A brave peacekeeper

The passing this week of former soldier instructor Warrant Officer Kelevi Vakasavuwaqa (later major) is worth noting. I say this because the late Major in 1979 led a platoon of 30 Fijian peacekeepers who were sent to reinforce an Irish company (120 men) trying to retake the besieged village of At Tiri in South Lebanon from armed militiamen. I can recall your good paper The Fiji Times ran the full account some time back and fittingly called it the Battle of At Tiri.

The reinforcing platoon sent to that mission were drawn from all four companies (HQ, A, B and C) that comprise the Fiji Battalion serving in UNIFIL who were mostly off-duty personnel.

I and four other troopers were dispatched from Bravo company based in the village of Dar ka Nun while the back-up mortar unit came from headquarters based at the village of Qana.

As a young private, I remember vividly well being awakened by my platoon sergeant late on a Saturday night ordering me to get my pack and weapon ready for the mission. As you rightly mentioned in your article we were led by WO Vakasavuwaqa and arrived at the village early dawn on Sunday, only to be greeted with explosions, small and heavy gunfire across the valleys of At Tiri as we disembarked the trucks.

Shortly I and another rifleman were detailed to man a machine gun post on an abandoned mosque beside a checkpoint and soon the orders came about, there be no smoking, shavings or showers.

And as we all know from records the rest is all history now, but it was a most testing time for most of us with death staring at us every moment of the seven days and nights securing the area and engaging the armed elements now and again when the going got tough.

Although we lost the precious life of a comrade while some suffered from injuries and wounds, the unmentioned courage and dedication of those peacekeepers led by Warrant Officer Vakasavuwaqa brought back peace and life to the innocent people of At Tiri

Lastly, as the bugler sounds the Last Post today at Korovuto Village in Nadi, servicemen both retired and serving, close relatives and friends will be bidding their last farewell to a brave leader, trainer and mentor.

Rest in peace na kainoqu.