It was an emotional reunion for a Vietnam War veteran from Shellharbour when he found the grave of an army mate he’d been searching for for 49 years.
Upon a wall in section H of the Canobolas Gardens Crematorium in Orange is the memorial plaque of Henry Edward Sutter.
Ted, as he was more fondly known, was from Mudgee and is believed to have been killed by an enemy mortar in Phuoc Tuy on November 15, 1969, exactly two years to the day after he joined the Australian Army.
He was 26-years-old.
Ted’s resting place is the last of three now 70-year-old Tony Speelman promised himself to find and visit - two upon his return home from Vietnam in March 1970 and a third one was added in 1982.
The first grave was that of rifleman Paul Leslie Smith from Mackay, who died from wounds from an enemy mine during land clearing and night ambush patrol on July 4, 1969, almost five months after he arrived in Vietnam. And who Tony found and visited in Mackay in the late 80s.
Around 1990, Tony visited the grave of John Faint from Tamworth, who was critically wounded by the same enemy mine on July 4 and was sent home only to die of his wounds 13 years later in 1982.
While Tony had many mates during his six years in the army, it was these three who helped and supported him through his recruit training in Kapooka, near Wagga from November 1967 to February 1968.
“All three of us were good mates,” he said.
Tony, not being well educated, taught himself to read and write as a young teenager and joined the army at 19.
"He always treated me with kindness and friendship, he was kind of my mentor. It was never too much trouble for him to stop and help me."
“Ted would help me with map reading, among other things,” he said.
“I looked on him as the sort of bloke who was cluey.
“He always treated me with kindness and friendship, he was kind of my mentor. It was never too much trouble for him to stop and help me.”
The new recruits marched into the 5th Battalion in May 1968, but all of whom Tony trained with went to C Company - except for Tony, who went to D Company.
“You usually stayed with your own Company so I made new friends but I missed their companionship,” he said.
“I ran into Ted from time to time, he never hesitated to talk to me. He always had time for me.
“Even in Vietnam, I ran into him occasionally and he always asked me how I was.
“All three - Ted, Smithy and John - went to C Company and as fate would have it, all three died, two in Vietnam and one 13 years later.”
Tony said when John passed it became more urgent for him to fulfill his promise to visit their graves.
With the help of his family in locating Ted’s final resting place through the Australian War Memorial, Tony chose Vietnam Veterans Day on August 18 this year to pay his respects.
He attended the day’s commemorative service at the Orange cenotaph in Robertson Park, during which Ted’s name was read over the microphone as Tony laid a wreath in his honour.
He laid a second bouquet of flowers at the foot of the wall where Ted’s plaque is mounted at the Canobolas Gardens as he wore his slouch hat.
“I always wanted to find all three,” Tony said.
“It was emotional as hell, but it’s a reconnection and I’m happy that I’ve found them.”