to NZ’s Aid in WWIIBy Alan and Helen Tristram
Hundreds of Kāpiti people joined American veterans — and military from the US and New Zealand — at McKay’s Crossing, Paekakariki, to honour the Americans who died after leaving here during World War Two.
A centrepiece of the two-hour ceremony at Queen Elizabeth Park was the blessing of a metal sculpture inscribed with the names of 10 US sailors from USS American Legion who died in a landing craft accident off Paekakariki in June, 1943.
And three of the original US Navy men involved in the landing practice that day were present at the blessing of the memorial, including Frank Zalot, who was on the craft that overturned.
The three — Frank Zalot Jr, from Massachusetts, Ted Pickard, from Maine, and Ray Plante, also from Maine (seen left with the Governor General) — are being hosted by members of the Kapiti US Marines Trust.
The keynote address was given by Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae, who recalled how grateful New Zealanders were when American forces arrived in a virtually undefended country in June, 1942.
At the time, most of the NZ armed forces were serving in North Africa or in the UK, he said, and the Japanese had already bombed Darwin as they headed southwards.
Sir Jerry and the the US Charge D’Affaires, Marie Damour, and military and civic leaders, all laid wreaths at the US Marines War Memorial, which was set up 20 years ago to commemorate the Americans troops based at three huge camps in the area.
The ceremony today was held on US Memorial Day (the American equivalent of Anzac Day). It took place as part of three weeks ‘Salute 70’ celebrations, marking the 70 years since the US forces arrived.
‘The Friendly Invasion’
Speakers emphasized the huge impact the ‘Friendly Invasion’ had on a comparatively unsophisticated NZ citizenry, particularly womenfolk. Romances and marriage plans flourished.
But tragedy followed only too soon afterward when many thousands of the young American died, or were wounded, in the terrible battles at Guadalcanal and Tarawa — and then at a host of other Pacific battlegrounds.
There was a large Tangata Whenua presence — and official participation — and local Maori sang one of New Zealand’s most evocative wartime songs, ‘Maori Battalion March to Victory’ during the Iwi welcome.
And local schoolchildren from the Paekakariki School Kapa Haka group performed a spirited haka.
The official ceremonies concluded with the planting near by of seven totara trees — one for each decade since ‘The Friendly Invasion.’