News: New Zealanders and U.S. Marines commemorate 70th anniversary of arrival of U.S. forces during WWII
Story by Sgt. Jacob Harrer
WELLINGTON, New Zealand- Seventy years ago, New Zealand was fighting hard in North Africa, and together with allied forces, maintained the war effort against Axis forces in Europe and Africa.
New Zealanders also helped guard the Suez Canal and fought in Greece, Crete, and Italy, said Ian Topham, a custodian with the National Army Museum in Waiouru. The military’s efforts in Africa and Europe required most of New Zealand’s young manpower and left Oceania vulnerable to attack by the Japanese.
“The possibility of invasion by the forces of Imperial Japan was the cause of massive problems to us in regards to the fact that most of our troops were serving in the North African campaigns,” explained Topham. “The opening of a second front by the Japanese was a frightening situation.”
When U.S. forces moved into the Pacific theater, New Zealanders welcomed them with open arms. On June 14, 1942 troops from the U.S. Army 37th Division arrived in Wellington, followed the next day by Marines of the 1st Marine Division.
The troops began an enduring friendship between the U.S. and New Zealand that continues today, said Topham.
New Zealand service members and U.S. Marines gathered to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the U.S. troops in Wellington, June 14. Government officials and military leaders participated in a wreath laying ceremony at the National War Memorial, as well as a sunset ceremony at the Parliament House.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, and U.S. Ambassador David Huebner attended both events. Prominent military officials included Lt. Gen. Duane D. Thiessen, the Commanding General of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific, Lt. Gen. Rhys Jones, Chief of the New Zealand Defense Forces, and Maj. Gen. Ronald Bailey, the Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division.
The events began with the wreath laying at the National War Memorial. Distinguished guests, including the Prime Minister, laid wreaths in the Hall of Memories inside the chapel-like stone memorial.
During the ceremony, New Zealanders and Americans remembered their friendship and fallen troops through songs, prayers, and speeches. Service members lowered the flag of each nation at the conclusion of the ceremony and guests placed roses on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
Later that evening, partnered forces lowered the colors at the footsteps of the Parliament House during the sunset ceremony. Prime Minister Key, Governor-General Mateparae, Ambassador Huebner, Thiessen and other distinguished guests observed from the steps of Parliament as military troops formed a parade.
The parade was led by the Central Band of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the ceremonial honor guard was comprised of two squads of soldiers from the New Zealand Army 25th Engineer Support Squadron. Two squads of U.S. Marines from the 11th Marine Regiment, the Marine Forces Pacific Band, and the Marine Forces Pacific Color Guard accompanied them.
As the bands played, service members lowered the colors of each nation and folded them solemnly. They then presented the flags to the prime minister and U.S. ambassador as an exchange between the two nations.
The ceremonies signified a link between the two nations and a chance to strengthen ties between New Zealand and the U.S., said New Zealand Army Maj. Alistair Mitchell, commanding officer of the 25th Engineer Support Squadron and guard commander for the ceremony.
“I think we’re pretty lucky to be a part of this activity,” said Mitchell, a native of Nelson. “It links us at all levels, both national and interservice. I think it’s about gaining a mutual understanding of each others’ organizations. This gives soldiers a wider understanding of what we do, both political and diplomatic.”
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