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Ruka’s War: Why The Hui took a Vietnam vet and his whānau back to the land which stole his legs

This morning Māori current affairs show The Hui devotes a full episode to the extraordinary story of Ruka Hudson, who had his legs taken from him in Vietnam and returned there this year with his whānau and reporter daughter to make peace with the land.

If there was ever a man who had the right to be mad at the world, it’s Ruka Hudson. At the age of 26 he was sent to the Vietnam War to serve his county. Just ten weeks into his tour, his leg was blown off after stepping on a land mine. The other was amputated to stop the onset of gangrene.

That’s a crap set of cards to be dealt, yet Ruka is one of the most grateful men I’ve ever met. There’s not an ounce of bitterness or anger in him about the way things turned out. His smile radiates nothing but aroha for his five kids and 14 mokopuna. He laughs a lot, even when he’s describing how his leg was blow off.screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-6-20-20-am

When Ruka returned to New Zealand he married and had a family. After his marriage broke up Ruka devoted himself to raising his kids and ensuring they reached their full potential. His youngest daughter Rewa Harriman, who is now a reporter for The Hui, went on to become a professional tennis player and was New Zealand’s number one ranked player. She made headlines last year when legendary talk show host Oprah Winfrey unexpectedly walked into the middle of her live cross, and with her father’s same level headedness Rewa pulled off a killer interview.

On this week’s episode of The Hui, Ruka Hudson and Rewa travel back to Vietnam with their whānau to retrace his time in Vietnam 46 years ago. It’s the first time he’s been back since he lost his legs. I was lucky enough to tag along to produce the story, lucky to spend time with Ruka and a couple of other Vietnam Veterans who came on the trip, lucky to hear their war stories, the good and the bad.

I thought our story would be an emotional journey of a veteran making peace with his past. What I didn’t realize was Ruka had made his peace with Vietnam and its people years ago, and that this trip was really an opportunity for his children to make their own peace with place that robbed their father of his legs and them of a normal childhood.  screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-6-20-13-am

Our time in Vietnam also reminded me that the scars of war are never all physical. The mental trauma of war can hurt so much more and last just as long as the physical.  Unbeknownst to his children, Ruka suffered nightmares for years after the war. Ruka’s mate from Victor 5 company, John Bluett, really struck a chord when describing what it’s like living with post trauma. “People say to me you were in Vietnam 50 years ago get over it, but I’m in Vietnam every week, sometimes twice a week”.

It’s hard to imagine the emotional baggage many Veterans have had to carry around for decades, and when I think about how many were treated with contempt by large sections of the community one their return, my respect for their efforts grows.

Watch The Hui on TV3, 9.30 am Sunday to see Ruka’s remarkable story – or here to watch The Hui on Demand

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