HOSTING VISITORS

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One of my goals has been to increase the flow of official visitors in order to reinvigorate and expand working relationships. The surge has included an unusually large number of Cabinet visits:  then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (twice), Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Attorney General Eric Holder. There has also been increased traffic in the other direction, including a successful trip to Washington by Prime Minister Key in July 2011. All of those were important milestones. In terms of blogging the visits, my favorite is Secretary Clinton’s stop in Rarotonga for the Pacific Islands Forum because of the explosion of color and affection it conveys and the peek into her substantive discussions and whole-of-society engagement.

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AT THE PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM WITH SECRETARY CLINTON
September 4, 2012

As you know from my tweets and instagrams, I had the great pleasure of spending last week on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands for the annual Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). For me, the highlight of the trip came Thursday evening when Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, his Cabinet, dozens of performers, Dr. McWaine, and I greeted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the airport. It is always an honor for an Embassy to welcome a Secretary of State, but we were particularly delighted to receive a second visit in less than two years.

Secretary Clinton receives a traditional warm welcome on arrival in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.

An enthusiastic welcome for Secretary Clinton on the tarmac in the Cooks.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is welcomed to Rarotonga, the Cook Islands, August 30, 2012. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain],

Being greeted with singing, dancing, vibrant colors, and great enthusiasm.

The Secretary and I weren’t the only Americans in town for the Forum. I welcomed the largest and highest-level U.S. delegation ever to attend the gathering in its 41-year history. I made the same statement at last year’s PIF in Auckland, but this year our presence was even more extensive. With the Secretary and me were the U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Pacific Islands Forum (Frankie Reed); U.S. Ambassador to Australia (Jeff Bleich); U.S. Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu (Teddy Taylor) …

… Governor of American Samoa Togiola Tulafono; Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Dr. Esther Brimmer; Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs Tony Babauta; U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear; Coast Guard Commander Rear Admiral Charles Ray; and other officials from the White House, USAID, Peace Corps, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and several other agencies.

Rarotonga, the main island in the Cook Islands group.

Rarotonga, the main island in the Cook Islands.

Established in 1971, the Pacific Islands Forum is an annual regional event which brings together the leaders of 16 independent and self-governing states in the Pacific — Australia, The Cook Islands, The Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji (currently suspended), Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. With a permanent Secretariat in Suva, Fiji, the PIF is intended to stimulate regional economic growth and cooperation, and to improve security and governance across the region.

Each year after several days of meetings among the leaders of the PIF member nations, delegations from certain other nations join the leaders in a day of discussion known as the Post-Forum Dialogue. The Dialogue partners are development aid donor nations from within the Pacific region (such as the United States and Japan) and elsewhere (such as several European countries). Multilateral institutions (such as the World Bank) and NGOs (such as the East-West Center) also participate in the Dialogue.

Pacific Islands Forum.

PIF leaders meet during a session of the Forum.

The Secretary and indeed the entire American delegation came to work. As we did last year, my team and I scheduled our various principals for more than 120 separate meetings and public appearances with officials from other nations, NGOs, multilateral institutions, and businesses present. It was a punishing but highly productive schedule for the 48 hours or so that most of our visitors were in town.

Because of the late hour of her arrival, the Secretary went straight to her lodging after the tumultuous welcome at the airport. She started early the next day with a private breakfast meeting with the leaders of the Forum nations at one of my favorite island haunts, Trader Jacks on the wharf. The free-wheeling discussion was warm, candid, and substantive, touching on a wide range of issues and common objectives including ongoing negotiations to renew the Pacific tuna treaty.

The Secretary greets some locally-based American nuns during a visit to Rarotonga (Photo: stuff.co.nz - click through for image source)

On her way into Trader Jacks, the Secretary stops to greet several American nuns based on Rarotonga.

After more than an hour of discussion, the Secretary and island leaders drove to the National Auditorium for the formal start of the Post-Forum Dialogue. Each Dialogue partner made an official statement to the assemblage, and then Prime Minister Puna opened the floor for general discussion. In her remarks, the Secretary talked about America’s long history as a Pacific nation, noting that 70 years ago the U.S. had “made extraordinary sacrifices on many of the islands represented” and had since then “underwritten the security that has made it possible for the people of this region to trade and travel freely.”

During the morning recess, the Secretary greeted members of the public and viewed various exhibits of island products and projects displayed in the Auditorium courtyard. She and Prime Minister Peter O’Neill of Papua New Guinea then held a lengthy bilateral meeting that covered a variety of issues of importance to the two nations. Our Ambassador to PNG Teddy Taylor participated with the Secretary in the bilat while I met with several Cook Islands entrepreneurs about business and environmental projects being launched.

Secretary Clinton and Delegates to the Pacific Islands Forum pose for a family photo at the Cook Islands National Auditorium, August 31, 2012. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain]

Secretary Clinton poses for a family photo with Forum leaders and Post-Forum Dialogue heads of delegation. She is flanked by Prime Ministers Key (left) and Puna (right) of New Zealand and the Cook Islands, respectively.

When the bilat with Prime Minister O’Neill concluded, the Secretary and other members of our delegation drove the short distance up the hill to the residence of New Zealand’s High Commissioner to the Cook Islands, John Carter. There we had lunch with Prime Minister Key, Foreign Minister Murray McCully, and other Kiwi officials. The discussion was wide ranging and cordial, as one would expect among good friends with aligned values.

After lunch the Secretary and Prime Minister walked across the front lawn to meet the assembled American and Kiwi press. They made short statements and then entertained questions. In her statement the Secretary noted the close working relationship between the two countries. She also referenced new programs that the U.S. was launching at the Forum to support our Pacific island friends in several key areas including promoting sustainable economic development, protecting biodiversity, advancing regional security, and supporting the advancement of women in the Pacific.

Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand participate in a joint press availability at the Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, August 31, 2012.

Prime Minister Key and Secretary Clinton meet the press after lunch.

The next engagement on the agenda was a strategic trilateral discussion among the United States, Australia, and New Zealand led by the Secretary, Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Richard Marles, and Kiwi Foreign Minister Murray McCully. The discussion focused on promoting development and security cooperation in the Pacific, including with respect to issues of sustainability, good governance, and support for civil society and democratic institutions.

The American delegation then drove from the High Commissioner’s residence to Tamarind House to host an event commemorating America’s historic and ongoing peace and security partnerships in the Pacific, an issue of particular importance to the Obama Administration. The Secretary was joined on the beachfront dais by Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (a.k.a. Pacom) and Rear Admiral Charles Ray, District Commander of the 14th Coast Guard District based in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Secretary Clinton walks with Rear Admiral Charles W. Ray, U.S. Coast Guard, and Admiral Samuel J. “Sam” Locklear III, Commander U.S. Pacific Command, at an event commemorating U.S. peace and security partnerships in the Pacific at Tamarind House. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain]

Sec. Clinton arrives at Tamarind House with Admirals Locklear (right) and Ray (left).

The three principals took turns discussing America’s century-long engagement in the Pacific, particularly the vast contributions made by the United States to the regional peace and security that have allowed other nations to develop, grow, and prosper.

That’s a point too often overlooked. In an era of short attention spans, short memories, and binary thinking, it’s important to remind ourselves of the laws of cause and effect as well as of the broader, more complex context in which current events manifest.

The Secretary began her remarks by framing America’s engagement in the Pacific region as “a model of partnerships that reflect our shared values, delivers practical benefits, and helps create stronger economies and societies. Our goal is to help the island nations of the Pacific realize their own aspirations, reach your own goals.”

She noted that “[w]e already work closely with our partners on a range of transnational and maritime security issues, including crime, trafficking in persons, nuclear nonproliferation, disaster response and preparedness,” and she announced that the U.S. is “doubling down” in two particular security areas — maritime awareness and unexploded World War II ordnance.

Maritime awareness is essential to protecting fisheries and other ocean resources. Under our Shiprider programs, U.S. Coast Guard ships and aircraft host Pacific island law enforcement officers, enabling them to patrol from our ships. As an example of what such partnerships can produce, just since 2009 we have facilitated the collection by Kiribati of more than US$ 4 million in fines for illegal fishing in its waters. The Secretary announced significant expansion of our Shiprider partnerships including utilizing U.S. Navy ships along with our Coast Guard.

The Secretary then discussed the human and environmental dangers posed by unexploded bombs and shells from World War II. She acknowledged that no one really knows the full extent of the problem, but that it had to be addressed aggressively. She announced that the U.S. Government would add an additional US$ 3.5 million to the millions already committed in recent years to help identify, remove, and destroy unexploded ordnance in the islands.

Frankie Reed, U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Pacific Islands Forum, welcomes Secretary Clinton Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain]

Amb. Frankie Reed introduces the Secretary at our Dialogue on Gender Equality.

We also convened at Tamarind House a group of women leaders from the member nations of the PIF including my good friend Adi Fafuna’i, about whom I wrote just a few weeks ago. Dubbed the Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality and led by another good friend of mine, Ambassador Frankie Reed, the gathering discussed at length the status of women in island societies as well as ways to empower women and girls socially, politically, and economically.

The Secretary joined the discussion after the peace and security event concluded. She noted the challenges faced by women in the Pacific — for example, four of only seven all-male legislatures left on Earth are in the region — and then reviewed the work of the Pacific Women’s Empowerment Initiative which she launched in 2010 in collaboration with Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the World Bank.

Building on the Empowerment Initiative, the Secretary announced the formation of a partnership of governments and organizations to support leadership training for women – especially those in Pacific university institutions and organizations - to be called the Rarotonga Partnership for the Advancement of Pacific Island Women. The East-West Center in Hawaii will coordinate regional education institutions and private partners to greatly expand leadership training, academic scholarships, and other educational opportunities for women in the network, thus creating new opportunities for Pacific women to assume prominent roles in public service and private enterprise.

The Secretary poses with attendees at the Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality.

Posing with delegates who participated in our Dialogue on Gender Equality.

No matter how busy the schedule when she travels, Secretary Clinton always insists on meeting with the State Department personnel involved in the event or trip to thank them for their service. Thus, I assembled the officers and staff in country from Embassy Wellington, Consulate General Auckland, Embassy Apia, and several other American Missions as well. The Secretary spoke about the importance of the work of the Department, posed for photos, and then walked across the beach to our next event.

Hosted by Cook Islands Prime Minister Puna, the final official engagement of the day focused on sustainable development and ocean conservation. The Prime Minister discussed the Cooks’ thriving black pearl industry and laid out his vision for a Pacific Oceanscape of marine reserves, responsible stewardship of marine resources, and economic development compatible with environmental protection.

Secretary Clinton speaks at the Sustainable Development and Conservation Event. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain]

Secretary Clinton speaks at the Sustainable Development and Conservation Event.

In her responsive remarks, the Secretary thanked the Prime Minister for his warm hospitality, commended him on his excellent leadership of the Forum, and acknowledged his inspirational commitment to conservation.

She announced two new programs through USAID — one to work with coastal communities to increase their indigenous capacity to adapt to climate change, and the other to help develop the region’s renewable energy resources by providing training and education for technicians and engineers to install, maintain, and repair solar energy equipment.

With respect to other conservation issues, the Secretary talked about American efforts to persuade the international community to declare Antarctica’s Ross Sea, one of the last great marine wildernesses left on Earth, as a marine protected area. It’s a difficult struggle, but the right thing to do.

She also talked about new cooperative programs with Kiribati to protect marine ecosystems, and explained how the State Department’s Pacific islands diaspora project was working to offer entrepreneurs access to capital and technical assistance to advance sustainable, environmentally sensitive economic development in their countries of origin or heritage in the region.

After the formal remarks concluded, the Prime Minister and Secretary mingled with the hundred or so Cook Island business and civic leaders present, and continued their discussion of the Cooks’ pearl and tourism industries. It was a glorious beach setting under clear blue skies, and no one seemed anxious to leave despite the setting of the sun.

In all, over the course of the day Secretary Clinton launched a large number of new initiatives of mutual benefit to the island nations and the United States on issues of regional security, sustainable development, marine protection, climate change, gender equality, education, and economic partnership. Oriented toward capacity building, people-to-people engagement, and entrepreneurial self-reliance, the initiatives provide a recipe for empowerment, not dependency.

The Secretary visits Avarua’s Saturday morning market during her free time in Rarotonga - Click through for image source - Hindustan Times

The Secretary takes a stroll in town after PIF meetings ended.

In addition to the specific projects discussed above, I thought I’d share a small sample of the other U.S. initiatives and commitments discussed during the PIF. They aren’t things that you’d notice while walking down the street, and they certainly aren’t sexy or salacious enought to be reported in the papers, but they are transformative in their cumulative impact in the region. And they represent just part of the direct American commitment to the islands which totals approximately US$ 350 million per year. Again, just a quick sampling from meetings in which I participated:

Environmental Stewardship: The United States is committed to working with the Pacific islands to protect the unique marine resources of the Pacific and will explore with Kiribati areas of cooperation on the protection, preservation, and conservation management of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (which together account for 244,514 square miles of protected marine areas).

Climate Change: Recognizing that climate change is one of the most pressing concerns for the peoples of the Pacific, the United States is working to build capacity in the region to help communities adapt to the effects of climate change. In addition to the US$ 25 million Coastal Community Adaption Program already described, the United States is also establishing Vocational Training and Education for Clean Energy (VOCTEC), a US$ 1 million program aimed at generating and sustaining renewable energy investments.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, Esther Brimmer, at the Post Forum Dialogue.

Assistant Secretary of State for Int’l Organizations, Esther Brimmer, at the Post-Forum Dialogue.

Pacific Partnership: Next year, the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Partnership exercise will return to the Pacific, including Samoa. Pacific Partnership deployments collectively have provided medical, dental, and educational services to 250,000 people and completed more than 150 engineering projects in 15 countries.

Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice to Combat Environmental Crimes: The State Department will continue to help link the countries in the region to increase capacity building for anti-corruption, law enforcement, and rule of law communities. The State Department and the Department of Justice are supporting a new prosecutor-led Natural Resource Crimes Task Force in Indonesia that could serve as a model for Pacific nations on improving prosecution of natural resource crimes.

Developing Economic Linkages: In recognition of the cultural and economic ties between the United States and Pacific islands, the Department of State is partnering with the PIF Secretariat’s Pacific Islands Trade & Invest to launch the Pacific Islands IdEA Marketplace (PIIM).

PIIM is being implemented within the context of the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA), an innovative program that has successfully linked diasporas to local populations in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. PIIM collaborators will develop a competition that seeks out innovative ideas to promote economic development and reduce the vulnerability of populations to natural disaster. Winners will be provided with technical assistance for developing their business plans and access to project financing and entrepreneurial networks.

Economic Growth and Prosperity: Ex-Im Bank is active in the region and seeks to provide financing for the procurement of U.S. equipment and services in most PIF countries. Over the past three years Ex-Im has supported financing in the amount of approximately US$ 7 billion dollars for projects in the Pacific including new liquid natural gas project developments in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

More Economic Growth and Prosperity: Since 1980, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has invested more than US$ 341 million dollars in the Pacific region, supporting investment and development in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Micronesia. OPIC currently has more than US$ 45 million in investments and insurance in the Pacific Islands region, and is actively looking to support viable projects in the region.

The Cook Islands offers up beautiful beaches and a rich marine environment. [State Department photo - Public Domain]

The Cook Islands offers beautiful beaches and a rich marine environment.

USAID: The recently opened USAID office in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea is already managing a diverse portfolio of development projects in the South Pacific region.

Constitutional Development and Democracy: For example, this year USAID has provided nearly US$ 2 million to support democratic institutions in Fiji as well as free and fair elections in Papua New Guinea.

Regional Project Support: The Regional Environmental Office of U.S. Embassy Suva provides between US$ 75,000 and US$ 125,000 per year in numerous small grants for local projects throughout the region tackling both environmental and health issues.

PIF Youth Conference: This will be a conference sponsored by Embassy Wellington for youth leaders from each of the 16 member countries of the PIF to discuss key political, economic, environmental, and social issues in the region and to create a Pacific youth leaders network that will continue to communicate following the conference.

Interior of the Cook Islands from the Cross Island Track.

Near the center of Rarotonga island, on the Cross Island Track.

American Youth Leadership Program with Samoa: 20 American participants will travel to Samoa for a four-week exchange in December 2013 to study food security and nutrition alongside twenty Samoan teens.

Adopt the Airport Project: This project plans to transform unused land beside the Majuro Airport in the Marshall Islands into the atoll’s largest eco-friendly outdoor exercise facility.

Pacific Islands Sports Visitor Program: Focused on hearing-impaired track and field athletes, this program planned for early 2013 will reinforce awareness, locally and regionally, about disability inclusion especially for youth.

American Samoa: Governor Togiola Tulafono of American Samoa also had a busy week of meetings, including finalizing and signing an MoU with the Cook Islands to work cooperatively on a South Pacific Albacore management regime, the monitoring of Cook Island flagged vessels using the port of Pago Pago, the exchange of fisheries related information and research, and personnel exchange visits.

Governor of American Samoa, Togiola Tulafono, signing an MoU with the Cook Islands’ Minister of Marine Resources, Teina Bishop at the National Auditorium.

Governor Togiola Tulafono (seated, right) signs an MoU with Cook Islands Minister of Marine Resources Bishop.

Strengthening Democracy to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change on Public Health: This project aims to expand on a newly published book, Public Health Impacts of Climate Change in Palau, by Southern Illinois University and funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through a television and print campaign to raise awareness and foster discussion about the impacts of climate change on public health.

Economic Innovation Fund / Transition from Substance Living to Market Economy: This program will work in conjunction with the Federated States of Micronesia’s current program designed to improve income for rural communities and increase household nutrition standards.

Leadership Development: The East-West Center will partner with other regional donors on a US$ 3 million program to provide leadership development and skills training for 125 young Pacific islanders.

The Secretary greets people during a visit to the Avarua markets in Rarotonga (Photo: AFP - click through for image source.)

The Secretary greets people at the market in Avarua.

Yes, that’s a blizzard of work and a lot of official meetings. But there was also time for direct engagement with the people of the Cook Islands. Secretary Clinton enjoyed a couple hours talking with shoppers in local markets, walking along the beach, and dining in local eateries. “Auntie Hillary” was the talk of the town, and signs welcoming her or offering special deals (e.g., “Free Ice Cream for Anyone Named Hillary Clinton”) were evident across the island.

Unfortunately, the Secretary’s visit was brief and soon over. The PIF was just the first stop on a long trip that would take her onward to Australia, Indonesia, Brunei, Timor Leste, China, Russia, and other locations on a tight schedule. So, shortly after being welcomed, she was back at the airport being farewelled by Prime Minister Puna, other Cook Island officials, Dr. McWaine, and me.

L to R: Cook Islands PM Henry Puna, Amb Huebner, Secretary Clinton, Mrs Akaiti Puna.

Bidding the Secretary farewell with Prime Minister Puna and Mrs. Akaiti Puna.

I’ll leave you with the closing words from one of the Secretary’s public statements in the Cooks which nicely summarize the tone and orientation of American engagement in the Pacific:

“The United States is proud to support our many partnerships and our longstanding friendships in the region. Seventy years ago our countries stood together to fight for security and peace in the Pacific. At the end of that terrible world war, who could have predicted where we would be in 70 years?

“The United States did not leave the Pacific after that, instead we focused on making sure that the region continued to be safe and secure so that you could develop, you could pursue commerce, you could raise your children in peace, you could become more prosperous. We’re going to work together to ensure that all the people of the Pacific islands, in the 21st Century, have the chance to fulfill their own God-given potential. That is the hope that the United States brings to our partnerships and our friendships.

“We have put very real initiatives behind these hopes and these commitments, and we will be with you over the years and decades, and I would predict over centuries to come, as we see these islands continue to prosper, to go from strength to strength.”

As my regular readers know, June of last year marked the 70th anniversary of the arrival of U.S. Marines and other American servicemen and women in New Zealand during the dark days of World War II. Through a series of related anniversaries over the past year we have commemorated the service and sacrifice of those U.S. forces and their Kiwi counterparts, as well as the profound, positive impact that the American visitors had on the many communities across New Zealand which hosted them during the war.

Click through for image source.The commemorative stone and marker donated by local residents.

Commemorative marker erected by residents of Mahia.

The small town of Mahia, on the east coast of the North Island, was one of the communities which proudly hosted Marines in the 1940s. The U.S. 2nd Marine Division trained in and around Mahia in preparation for deployment to liberate occupied islands in the Pacific in a series of iconic battles. My Embassy colleague Colin Crosby and his family recently joined visiting Marines for a weekend in Mahia to help mark the anniversary of the Mahia landings. Below, Colin shares highlights of the anniversary ceremony and talks about what Mahia meant to the liberation effort.

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CC:  Thank you Ambassador. On a beautiful, sunny, windswept Sunday I joined USMC Major William Allen and other active-duty Marines to honor the U.S. servicemen who trained at Mahia in 1943 and unveil a permanent historical marker on the beach commemorating those events. We came at the invitation of local community leaders and the New Zealand Military Vehicle Collectors Club, a group of enthusiasts who preserve and restore historic military vehicles and equipment used by American and New Zealand Forces in the Pacific during World War II.

Marine Corps Major William Allen, 1st LT Andrew Walker, and CWO Jose Alvarez at the ceremony.

Me (third from left) with local dignitaries and Marines.

Placing a wreath at the site with Marine Corps Major William Allen.

Marine Corps Major William Allen and I place a wreath at the new memorial.

Like many, I had been unaware of the special link between Mahia and the United States. The area had achieved international fame as the home of Moko the dolphin, but many outside of the Gisborne area had forgotten about the areas historical links with the United States and our Marines.

For me, the fact that so many local residents came together to remember the events of 70 years ago was a dramatic reminder of the deep, positive impression that the Marines made on the people of New Zealand in the many communities, like Mahia, that they touched during the War. So what happened seven decades ago on these beaches, located just south of Gisborne?

Click for image source.U.S. forces carry out a mock landing on Mahia Peninsula in 1943.

U.S. forces carry out a mock landing on Mahia peninsula in 1943.

In 1943, U.S. Marines based out of Paekakariki, Wellington, and Auckland came to Mahia to carry out a series of amphibious training exercises on the peninsula. They were part of the more than 150,000 American servicemen and women who came to New Zealand over the course of the war, beginning in 1942. The Marines came to defend New Zealand (as most of the country’s own military was bravely fighting against the Axis in Europe and Africa) and to prepare for the campaigns which would liberate the Pacific from the invaders.

Mahia’s beautiful broad beaches, sheltered harbors, and relative isolation combined to make an ideal location for the Marines to conduct mock amphibious assaults in preparation for landings in tropical islands to the north. The practice landings at Mokotahi and Opoutama beaches were some of the last significant training exercises for the Marines in New Zealand prior to their ferocious and costly assault on the Tarawa Atoll in late 1943.

Marines move toward Tarawa. Click for image source.

Marines approaching the beaches of Tarawa.

The rugged beauty of the Mahia peninsula and the warmth of the local community were among the last vestiges of peace and serenity that the Marines experienced before departing to some of World War II’s most horrific battles. In just three days of fighting at Tarawa alone, more than 1,000 U.S. Marines were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded.

At the ceremony, I was particularly moved by the commitment of the local community to highlighting their community’s special connection with the United States.  There were no government ministries involved, no generous grants to pay for the events, and no big committees. Instead, the commemoration was organized and run by hard working members of the local community who wanted to mark their town’s important role during World War II.

Click for image source.A party for several Marines hosted by the Lipshams of Manurewa, one of the many New Zealand families who opened their homes to U.S. service personnel during WWII.

A party for several Marines hosted by the Lipshams, one of the many New Zealand families who opened their homes to U.S. service personnel during WWII.

Residents like Will and Cathy Coop, New Zealand Military Vehicle Collectors Club members Ross Hedley and Robin Beale, and many others donated hundreds of hours of time to organize the weekend’s events. The Coop family, following the tradition of hospitality practiced by many Kiwi families during World War II, graciously opened up their home to the visiting Marines during our stay, leaving us all with fond personal memories of Mahia.

During our brief visit local residents shared childhood memories about the Marines and the time they spent in Mahia in 70 years ago. They recounted stories passed down from their parents and grandparents of inviting the Marines into their homes as guests, just as present-day Mahia residents opened their homes to my family and the visiting Marines for the weekend. In 1943, such visits were for many folks their first real experience with Americans.

Half-track recreates landing at beautiful Mahia beech.

Half-track recreates landing at beautiful Mahia beech.

Members of the New Zealand Military Vehicle Collectors Club reenact the Mahia landings in vintage U.S. military equipment to the delight of the crowd.

Members of the New Zealand Military Vehicle Collectors Club reenact the Mahia landings in vintage U.S. military equipment to the delight of the crowd.

Resident William Blake told us about how off-duty Marines would line up to rent his horse for short rides around the peninsula, with each Marine giving him a dollar or two. By the end of a long day, William came home with his pockets stuffed with money, a welcome infusion of cash into the family’s tight wartime finances. Other residents remembered Marines coming out to the local school and sharing chocolate bars with the children and talking about life in America.

My two young sons accompanied me to the commemoration, and naturally the highlight of the day for them was seeing the vintage WWII “half-tracks,” armored cars, and original “Willys” Jeeps brought by members of the New Zealand Military Vehicle Collectors Club. Club members conducted a mock amphibious assault on Opoutama beach, complete with re-enactors firing blanks from machine guns. After dark, there was a dramatic reenactment of an air raid with a WWII-era searchlight used to “shoot down” a plane piloted by local resident Richard Coop.

WWII-era spotlight during mock "air raid".

Wordl War II-era spotlight during the mock air raid.

Mahia and other similar communities throughout New Zealand played a crucial role in supporting American servicemen and women during World War II, most notably in preparation for the Allied counterattack into the Pacific. For my family and me, it moving and gratifying to see how important preserving this part of our shared history is to New Zealanders.

Thank you to the Mahia, Wairoa, and Gisborne communities, members of the Wairoa RSA, the Mahia Marae Committee, and all of those who attended the weekend events for their efforts to honor the memory of the soldiers, sailors, and marines who fought in World War II and the generosity of the communities that supported them when the risk and need were greatest.

- CC

Thanks, Colin. It sounds like it was a wonderful, uplifting weekend. I would like to add my thanks to everyone involved in the 70th anniversary commemorations in Mahia, another strong example of the deep historical ties and enduring people-to-people bonds between our two societies.

Seventy years ago today, on August 27, 1943, American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt touched down in Auckland in a Liberator bomber converted for personnel transport. Her stop was part of a courageous humanitarian mission that touched many thousands of lives and became an iconic part of the narrative of the great struggle in the Pacific.

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Eleanor Roosevelt with Janet Fraser, wife of the New Zealand Prime Minister, upon landing at an Auckland airfield on August 27, 1943.

As I discussed in a previous post, back-and-forth conflict between the Allies and the invaders raged in the South Pacific during August and September 1943. Southeast Asia and New Guinea, Bougainville, Tarawa, the Marshalls, the Marianas, Palau, Guam, the Philippines, and numerous other islands remained under enemy occupation. Naval, air, and jungle battles continued across the Pacific, from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to the coasts of Australia.

Into that maelstrom flew the First Lady. A mother with four sons in the armed forces, she wanted to see the face of war for herself so that she could more effectively fight to prevent it in the future. She wanted to raise morale, rally the troops, demonstrate that those battling on remote islands were not forgotten, insure that the wounded were being properly cared for, and thank our allies for their steadfastness and fortitude during the long struggle.

Mrs Roosevelt with the Samoan Marines.

Mrs. Roosevelt reviews Marines on Tutuila in the early stages of her trip.

In order to address strong military and political opposition to her trip, she traveled in a private capacity as a representative of the Red Cross, inspecting the group’s hospitals and other facilities in battle zones. To avoid complicating military operations or drawing undue enemy attention, she traveled unescorted in a single airplane.

For obvious reasons the trip was a closely guarded secret, and Mrs. Roosevelt arrived at most destinations without advance notice. In one of my favorite entries in her diary she recorded the reaction when she stepped off the plane on Guadalcanal: “At first there was complete surprise on the faces of the men, and then one boy in stentorian tones said, ‘Gosh, there’s Eleanor.’

Map of Eleanor Roosevelt's 1943 Pacific Tour.

Map of Eleanor’s 1943 Pacific mission.

Her trip quickly became legendary. Over the course of five weeks she traveled 25,000 miles, made more than 20 stops, and spent scores of hours in the air flying through dangerous skies in the small plane. She carried less than 40 pounds (18 kilos) of luggage (including her typewriter). She consistently wore a plain Red Cross uniform. In places she braved rugged terrain, thick jungles, malaria, and risk of attack to see as many rank-and-file servicemen and women as possible, in all speaking to more than 400,000 military personnel before returning home.

She was indefatigable, maintaining a relentless pace throughout the mission and losing more than 30 pounds along the way. Her strength, courage, patience, warmth, and good humor beguiled and uplifted those she met. One soldier, Corporal Terry Flanagan, summed up the phenomenon beautifully: “She reminded one more of some boy’s mother back home than the wife of the President of the United States — and we all loved it.”

Mrs. Roosevelt with sailors on Bora Bora.

Mrs. Roosevelt with sailors on Bora Bora.

Her commitment and the powerful impact she had on the troops won over skeptics, including the notoriously irascible Admiral Halsey, who had tried to prevent her tour. The Admiral later wrote with great admiration:

“Here is what she did in twelve hours: she inspected two Navy hospitals, took a boat to an officer’s rest home and had lunch there, returned and inspected an Army hospital, reviewed the 2th Marine Raider Battalion (her son Jimmy had been its executive officer), made a speech at a service club, attended a reception, and was guest of honor at a dinner given by General Harmom.

“When I say that she inspected those hospitals, I don’t mean that she shook hands with the chief medical officer, glanced into a sun room, and left. I mean that she went into every ward, stopped at every bed, and spoke to every patient: What was his name? How did he feel? Was there anything he needed? Could she take a message home for him? I marveled at her hardihood, both physical and mental, she walked for miles, and she saw patients who were grievously and gruesomely wounded. But I marveled most at their expressions as she leaned over them. It was a sight I will never forget.”

Mrs. Roosevelt visiting wounded soldiers.

Mrs. Roosevelt visiting wounded soldiers.

From August 27 through September 2, 1943, Mrs. Roosevelt toured facilities here in Auckland, Rotorua, and Wellington. She met with American and New Zealand troops, support personnel, and civilians. She visited marae, spent extensive time with wounded soldiers, and engaged with women’s groups and other NGOs to emphasize their critical role not only in the war effort but in maintaining and expanding vibrant, inclusive, and fair civil society.

The First Lady was as well received here as elsewhere on her trip, taking the country by storm in the view of commentators. For example, the Auckland Star argued that her name alone “carries its own title” and that “[t]here is no better known woman in all the world … and that includes all the most glamorous film actresses.” The Star praised her for consistently dedicating herself to “the quest for a better way of life, not only for her own people of the United States, but for all the peoples of the world.” She was accorded the honor of speaking on her own behalf on marae that she visited.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt paying a surprise visit to Rotorua, Wellington, and Auckland to support the troops. Click through for image source.

The First Lady is greeted by Rangitiaria Dennan in Rotorua.

The most compelling chronicle of the iconic 1943  island-hop tour comes from Mrs. Roosevelt herself. She was a prolific writer and communicator. Six days a week from 1935 until 1962, she published a newspaper column called My Day which talked about her travels, activities, passions, and issues of great importance to her, including human rights, civil rights, and equal treatment of women. The column appeared in hundreds of newspapers and reached many millions of readers.

For security reasons, from the time she left San Francisco on August 17, 1943 until she arrived in New Zealand on August 27, 1943, newspapers published pre-drafted editions of My Day about lumbering, wartime music, and other general matters in order to create the impression that she was still in New York City rather than in the Cook Islands or battle zones around Fiji and New Caledonia. Her mission was made public only upon her arrival in New Zealand.

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Mrs. Roosevelt addresses the people of NZ by radio shortly after landing.

Eleanor Roosevelt observes women workers at the Dominion Physical Laboratories

Eleanor visits women workers at Dominion Physical Laboratories in Wellington.

Eleanor visits a farm while in New Zealand.

Visiting a farm near Rotorua.

Starting tomorrow I will republish here on my blog the My Day columns that Mrs. Roosevelt wrote from New Zealand or that later mentioned her time here, on the 70th anniversary of the date each was originally published. They provide wonderful insights into the personality, passions, personal warmth, intellect, and commitment to service of the great American First Lady and global civil rights icon.

I hope you enjoy them.

Yesterday I was honored to lay a wreath on behalf of the diplomatic corps at New Zealand’s National War Memorial during a ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that brought active hostilities in the Korean War to a halt. Also in attendance were the Governor-General, representatives of the Government and Opposition, several of my diplomatic colleagues from other nations that answered the UN call to defend the Republic of Korea from invasion by the communist North, and, most importantly, a couple hundred Kiwi veterans of the conflict and their families.

My father served in the 1st Cavalry in Korea, and the Korean War Memorial in Washington is one of the handful of sites that I always visit when there. In a city of grand monuments, uplifting ideals, and eloquent words, I find most moving a single sentence etched into a simple plaque on the pavement at the Memorial: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”

Squad of 38 soldiers – representing the 38th parallel - forever patrols at the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

A squad of soldiers on eternal patrol at the Korean War Memorial in Washington.

Yes, the world moves on and years go by, but our current comfort and prosperity are in part a product of the labors of those who answered that call. No matter how sunny the current day or how many decades pass, those men and women deserve our thanks, now and into the future. Too few remember the context of their service.

The World War II Allies withdrew from the Korean peninsula by 1949. Historical records reveal that in early 1950 both Stalin and Mao approved the invasion. North Korean forces swept into the Republic of Korea on June 25, 1950 and captured the capital of Seoul just three days later. On June 27, 1950, the UN Security Council, with the USSR boycotting, approved a resolution encouraging member nations to support the Republic. Though gravely concerned that the assault was a Soviet diversion to cripple the UN or spark renewed war across Europe, President Harry Truman concluded there was no choice but to respond:

“Communism was acting in Korea just as Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese had ten, fifteen, and twenty years earlier. I felt certain that if South Korea was allowed to fall, Communist leaders would be emboldened to override nations closer to our own shores. If the Communists were permitted to force their way into the Republic of Korea without opposition from the free world, no small nation would have the courage to resist threat and aggression by stronger Communist neighbors.”

click for source. Freedom is not free.

Guardians reflected in the Memorial in DC.

To mark the courageous service of the veterans of the Korean War, President Obama issued a proclamation declaring July 27, 2013 to be National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day. The words below apply, I believe, with equal weight to Kiwis and those of other nationalities who served in the UN coalition that responded when invasion attempted to destroy the Republic of Korea.

* * *

Proclamation by the President of the United States of America
National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, 2013
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
July 25, 2013

Today, America pauses to observe the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War — a conflict that defined a generation and decided the fate of a nation. We remember the troops who hit the beaches when Communist forces were pressing south; who pushed back, and fought their way north through hard mountains and bitter cold. We remember ordinary men and women who showed extraordinary courage through 3 long years of war, fighting far from home to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.

Most of all, we remember those brave Americans who gave until they had nothing left to give. No monument will ever be worthy of their service, and no memorial will fully heal the ache of their sacrifice. But as a grateful Nation, we must honor them — not just with words, but with deeds. We must uphold our sacred obligation to all who serve — giving our troops the resources they need, keeping faith with our veterans and their families, and never giving up the search for our missing and our prisoners of war. Our fallen laid down their lives so we could live ours. It is our task to live up to the example they set, and make America a country worthy of their sacrifice.

This anniversary marks the end of a war. But it also commemorates the beginning of a long and prosperous peace. In six decades, the Republic of Korea has become one of the world’s largest economies and one of America’s closest allies. Together, we have built a partnership that remains a bedrock of stability throughout the Pacific. That legacy belongs to the service members who fought for freedom 60 years ago, and the men and women who preserve it today.

So as we mark this milestone, let us offer a special salute to our Korean War veterans. Let us renew the sacred trust we share with all who have served. And let us reaffirm that no matter what the future holds, America will always honor its promise to serve our veterans as well as they served us — now and forever.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim July 27, 2013, as National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities that honor our distinguished Korean War veterans.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-fifth day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

- BARACK OBAMA