Almost 1000 say farewell to a hero and a friend
THOMAS Henry 'Buddy' Lea was farewelled "exactly how he would have wanted yesterday" - in a big room filled with music, laughter and those he loved.
Almost 1000 mourners packed Hervey Bay's Baptist Church on Thursday to honour the Vietnam veteran, who passed away last weekend.
An opening joke from his son Barry, who told those struggling to find a seat that in the words of his indigenous father - "it's not like the laundry, you can mix the whites and colours" helped lighten the heaviness of what was to come.
As an honour guard marched his flag-draped coffin through the crowd, people stood to pay their final respects to the war hero they knew as "Buddy".
Poppies and service-issued boots, belt and hat were placed on Buddy's coffin as his children Barry and Miesha delivered the eulogy.
She and her brother laughed with the crowd as they remembered Buddy's cheeky side, the "big, loud, booming laugh" you would hear before you saw him walk into the room and the flirtatious charm which helped him win the young nurse he would one day call his wife.
Before reading a moving poem in honour of his father, Barry battled tears while explaining that his dad didn't really have any "friends", instead, "from the moment he shook your hand, you were his brother or sister".
Buddy's grandson, who also penned a poem for the service, said that if anyone was to tell the RSL staff that Buddy was their grandfather, they would "be treated like royalty" but to them, he was simply their much loved "pop".
Fellow Vietnam veteran Lieutenant Colonel Harry "the Ratcatcher" Smith paid tribute to his friend who, over the years, had called him "boss", then "H" and in more recent times, "brother".
The pair had served together at the infamous battle - they met at the Enoggera base and within a year were fighting in Vietnam - but had only reunited and become lifelong friends, when, after suffering a stroke, Buddy moved his family to Hervey Bay many years later.
It was here, Lt Col Smith told the crowd, that he and Buddy attended every war memorial service together and enjoyed speaking at events honouring Vietnam Veterans, educating local school children and sharing a beer at the RSL where Buddy "contributed to the profit and loss of the poker machines".
Lt Col Smith recalled the moment he was phoned by Sensis to say he had been chosen to appear on the front cover of the region's Yellow Pages in honour of his "courageous service" but he told the caller he "wouldn't do it" unless Buddy was with him.
An image of the cover, which shows the pair smiling proudly side by side, beamed from the screen as Lt Col Smith paid tribute to his comrade and also to the military medic in the room who had saved Buddy's life the day he "took three rounds of an AK4" while dragging his mate to safety.
Looking at the coffin, Lt Col Smith said he would be proud to have members of Buddy's family stand with him at any Anzac Day or Remembrance Day service.
"Buddy, we will meet again in the not so distant future," Lt Col Smith said
"Rest in peace - I salute you."
Buddy was laid to rest at Point Vernon's Polson Cemetery.