Army veterans meet after 39 years

Long lost friends Roeland van Hooff (third from left) and his friend Jone Antonio meet up at Holiday Inn in Suva. Picture: SUPPLIED

A SULU and a Republic of Fiji Military Forces belt were all Roeland van Hooff had to remember his old-time Fijian friend by after serving together in Lebanon.

Now, 39 years later, Mr Van Hooff finally met Jone Antonio in Suva on Sunday to personally hand back his belt.

Mr Van Hooff’s son Pim said Fiji was the one country that left the biggest impression on him.

“The soldiers from FijiBat — we think that’s what they were called — were always smiling, greeting and laughing. He has the image in his mind that the Fijians took showers with their big hair full of soap that popped out over the curtain and they would always greet him with a loud bula.”

He said during this time, Mr Hooff met Mr Antonio and they had exchanged goods.

“Jone got a jacket from the Dutch army and my dad got a Fiji sulu and a belt. The belt had Jone’s name on it.”

He said from the moment his dad got back home, he told himself that he would visit Fiji again if he had the opportunity.

“Over a year ago I was talking to my dad about my travel plans. I wanted to see the world and an important part of it for me is the Pacific Ocean.

“I have no money to buy a boat so my plan was to start volunteering as crew on sailing yachts. My dad supported me on this and told me he was sure that I would make it. And when I did, we would meet in Fiji, the endpoint of the sailing part of my journey.”

He said his dad wrote to Tourism Fiji and received a quick reply from a Tupou.

“She was very helpful and contacted the Fiji armed forces to try and locate Jone. A week later we got an email that Jone was located and we got a phone number as well. We were overjoyed that we could meet him in person and give him back his belt.”

Sunday was the day they made it happen, 39 years later.

He said Jone and his wife came to Suva on Sunday to meet his dad.

“Both him and my dad have seen and experienced horrible things in Lebanon, but also have beautiful memories. And it is amazing that we were able to share all of this in good health and smiles on our faces. It is something that none of us will ever forget.”

More Stories