Veterans in Tarawa - recent visitors to the Kapiti Coast.
Heaven and Hell is the theme of this years' Memorial Day (the U.S.equivalent of Anzac Day) to be commemorated at the U.S.Marines Memorial in Queen Elizabeth Park on Monday May 26 from 10am sharp to 11am.
U.S.Marine Veteran Dean Ladd, who visited Kapiti recently with six 'marine brothers' aged 89-93, sets the tone in his book: Faithful Warriors:
"No more mosquitoes or malaria, but instead plenty of fresh, cool water to drink, clean living conditions and excellent food. It would be like heaven," he says.
"It was like going home again. The people were friendly and spoke our language with such a delightful accent. The typical invitation was, "Would you like to spend a few days with the family on the farm?"
The "hell" that was to follow, was the Battle of Tarawa, which many of the 23,000 U.S.Armed forces stationed in camps in Paekakariki and Porirua fought in between November 20-23 1943. The battle resulted in 1696 American and 4690 Japanese casualties and is regarded as one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific War.
Trust Chair Jenny Rowan says the recent visit of the six veterans is a timely reminder of the enduring friendships between Kiwi and American families over 72 years.
"Five young people who will perform in this years' Paekakariki School kapahaka group are the moko (grandchildren) of "Auntie" Jean Andrews who provided significant support for the Marines stationed here. We will also have a young American student in the group and, it's not coincidental that the school is situated on Tarawa Street in Paekakariki.
"This is also a reminder of the heavy toll the battle took on American and Japanese families and those close to them both in New Zealand and around the world."
"We have all been intensely moved by the epic journey (half way around the world) these veterans have taken to recover the bodies of 25 of their brothers from Betio on Tarawa Atoll. However, 71 years later there are still almost 500 men 'missing in action' and yet to be repatriated."
"It's now our job to pick up the baton, make sure these men are not forgotten," she says.
The service will run be attended by Marines from the U.S.Embassy and a group who have recently been on detachment working with the New Zealand Defence forces at Waiouru.
A second Memorial service will also be held at Old St Pauls Cathedral in Mulgrave Street – starting at 12.30pm.
For more information contact: Chris Barber 021 2221 038 www.marinenz.com
A 2013 New York Times report claims 471 Tarawa Marines are buried by name in American cemeteries, 104 are buried in unknown graves at the National Memorial Cemetery in Hawaii and up to 520 are still on or near Tarawa.