lounge, af­ter lunch at a Ca­jun diner on the other side of Ba­ton Rouge. The ink, done eight years ago, de­picts a grave­stone with a Marine’s hel­met above it. “USMC” the ink reads at the top, and then: James “Kiwi” Lott CPL USMC Kia May 8, 1968 Chu Lai, RVN All Gave Some… … Some Gave All “My psy­chi­a­trist was fum­ing,” says Smart. There’s lit­tle emo­tion in his voice. “‘That’s the last thing you need,’ she said to me, ‘to be re­minded 24-7.’ But I want to think about the kid.”

Re­mem­brance of Jim Lott takes dif­fer­ent forms for the Marine bud­dies who called him “Kiwi”. Minneapolis’s Daniel Cal­la­han, who I met at a run­down river­side casino in Mis­sis­sippi as he trav­elled to visit his daugh­ter in Florida, named his son James, now 31, af­ter his best mate in Chu Lai.

Ver­mont’s Peter Stone, who now lives in Sil­ver City, New Mex­ico, pours two glasses of whisky for Jim ev­ery year: on April 17, the day he died, and May 8, his birthday. Min­nesota’s Pat Owen thinks of a boot-camp pledge to buy two is­lands in the Pa­cific – and a pounamu tiki a kid from Mt Al­bert gave him.

“Has it helped you?” I ask Smart about the tat. Smart shakes his head and gri­maces. “No,” he says. “But it hasn’t hurt me, ei­ther. It’s just my way of remembering.”

V. The Road To Chu Lai

Four months af­ter Jim left, “Me Too” was des­tined for Hawaii, and the Marine Corps, as well. Garry’s pas­sage cost £108.

Be­fore he boarded the RMS Ar­ca­dia in Auck­land on Jan­uary 7, 1966, Jim sent him a let­ter full of ad­vice about the no­to­ri­ous eight-week Marine Corps boot camp he’d com­pleted the pre­vi­ous month in San Diego.

Just put your best [ foot] for­ward all the time and don’t do any­thing un­til the D. I. [drill in­struc­tor] tells you,” Jim wrote. “Re­mem­ber it is only eight weeks long and at the end of it, you will be a grad­u­ated Marine.

By the time Garry got to San Diego that Fe­bru­ary, Jim was in Mem­phis, at a Marine sort­ing sta­tion for re­cruits who chose to pur­sue fur­ther train­ing in the avi­a­tion field. Af­ter sev­eral weeks, Jim was told he was go­ing to be an air traf­fic con­troller. Four months of ba­sic air traf­fic con­trol and radar train­ing at the Naval Air Sta­tion in Glynco, Ge­or­gia fol­lowed.

In Septem­ber 1966, he was sent to the Marine Corps Air Base at Cherry Point, North Carolina for nearly a year of on­the-job train­ing: read­ing flight data, re­ly­ing on radar, or­gan­is­ing land­ing or­der and co­or­di­nat­ing a pi­lot’s ap­proach. Train­ing was hard and weather-de­pen­dent. Rain was best for the in­struc­tors be­cause the trainees, who worked in three daily eight-hour shifts, would have to be fully reliant on radar.

Pat Owen was Jim’s bunk­mate at Cherry Point. He would go on to fly Co­bra at­tack he­li­copters in Viet­nam, but right then, he just had the top bunk. “[Jim] was short, no more than 5’5”, I sup­pose, but he was built like a fire­plug,” Owen tells me over the phone from his home in Camp Hill, Penn­syl­va­nia. “He was smart, too. Any­one in our field had to be smart, given the scores you needed.”

Daniel Cal­la­han met Jim for the first time at Cherry Point and, although they would be­come closer at Chu Lai, they were drink­ing bud­dies in North Carolina, “do­ing Sin­ga­pore Slings for a quar­ter a piece”, he says.

The fol­low­ing sum­mer, Jim, Cal­la­han and Owen all grad­u­ated as air traf­fic con­trollers, took the rank of cor­po­ral and awaited their or­ders. Some in their class would be posted to smaller bases in the US or Ja­pan, but all three, and half their col­leagues, would end up in Viet­nam. Be­fore they left, Jim, who’d by now gained the un­sur­pris­ing “Kiwi” nick­name, gave Owen a small pounamu tiki, and the pair made a pact that once they were out, they’d buy two Pa­cific is­lands to­gether, which they’d found on an atlas.

“We had no Google Earth back then, so you couldn’t tell what these places looked like,” says Owen, laugh­ing. “[Later, I found out] they were in the mid­dle of the Pa­cific and both were noth­ing more than sand and an airstrip.”

While Jim waited for the news he’d be off to Viet­nam, his younger brother had al­ready ar­rived.

Af­ter boot camp, Garry had fol­lowed Jim into Marine avi­a­tion, train­ing as a radar tech­ni­cian, and was posted to Khe Sahn in July 1967. Garry, who hadn’t seen his brother since they both stayed with their Aunt Madge in Kansas City the year be­fore, worked with

the Mede­vac Hueys there.

It was a hairy in­tro­duc­tion for Garry, who re­ceived mi­nor shrap­nel and gun­shot wounds by the end of his first month. We’re re­ally tak­ing a lot of fire from old ‘Char­lie’ lately – it adds to the ex­cite­ment, he wrote to his mother.

Jim landed in Viet­nam on Novem­ber 15, 1967 aboard a civil­ian 707 from San Fran­cisco, bound for Da Nang. In­com­ing air con­trol re­cruits were sent wher­ever re­in­force­ments were needed. Jim could have been sent to Khe Sanh, Dong Ha, Quang Tri, Phu Bai or Chu Lai; next day he boarded a C-130 for the base his brother would later call “the soft­est… in South Viet­nam”.

If you wanted to be an ace air traf­fic con­troller, you couldn’t have hoped for a bet­ter spot than Chu Lai in 1967 and 68. Over those years, the air­base would be con­sid­ered the sixth busiest air­port in the world, in terms of over­all ac­tiv­ity. “We humped a lot of traf­fic,” says Cal­la­han, who was al­ready there when Jim ar­rived. “Any­one who worked that tower could have worked any­where in the world – and they did.”

Around 100km south of Da Nang, Chu Lai air­base was split in two by a 3km­long air­field. To the right of the run­way was the ocean and, in between the two, sat Marine ac­com­mo­da­tion or “hooches”, a mess hall, an en­listed men’s club, me­chan­ics bays and plane parks. To the left were the tower, res­cue and re­cov­ery area, tem­po­rary stand-alone mess hall, and the sand­bagged radar con­trol van, where Jim would spend his work­ing life as a Marine. The whole base was ringed by barbed wire and bunkers. Other than a small rock quarry on its western edge, the air­base was mostly sur­rounded by scrubby jun­gle, though a small vil­lage was a few clicks north.

As­signed to Crew 2, Marine Air Traf­fic Con­trol Unit 67 ( MATCU- 67), Cprl Lott’s fo­cus was the A-4 Sky­hawks and F-4 Phan­toms of Marine Air Groups 12 and 13, which pro­vided air sup­port for ground troops in­land. “These guys had their lives in his hands, [but] Jim was pretty good at it, too,” Peter Stone tells me over the phone.

Both Jim and Stone ar­rived in Chu Lai around the same time that Novem­ber, and were as­signed the same hooch. It was ba­sic ply­wood hut with a cor­ru­gated iron roof, but the boys decked it out. Grass mats cov­ered the floor, and a small fridge, hot plate, record player and tape recorder had also been ac­quired. All the com­forts of home, a let­ter home an­nounced.

“Kiwi” made a big im­pres­sion on his unit. Not only was he a hard, un­selfish worker, he was a good laugh, well-read – he’d brought along sev­eral books by his favourite author James A. Mich­ener – and happy to learn Amer­i­can foot­ball on the beach, as long as he could share a bit of rugby knowl­edge.

Serv­ing 24- hours on/ 24- hours off shifts, down­time of­ten grav­i­tated around the en­listed men’s club, where a beer was 10c. Garry told me he al­ways wor­ried Jim suf­fered their fa­ther’s thirst for the bot­tle. Kiwi’s drink­ing abil­i­ties matched any­one at Chu Lai. “I tell you, Kiwi could put away some beer,” says Stone. “I tried to keep up with him a cou­ple of times, and I don’t know how I got back to our hooch.”

A Min­nesota-ir­ish farm boy, Cal­la­han – known as D.C. to his mates – could knock it back as well as Jim, and the two be­came close friends. “There were some guys who thought we were two men who had a thing for each other,” he tells me. “We never would have be­cause we weren’t that way, but guys couldn’t be­lieve that two guys could be that close as friends.”

By De­cem­ber 1967, perime­ter guard du­ties were among the few things that punc­tu­ated Jim’s Chu Lai rhythm. Just be­fore Christ­mas, he watched Bob Hope’s show per­form at the base – and got to shake hands with star­let Raquel Welch af­ter­wards. He also re­con­nected with Go­la­boski, who was serv­ing in Chu Lai’s mo­tor trans­port de­tach­ment.

Like ev­ery­where else, the base was shaken by the Tet Of­fen­sive, a mas­sive na­tion­wide North Viet­nam and Viet Cong sur­prise at­tack launched the fol­low­ing month. On Jan­uary 31, Chu Lai was hit by 48 rock­ets, which, as well as wreck­ing some of the hooches, blew up a bomb dump, dam­ag­ing 30 fighter jets.

Life is rather ex­cit­ing at present – like hav­ing Guy Fawkes or the 4th of July ev­ery night, Jim wrote to his mother, from a bunker, on Fe­bru­ary 1. Please don’t worry – I am re­ally quite safe. I wrote this be­cause I fig­ured we would prob­a­bly be in the news and I want you to know I am do­ing okay.

Schol­ars have of­ten pointed to Tet as the be­gin­ning of the end for the Amer­i­cans in Viet­nam. Af­ter Tet, Jim no­ticed, too. Drugs started to be­come a big prob­lem, with Marines not only smok­ing mar­i­juana but shoot­ing up heroin and tak­ing speed, too.

Cal­la­han – who, like Jim, stuck to booze – told me half the air traf­fic crews were ad­dicted to drugs. He re­mem­bers, at one point, three tech­ni­cians be­ing chop­pered out af­ter over­dos­ing on smack. Pros­ti­tu­tion, at the local vil­lage, also be­came an is­sue.

All Marines were signed up for 13 months “in coun­try”, mean­ing Jim’s time wouldn’t be up un­til De­cem­ber 68. He was al­ready think­ing about life af­ter that. He had or­gan­ised an in­ter­view with KLM Air­lines, for a job as a con­troller in Am­s­ter­dam, and con­sid­ered train­ing with the Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity at home.

His let­ters re­mained brief, but cre­ated the im­age of a young bloke get­ting on with life as much as he could. He wrote of qual­i­fy­ing as a fi­nal-ap­proach con­troller, cel­e­brat­ing a booze-soaked 21st with D.C. and Go­la­boski, and the overnight visit from Garry to Chu Lai in May, which was or­gan­ised the month be­fore. “He’d talk a lit­tle bit about [New Zealand], but mostly it was ‘I can’t wait to get out of here and go home,’” says Stone.

By March, MATCU-67 brought on two lo­cals to work for them, as part of the US mil­i­tary’s “Viet­nami­sa­tion” pro­gramme, to help skill up South Viet­namese. One, a well-liked 16-year-old, was in train­ing to be a diesel me­chanic when he was run over and killed by a truck.

The other was an older man, nick­named “Papa-san”, who was tasked with keep­ing the mess hall tidy. The Marines had their sus­pi­cions straight away. “We were con­stantly chas­ing his butt back to that mess hall,” says Smart. “He was sneak­ing around here, and sneak­ing around there. We told the cap­tain, ‘Get rid of him’, but noth­ing would hap­pen. One day, Papa- san didn’t turn up for work. We thought, ‘Well, maybe the old man is sick.’ That night, we had a rocket at­tack. Usu­ally the rocket at­tacks go af­ter the air­planes on the east side. This at­tack comes on the west side. It barely missed us, and hit the launch and re­cov­ery unit. Next day, here’s Papa-san.” The cap­tain con­tin­ued to be nagged, but the old man re­mained at Chu Lai.

By then, Garry had moved from Khe Sanh to Dong Ha. His year was up in Au­gust, and he was pretty much over it, too. A week be­fore he flew to Chu Lai, he wrote to his mum: There are a lot of men dy­ing here. I shouldn’t say men, as the av­er­age age is 19, which is re­ally un­fair be­cause men in their 50s and 60s or­gan­ise and plan this war.

VI. May 8, 1968

The dishes in the mess area re­mained dirty on Thurs­day May 8, 1968. The old man hadn’t turned up for work, again. That spooked Smart, and led the boys to make an agree­ment; they would sleep in a nearby bunker that night in­stead of the hooches.

Jim had scored an ex­tra shift off the day be­fore, mean­ing he’d nabbed three straight days away from the radar van. At the last minute, though, he swapped back onto a shift for another Marine who hadn’t had leave for a while. Af­ter all, Jim had had a de­cent break. Kiwi was on the same shift as Smart, but was tak­ing over from Cal­la­han, who’d been in the van all day. It was sunny and clear at Chu Lai. Vis­i­bil­ity for pi­lots had en­sured work wasn’t tough go­ing.

“Kiwi,” Cal­la­han told Jim, “I’ve gotta go get some chow.” Cal­la­han headed to the mess hall on the other side of the airstrip, as the new shift got com­fort­able. Staff Sergeant John Rush took a seat in front of a radar scope, while Cor­po­ral Gerald Ryser sat in front of flight data. Staff Sergeant John Pekirk, the radar tech, was the shift co­or­di­na­tor, ad­vis­ing the two con­trollers which air­craft were com­ing in, and on what ra­dio fre­quency.

Staff Sergeant John Call was the crew chief, on his feet, check­ing on his team and the data. Jim and Smart were in the ad­min area, where there was a spare radar scope, and desk. Jim was at the desk, read­ing mag­a­zines, when Smart came over and start­ing chat­ting. They talked about noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar – the weather, the shift, Garry’s visit over the past two days. At 5.30pm, Jim yawned and looked at Smart. “I’m tired,” he told

him. “I’m go­ing to lay my head down and take a nap.” “All right,” said Smart. “I’ll talk to you later.”

Over the mag­a­zines on the desk, Jim laid his arms in front of him, rested his head on them and closed his eyes. Smart did the same, lean­ing back against the en­try to the ad­min area a few feet away. The van was hot and quiet, when the rocket hit at ex­actly 5.35pm. It shook the van like a gi­ant punch, en­ter­ing at the top of the wall above the two radar scopes at the north­ern end of the van.

Smart re­mem­bers lit­tle of the im­pact, ex­cept that it wasn’t like what he’d seen on TV. It was just a “pow” with lit­tle ac­tual ex­plo­sion. But day­light was ev­ery­where – and he knew that was a bad sign.

Rush start­ing yelling, “Get to the bunker!” and the men stag­gered out of the van, which was now a ragged, twisted man­gle of me­tal, wires, an­tenna and blood. The air­base sirens start­ing blar­ing, full noise. At the main mess hall, Cal­la­han took cover and waited for the sirens to stop, be­fore go­ing out­side to see what had hap­pened. He saw smoke bil­low­ing from the van, and ran back over the run­way.

Call was scream­ing in agony; his arm had been hit – badly. Smart dragged him to the bunker out­side and pressed his hand on Call’s arm to stop the bleed­ing. There were first aid kits in the van, but, in the con­fu­sion, no­body could lo­cate any­thing. Ev­ery­one else had made for the bunker, too, loaded up with ri­fles, ma­chine guns and am­mu­ni­tion, and was wait­ing for the fol­low-up at­tack.

A medic ar­rived and, along with Rush, took over from Smart. ‘I’ll take care of you in a minute,” he said.

Smart thought the blood that cov­ered him was Call’s, but it was mostly his own. He’d been pep­pered with shrap­nel, tak­ing one piece in the right bi­cep, another in his up­per right chest and a third long splin­ter that had sliced through his waist. He sat to the side and looked at the van. He saw the ad­min area where he and Jim were sit­ting and knew, straight away, what had hap­pened. So did Stone, who’d been hang­ing out in a nearby med­i­cal hut when the rocket hit. He stuck his head inside the smok­ing van and knew Jim was gone. Cal­la­han, who had just ar­rived, didn’t know. “We got hit,” the guys told him, but they didn’t want to an­swer his only real ques­tion: “Where’s Kiwi?”

Jim was in a Marine am­bu­lance by then. The top of his head had been blown off. James Ed­ward Lott had died in­stantly, pain­lessly, doz­ing on a desk more than 9000km from home.

Smart, af­ter be­ing treated by medics, no­ticed Jim’s body as he was bun­dled into the am­bu­lance, but didn’t want to look back. Be­fore a sec­ond at­tack, which missed ev­ery­thing, a chop­per ar­rived and took Call to the hospi­tal. Another flew over to the rock quarry at the edge of the base, where the rocket seemed to have come from. There, it found three Viet Cong scram­bling away; a small part of another na­tional of­fen­sive his­tory would call “Mini-tet”.

The Huey’s ma­chine gun was turned on them, “and those son- of-a-bitches are dead”, Smart told me, with grit­ted teeth, 50 years later and a world away.

Cal­la­han re­mem­bers light- green rib­bons fall­ing like rain. They were flight progress strips that con­trollers filled in, scat­tered by the rocket’s im­pact. Down they streamed, onto the tan­gled re­mains of the radar van, the bunker and the air­field.

VII. Mother’s Day

The phone rang at 44 Sains­bury St on the morn­ing of Mother’s Day, May 12, 1968. On the man­tel­piece sat the ap­pro­pri­ate card from her old­est boy, whose last let­ter she’d re­ceived the day be­fore. Joan Lott an­swered and heard an Amer­i­can voice. It was a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the Amer­i­can con­sulate in Auck­land. He told her Jim had been killed in ac­tion.

Although she hadn’t heard from him yet, her youngest son had found out four days ear­lier. Garry had been back in Dong Ha less than 48 hours when an or­der came through for him. He was to re­port to Da Nang, but there was no other in­for­ma­tion. With an M-16 in hand, Garry sat shot­gun in a tiny twoseat chop­per for the flight down the coast, won­der­ing what was up.

When he got to Da Nang, he walked to a friend’s place and opened a cold Coke be­fore ring­ing head­quar­ters to let them know where he was. A jeep with two MPS turned up and bun­dled him aboard. Still no one told him what was hap­pen­ing. “We’ve got some bad news for you,” the colonel told Garry, as he en­tered the of­fice. Garry’s first thought was that his grand­mother or, even worse, his mother had died. “I’m sorry to tell you,” the colonel con­tin­ued, “your brother has been killed.”

Garry broke down in front of the of­fi­cer, who put the mil­i­tary ma­chine into gear to bring them both home. Within 12 hours of find­ing out, Garry was fly­ing out of South Viet­nam on a C-130 to Ok­i­nawa, Ja­pan. The whole plane was full of cas­kets. “I re­mem­ber sit­ting in there think­ing, ‘Which one is Jim?’”

Af­ter iden­ti­fy­ing Jim’s body in Ok­i­nawa – “I was just like, ‘Yeah, that’s him.’ [I] never touched him, never kissed him or any­thing” – Garry was is­sued with a crisp new uni­form, sent to Hawaii, given 30 days’ leave and put on a Pan Am flight back to Auck­land. His brother’s body trav­elled with him. The next few days, back home and be­fore the fu­neral, were a blur. Garry re­mem­bers only frag­ments of them now. In one, he is sit­ting in the silent lounge at Sains­bury St with his mum, re­peat­ing over and over, “Jim’s dead. Jim’s dead.” In another, his fa­ther is mak­ing a scene at the air­port as he brings out Jim’s body.

The fu­neral took place at St Luke’s Angli­can – the same church his par­ents were mar­ried in more than two decades be­fore – on Satur­day, May 25, 1968. An Amer­i­can mil­i­tary at­taché ac­com­pa­nied the fam­ily to the church, where Al­bert Jr made another scene about not sit­ting in the front row. “Dad,” Garry told him “give it a break.”

The whole plane was full of cas­kets. “I re­mem­ber sit­ting in there think­ing, ‘ Which one is Jim?’”

The con­sulate had given the at­taché a big Amer­i­can flag that was laid on Jim’s cas­ket, which Al­bert Jr and Garry folded, then Garry pre­sented to Joan. An hon­our guard of the local Boy’s Brigade – Jim had been a mem­ber as a child – and Kiwi Spe­cial Air Ser­vice sol­diers was formed out­side, and watched as RSA vet­er­ans car­ried out the cas­ket.

The body was cre­mated at Waikumete Ceme­tery in Glen Eden. Jim’s ashes were spread there. Fam­ily in the US sent money for a plaque to be made for Jim, which was set in the St Luke’s ceme­tery with a young tī­toki tree.

The Lott fam­ily found that Auck­land was learn­ing about Jim, too. Anti-war pro­tes­tors demon­strated as the hearse was wheeled into the ceme­tery; a tabloid splashed the story – with a pic­ture of Jim in uni­form – on the back page.

“‘Brother Home in Sor­row’ was the head­line,” said Garry, with a deep sigh. “‘What a whole lot of crap,’ I was say­ing then. But I was… I re­ally was [in sor­row]. I al­ways felt ter­ri­bly guilty about wav­ing it off as though I was a tough dude. I was bro­ken.”

Cir­cling back to May 8, he shook his head. “I mean, if I’d stayed another day [in Chu Lai], Jim would have prob­a­bly said, ‘I can’t – my brother is here.’ Or worse is Jim could have said, ‘I want to show Gar where I work.’ I could have been in the van with him if I stayed another day. So many dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios, aren’t there?”

VIII. Panel 57E, Line 6

For Viet­nam vet­er­ans, and the Amer­i­can fam­i­lies of those who served and died there, the salve to their grief and to the guilt of their sur­vival has of­ten been found at the Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial Wall in Wash­ing­ton, DC, which was un­veiled in Novem­ber 1982. The names of those who died between 1957 and 1975 span two 75m- long black gab­bro pan­els in a V-shaped form.

Some vet­er­ans get a piece of pa­per and etch names in pen­cil lead or crayon. Oth­ers leave items. Oth­ers sim­ply reach and touch the name of the mate they left be­hind. A vet­eran was do­ing just that at a panel near where Jim’s name can be found when I vis­ited early last Septem­ber. To look at the wall and feel the im­mense­ness of so many names – so many sto­ries – strips away the mythol­ogy

Anti- war pro­tes­tors demon­strated as the hearse was wheeled into Waikumete Ceme­tery

of the Viet­nam War. Ev­ery­thing you’ve seen, read and heard about it dis­ap­pears. Solemnly, the wall of­fers but one mes­sage: this is who they were.

De­spite be­ing op­posed to the wall when it was built, Cal­la­han vis­ited in the mid-80s. He did what Owen and Stone would later do and found his way to Panel 57E, Line 6 to find Jim’s name, right there, between Vic­tor L. Layne, a black 23-year- old in­fantry­man from Al­bany, Texas, and Gerald W. May­berry, a white 20-year- old Marine en­gi­neer from Franklin, Ken­tucky. All three, and 74 oth­ers, died on May 8, 1968.

“[When] you walk down into it and you find the name, well, it’s al­most like you are be­ing pulled in,” Cal­la­han tells me. “There’s an un­be­liev­able feel­ing that comes over you. It got right to my heart – right to the pit. You see your re­flec­tion, you see his name and you think, ‘Oh, my God.’ All the good and bad mem­o­ries come flood­ing back.”

Garry never made it to the wall – “I’d been a lot closer to Jim than just touch­ing his name on a wall,” he told me – but his daugh­ter, Deb­bie Elias, hopes to take her own daugh­ter, Tyra, one day.

On May 8 this year, the 50th an­niver­sary of Jim’s death, Smart will make the trip from Ba­ton Rouge for the first time. He’d seen a small-scale “trav­el­ling wall” when it vis­ited Louisiana years ago, but this would be the real deal.

“That al­most de­stroyed me, so I can only imag­ine what hap­pens at the ac­tual wall,” he says. “I’ve got to go. My son won’t let me go alone, but I have to go.”

For men like Smart, the Viet­nam War they fought, and still fight, is now two gen­er­a­tions past. There have al­ready been 50-year an­niver­saries: the Gulf of Tonkin In­ci­dent, Au­gust 2014; the first Amer­i­can troops land­ing, March 2015; the Bat­tle of Long Tan, Au­gust 2016; the Tet Of­fen­sive, this Jan­uary.

New Zealand’s com­mit­ment peaked at just over 500 troops in 1968. The last Ki­wis left South Viet­nam in De­cem­ber 1972. The last Amer­i­can troops left the fol­low­ing year. By the time the war was fi­nally over, at the fall of Saigon in April 1975, more than three and a half mil­lion people had died.

Men of war don’t al­ways make good men of peace. All of Jim’s Chu Lai and Cherry Point mates – mem­bers of the US mil­i­tary’s most ex­clu­sive club, the Marines – strug­gled, in their own ways, to re­join so­ci­ety. Stone, who re­turned in De­cem­ber 1968, “had a few bad years there – grow­ing up took me a while”. Com­plet­ing a mas­ter’s, he would even­tu­ally run air am­bu­lance ser­vices. In his re­tire­ment, he re­cently moved from Utah to New Mex­ico. His health has been de­clin­ing: “Agent Orange has fi­nally beat me,” he emailed in Fe­bru­ary.

De­spite the chal­lenges, Owen and Cal­la­han did well. Af­ter Viet­nam, Owen be­came the ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Marines’ first Har­rier squadron, be­fore leav­ing the mil­i­tary in 1986 for a con­sult­ing ca­reer with Mor­gan

Stan­ley. He lost Jim’s tiki years ago, some­thing he kicks him­self over, but can still re­mem­ber the names of the two is­lands they were go­ing to buy: En­der­bury and How­land.

A 30-year Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion vet­eran, Cal­la­han be­came one of the most se­nior air traf­fic con­trol crew chiefs in Min­nesota be­fore re­tir­ing. “Kiwi would’ve been proud of my ca­reer,” he says with a grin.

The loss of Kiwi changed his char­ac­ter. Weeks af­ter Jim’s death, he was told by a griz­zled old gun­nery sergeant that he should let all the emo­tion out. Un­til then, he’d re­mained firmly stoic.

“I said to him, ‘This is how it is.’ Jim and I had a pact. If some­thing hap­pened to one of us, the other would carry on and wouldn’t get bogged down. We would say this: ‘C’est la guerre; c’est la vie [such is war; such is life.].’ We used to say that all the time. That’s the way I went, and that’s how I faced it.

“It has been the same to this day. Be­cause of los­ing Kiwi, it’s in me – I don’t get close to any­body. That’s some­thing I’ve got to live with. I don’t get close and if some­thing hap­pens to some­body, I don’t get over-emo­tional. I’m not be­ing a hard-ass, it’s just the way it is.”

Rush, who got a Bronze Star for his ac­tions on May 8, and Call have both since died. Ryser is re­tired and liv­ing in Las Ve­gas, and no one knows what be­came of Pekrik.

Smart served as a civil­ian air traf­fic con­troller out of New Or­leans un­til he, along with 11,000 oth­ers, were laid off by Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan in the 1981 con­trollers’ strike. Af­ter re­train­ing as a com­puter pro­gram­mer, he re­tired in 2009 with a vet­eran’s ben­e­fit for on­go­ing post-trau­matic stress syn­drome. Be­yond his tat­too, the photos on his walls, Marine T- shirt and caps show he’s still not over Viet­nam.

“I heard a few days later they caught him pac­ing off the run­way,” says Smart of Papa- san, who he be­lieves caused the radar van at­tack. “When they searched him, they found a piece of pa­per with the layout of the whole unit. He was turned over to the MPS.”

Smart shakes his head. “They fi­nally re­alised he was Char­lie. Well, no shit. A lit­tle late, huh?”

Min­utes later, as I lean in to photograph his tat­too, Smart says of Jim, “Man, I can pic­ture him.”

I put down my cam­era. “Maybe we’re sit­ting in the bunker, the hooches, or in the radar van work­ing. I do miss the guy – I still do, to this day. Ev­ery sin­gle day, I think of him. Some days I wished it could have been me in­stead of him.

“It’s the guilt. Why? Why should I have lived, and Kiwi died? How would the world have changed, if it had been re­versed?”

IX. Broth­ers, Apart

When Jim Lott was a kid, he kept all his green plas­tic sol­diers in a big kauri toy chest. When he died, all the let­ters to his mother and Garry went in there, along with the Pur­ple Heart and Navy Com­men­da­tion Medal for his ser­vice in the Marines. The flag. The photos. The news­pa­per cut­tings. A let­ter Joan re­ceived from the White House, per­son­ally signed by Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son. Ev­ery­thing.

Garry wished he could put him­self in there and close the lid, but couldn’t. Life had to go on. He was sent back to South Viet­nam that June, see­ing out the fi­nal two months of his tour as

an MP, far from com­bat zones.

Af­ter he re­turned home again that Au­gust, he headed down to Christchurch to con­front his fa­ther. When serv­ing abroad, Marines signed a $US10,000 life in­sur­ance pol­icy. If you were killed, the money went to your fam­ily. “When the money was paid out, the stupid dick­head lawyer we had just ar­bi­trar­ily sent a check for $5000 to my mum and $5000 to my dad, even though he hadn’t had any­thing to do with us,” Garry told me.

“I thought, ‘ Hey, this is not right.’ I got on a plane and flew down there. I sat down with him over a beer, and said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to give this money back to Mum.’ He didn’t want to do it and said, ‘Oh no, he was my son.’ I said, ‘Stop. You were never our fa­ther.’ I must have hit the right key with him. He’d spent a lit­tle bit of it, be­cause he wasn’t a wealthy man. I man­aged to se­cure around $4500 from him, which in the end, I ben­e­fited from. I got mar­ried… and bought a house in How­ick with a bit of that money go­ing to­wards it.”

That was the last time Garry saw his fa­ther, who was then work­ing as a hospi­tal or­derly. A dock­worker from Bal­ti­more who fell in love with a Kiwi teacher, Al­bert Jr died in Christchurch, in 1990, aged 69. Joan went to the fu­neral, but Garry didn’t. “I Googled him once be­cause I wanted to know what he died of, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, say, if it was cancer,” he said.

It was the ab­sence of the truly sig­nif­i­cant man in Garry’s life – his brother – that would shape the rest of his. “My daugh­ter has said to me many times [ that] when Jim died, we lost you – which is cor­rect, in some ways,” said Garry. “I did change. I be­came very in­su­lar, and couldn’t keep a re­la­tion­ship go­ing for love nor money.”

A mar­riage in the 1970s pro­duced three chil­dren, Dar­ren, Deb­bie and Gavin, but Garry never found a reg­u­lar rhythm. He took a job as a mar­ket­ing man­ager for an ex­port com­pany for 15 years, do­ing spells in Aus­tralia, South­east Asia and the US. Tragedy struck Garry again in Novem­ber 2002, when Dar­ren, who was strug­gling with health and per­sonal is­sues, died sud­denly.

Although her fa­ther talked lit­tle of their Un­cle Jim while she was grow­ing up, Deb­bie re­mem­bers his pres­ence. A photo of him in mil­i­tary uni­form al­ways had pride of place on the wall. She re­mem­bers, as a kid, watch­ing a TV movie with her grand­mother, when a scene show­ing a mil­i­tary fu­neral ap­peared. “I was sit­ting at her feet and looked up, and she was silently cry­ing,” she says. “I knew it was painful and I didn’t want to ask.”

She did ask her fa­ther, twice. Once when do­ing a Viet­nam War project in her early teens, and then a sec­ond time, one New Year’s Eve in her early 20s. Plans had fallen through, leav­ing just her and her Dad hang­ing out on the back deck, shar­ing a bot­tle of port. “It still blows my mind when I think now how young they both were,” says Deb­bie, who’s in her 40s.

They all were, and now they’re al­most all gone. Even the garage, where Al­bert Jr used to make pool ta­bles, at 44 Sal­is­bury St is gone, with just the con­crete pad re­main­ing.

Joan was 86 when she died in June 2006, af­ter a se­ries of mini-strokes. The sad­dest mo­ment in los­ing Jim, she once told Deb­bie, was when Garry had to hand her the folded Amer­i­can flag.

Garry spread his mother’s ashes around the tī­toki tree. He smiled proudly when I asked about the tree. “Boy, it’s the...” he be­gan, be­fore paus­ing and nod­ding to him­self. “It’s the straight­est tree I’ve ever seen. It just goes straight up without a bend in it.”

Roy Garry Lott died on Fe­bru­ary 16 at the North Shore Hospice in Auck­land. He was 68. His chil­dren Deb­bie and Gavin were with him, as well as his grand­daugh­ter Tyra and Deb­bie’s hus­band, Sar­gon Elias.

Af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with cancer just a month be­fore, Garry’s health de­clined rapidly. The fam­ily knew it was ter­mi­nal only two weeks be­fore he died, giv­ing just enough time for Gavin to make it from his home in South Africa to say good­bye. Gavin hadn’t been in New Zealand since his brother died in 2002.

Deb­bie emailed me the day af­ter Garry died. “He’s waited a long time to be re­united with his much-loved brother,” she wrote. Af­ter read­ing the email, I pulled out a pic­ture I had of Jim and Garry as teenagers, dressed in black suits with skinny ties, out­side their home in Mt Al­bert. There they stood more than 50 years ago – lady-killers, dressed to fit. They leaned to­gether in that photo, and smiled as only a cou­ple of young Ki­wis can; at home in their small slice of par­adise, but about to find out about the big, wide world.

I’d stood out­side that house four months be­fore, a day af­ter meet­ing Garry. I re­mem­ber him sniff­ing, and paus­ing, as he told me how he found out about Jim’s death. I’d watched Garry walk to his car and drive off, and imag­ined he’d prob­a­bly walk up to that tī­toki tree at St Luke’s Angli­can in the same shuf­fling way.

Al­most 50 years had gone by. What hap­pened in that time? Mostly, the un­match­able guilt of sep­a­ra­tion and love lost. I thought of a Mother’s Day card on a Mt Al­bert man­tel­piece – and a folded Amer­i­can flag in a kauri toy chest. I thought of a tat­too on a fore­arm in Ba­ton Rouge, and two glasses of scotch poured on the same days ev­ery year.

I thought of a young mu­si­cian in Min­nesota called Jim and two is­lands in the Pa­cific. Of neph­ews and nieces never met, rugby games never watched and un­opened bot­tles of beer. I thought of one cer­tain part of Garry’s heart that never quite beat the same way it did be­fore May 8, 1968.

“When Jim died, we lost you [too],” Deb­bie had told her dad many times be­fore I met him, and I be­lieved her.

The old man is gone now too, just like the brother who dis­ap­peared when a rocket slammed into the cor­ner of a radar van on a Marine air­base, claim­ing yet another vic­tim of the Viet­nam War.

But imag­ine the morn­ing be­fore. Jim and Garry, two beau­ti­ful boys from Mt Al­bert, run­ning into the sea at Chu Lai, hun­gover and happy in the am­ber of a mo­ment that noth­ing could ever touch, ex­cept the sun­shine and the waves. I thought of that mo­ment, and this one, learn­ing of Garry’s death. An end to some­thing far too short and the be­gin­ning of some­thing far too long, and now: a story of two broth­ers, 50 years apart, to­gether again. +

Far left: Viet­nam vet­eran Richard “Max” Smart, of Ba­ton Rouge, had Jim’s name tat­tooed on his fore­arm eight years ago: “It’s my way of remembering.”

“We weren’t tooth and nail... we did ev­ery­thing to­gether,” says Garry (left) of his re­la­tion­ship with older brother Jim.

Above left: Garry (left) and Jim were brought up by their mother, Joan Lott, and grand­mother Linda Hannken in Mt Al­bert, Auck­land in the 1950s. Above right: Garry (left) and Jim were keen rugby play­ers from a young age.

Top left: Garry Lott never made it to the Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial Wall in Wash­ing­ton DC, but sev­eral of Jim’s Chu Lai mates have. Top right: Garry and his daugh­ter, Deb­bie Elias, on her wed­ding day. Above and cen­tre: Jim’s me­mo­rial plaque at St...

Jim Lott near his hooch at Chu Lai, May 1968. “Jim was short, no more than five foot five, I sup­pose, but he was built like a fire­plug,” re­calls train­ing bunk-mate Pa­trick Owen.

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