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Fijian hero in top 60

Margaret Wise
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

HE died 40 years ago in one of the SAS's most celebrated victories and this week his exemplary courage has once again put Fiji in the international spotlight.

Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba of Vatutu, Nadi, is among the 60 people listed by BBC Radio 4 as having had the greatest impact on Britain during Queen Elizabeth II's 60-year reign.

The fearless soldier was in a nine-member Special Air Services squad involved in a 1972 clash between British forces and communist rebels in Oman.

The story of how he ran over 800 metres of exposed ground to reach a 25-pounder field gun and manned it against more than 250 enemy forces despite injuries to his face has inspired future generations of Britain's special forces.

Born on July 13, 1942, the legendary soldier was 30 years old at the time.

Yesterday, his only son Isaia Dere, 45, said he was proud of his father.

He said he has heard many praise his father and was also aware that some of his former comrades were campaigning for a posthumous Victoria Cross award.

"The BBC is a big and powerful media company and for them to honour my father in that list is a big deal. My only wish now is that he be awarded the Victoria Cross, that is the ultimate reward and I hope that the BBC can join the campaign started by SAS soldiers who served alongside my father," he said.

Mr Dere said his father died one month before his fifth birthday. He had seen his father only once.

"According to my mother, he was supposed to come and get us to live with him in England straight after that battle in Oman," he explained.

His mother, Sokoveti, died in 2002.

The young Mr Dere now resides in Nawaka as his grandmother was from the chiefly Tui Nawaka household.

"We are just so proud of him. His courage has brought honour and fame to the whole of Fiji. British Army soldiers who speak to me always have this to say: 'There will never be another Labalaba'."





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