This morning a National Commemoration ceremony was held at the National War Memorial on Buckle Street to mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of U.S. Marines in New Zealand during World War II. At the proceedings the Governor-General, His Excellency Lieutenant General The Right Honorable Sir Jerry Mateparae, read an entry from the diary of U.S. Marine Private Bob Hatch. Penned 70 years ago today, the entry recounts young Private Hatch’s his first day in Wellington after stepping off the USS Wakefield :
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“Most of us had heard the scuttlebutt and had a fair idea where we were going … New Zealand. Of course we weren’t sure until we actually tied up to the wharf. Tying up didn’t take long but there was no liberty. In fact, we could not even get off the ship. So there we were as usual, just standing around.
“We were awful sick of the sea so dry land was sure good to look at. It reminded me of southern California with the mountains meeting the sea. It made some of us a little bit homesick too. It looked like a friendly country; there was a band down on the dock to meet us. We’d seen their blue uniforms around some of our flying fields in the States so we knew it was the band of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
“At last we got a break – ‘all shore’. Boy did real solid land feel good. You can beat your bottom dollar it did. War or no war we must have music, and our band was amongst the first ashore. Officers and men, we all in the same boat or rather getting off the same boat, and all curious to see what kind of advanced base we had come to. We had a lot of queer ideas as to what New Zealand would be like.
“Imagine our surprise when a milk wagon came around. We hadn’t tasted fresh milk since we left the States. Boy did it taste good. It wasn’t long before our Sergeant was bellowing, ‘Fall in’, and we were off again, without even getting a good look at town. We were heading for the railroad station.
“These New Zealanders certainly did things right. When we got off the train there was a band again and we started our march to camp just like a big parade. We were out in the country but of course the usual kids were present to look us over and yell a few words of welcome. It was sort of nice too. Soon we were into camp. Yup, and old glory was there too, flying proudly overhead. I guess there isn’t anything any of us wouldn’t do to keep it flying.”
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Poignant in their simplicity, those were the words of an “ordinary” young man called upon to do extraordinary things halfway around the world from home. Shortly after arriving in New Zealand Private Hatch shipped out to combat in the South Pacific, where he was wounded.
In attendance at this morning’s ceremony in addition to the Governor-General were Prime Minister John Key, Leader of the Opposition David Shearer, Minister of Defence Dr. Jonathan Coleman, Secretary of Defence John McKinnon, Chief of the Defence Force Lt. General Rhys Jones, Chair of the Greater Wellington Regional Council Fran Wilde, Mayor of Kapiti Jenny Rowan, Deputy Mayor of Wellington Ian McKinnon, and other dignitaries.
I represented the United States along with Lieutenant General Duane D. Thiessen (Commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific), Major General Ronald Bailey (Commanding Officer of 1st Marine Division, the Division that landed in Wellington 70 years ago today), and World War II veteran Claude Bohn.
As always at memorials, I found particularly moving the recitation of The Ode, adapted from the fourth stanza of Lawrence Binyon’s poem, ”For the Fallen”:
E kore ratou e koroheketia
Penei i a tatou kua mahue nei
E kore hoki ratou e ngoikore
Ahakoa pehea i nga ahuatanga o te wa.
I te hekenga atu o te ra
Tae noa ki te aranga mai i te ata
Ka maumahara tonu tatou ki a ratou.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.