by Alexander Nara

He was 26 when he left one windy September afternoon in 1996. She was proud of him but her heart moaned with anxiety, distress and a gripping feeling of emptiness girdled with uncertainty towards what lay ahead.

Their sons Samson 2 years old and Martin, a year old stood beside her as she cuddled their 3 weeks old baby daughter Keziah close to her heart and bade her last goodbye.

Young Samson held on to his dad’s army helmet a little bit longer than usual, never wanting to let go but his mom Regina held him back, for his ‘never wanting to let go’ had to be ignored that afternoon.

They say tears are the raindrops from the storm inside of us but Regina did not cry.

That afternoon, her husband and father of her children, 810160 Corporal Horace Marco Maino boarded a special flight out of Port Moresby with his comrades from Alpha Company (A COY) - 1st Royal Pacific Island Regiment (1RPIR), bound for the war-torn Island of Bougainville.

The Bougainville conflict was into its 8th year and peace was the agenda on government tables as negotiations continued with leaders of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) where ceasefire seemed forthcoming.

She waited as the month of October came, tenderly watching over their three children and looking forward to reunion at the time when his deployment is over.

As Regina and the children waited patiently at Taurama Army Barracks, Corporal Maino who is the Section Commander of 1RPIR A COY was deployed with his Company to manned the post at Siara Junction Camp inside the North West Bougainville area.

As the ceasefire process continued, Maino led his Company into a rebel stronghold on October 23, 1996 in an attempt to hold talks with a BRA leader as part of the peace negotiations.

That afternoon, he never returned back to Siara Junction Army Camp.

His rifleman 811502 Private Jimmy Jula along with 810828 Private Raymond Waia who were with him that afternoon also disappeared.

The pride that once held Regina’s tears intact and hidden in the base of her heart burst open as darkness enveloped her world and pure agony ruled all elements of her emotions.

The unknown that lay ahead mocked her and young Samson’s plea that September afternoon before his dad’s departure tormented her mind as if blaming her for choosing to ignore.

During the interview for this story, Regina’s eyes glistened with tears and her lips tremble as she struggled to string words to describe the soreness, deep loneliness and despair that ate into her heart.

She wanted that disappearance to be just a bad dream and that soon she will wake up.

Her whole heart begged out to nothing, pleading that it was a mistake and there is message coming soon that will say they have been found.

Months past but Corporal Maino, Private Jula and Private Waia were never seen again.

Regina turned to believe that one day soon there would be an unexpected knock on the door and she would open it and there he will be, standing there, probably beardy and rugged like in the movies.

The months turned to years and that knock never came until finally in 1998, the three were declared ‘Killed in Action.’

Regina felt nothing more but pain as she and her three children began their unknown walk into the future without their father.

In the mid of 2000, she took her first step in finding a job with Nongorr & Associates Law Firm as the Legal Secretary to support her and their three children where she is still there today.

Years came and went and their three children grew into adults as Regina who never married again grew grey flowers amongst her hair as she continued to long deep inside that his man would one day come home to lie amongst his very own at Sohe in the Oro Province.

Her prayers were answered as contacts were re-established and in October of 2010, it was discovered that the remains of the three men were in custody of ex combatants in the Hahon and Kunnua areas of North Bougainville.

Clearance was sorted and cooperation from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ABG), The National Coordinating Office of Bougainville Affairs and the Ex- Combatants led to successful forensic examination of the remains by the Australian Defence Force where it was confirmed that Corporal Marco Maino lies at Kunnua.

In 2013, the National Government issued instructions through the Defence White Paper 2013 that the remains be recovered and repatriated immediately leading to further negotiations between the PNG Defence Organization, ABG and the Ex-combatants.

At around 2pm on Sunday afternoon June 21, 2015 the long wait that hovered like dark clouds over Regina and her children melted into the juddering sound of the chartered Air Niugini Fokker 100 as it touched down at Jacksons Airport, Port Moresby after a two-hour flight from the Island of Bougainville.

Onboard were the remains of Corporal Horace Marco Maino, Private Jimmy Jula and Private Raymond Waia.

Regina stood beside Samson 22 years old and studying Information Technology at ITI, Martin 21 who works with Pride Furniture and daughter Keziah 20 who cuddled her 3 months old baby girl just like her when her father left that September afternoon in 1996.

As the plane slowly approached the PNGDF Air Transport Wing, Regina felt a sudden gust of wind that slapped her face softly before rustling through her greyish white hair like a hand she knew.

She smiled amidst the tears that ran freely down her cheeks as she welcomed him home after 19 years.

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