By MIRIAM ZARRIGA
F OR three retired naval officers, watching the decommissioning of the HMPNGS Buna last Friday in Port Moresby brought back memories of the time they served on the PNG Defence Force landing craft.
Retired Lieutenant-Commander John Aiede, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Dr Jethro Usurup and Retired Major Frank Moripi sat side by side at the Lancron naval base to await the setting of the sun, and the decommissioning ceremony for the ship they had sailed and served on.
Lt-Com Aiede, the vessel’s chief engineer, recalls: “We sailed her across the seas. We ensured there was no fault with her. She came to us as a brand new vessel and we enjoyed working on board. We travelled the country and we ensured we responded in a timely manner to wherever the government sent us.”
His main task was to make sure that Buna was fully functioning.
He still remembers being a young engineer assigned to work on the newest addition to the defence force fleet.
Dr Usurup served as a medical practitioner on board the ship. He also trained officers.
Major Moripi was the logistics supplier, making there was enough food, water, supplies and fuel on board.
HMPNGS Buna was commissioned on November 26, 1974, after arriving from Australia.
She has clocked more than 4,500 hours of service and sailed a total distance of more than 40,000 nautical miles.
The name Buna originates from the coastal village of Buna in Northern where the allied forced engaged the Japanese in the battles of Buna, Gona and Sananda.
The vessel was put to good use during the Bougainville Crisis fighting.
Dr Usurup recalls that it was used for medical training and as a hospital.
“At the start of the Bougainville Crisis, we ensured that all medical officers were trained on board. It became a field hospital, providing the necessary support to the officers who were fighting on the land.”
He remembers treating the wounded on board, some of whom passed away.
“We bid farewell to the officers who passed on during the crisis. We stood everyday out at sea, farewelling our comrades as a sailor would.”
Moripi ensured the ship was fully stocked with food and the logistics support she needed.
“I was the logistics man. I ensured she had whatever she needed such as food for the sailors and oil for the machines onboard.”
The three retired officers served on the Buna during the Bougainville Crisis, ensuring that wounded soldiers were taken care of.
The craft served as a hospital at the height of the fighting.
Buna is the second ship to be decommissioned after the HMPNGS Salamaua.
The ship was finally stood down from active duties last Friday, berthed near the HMPNGS Lakekamu.
As the sun set over Port Moresby on Friday, retired Lt-Com Aiede, retired Lt-Colonel Dr Jethro and retired Major Moripi were among those who bade farewell to the vessel at the Lancron naval base.
The flag was lowered, guns were fired. There was the fitting message of “Never Despair” which all those who watched the farewell ceremony witnessed – a motto that matched the ship which had serve the force for four decades.
Lt-Com Aiede paid the final tribute: “She was a beauty.”
By MIRIAM ZARRIGA