28 May 2012

Marines who lost lives in NZ honoured 70 years on

10:31 pm on 28 May 2012

A memorial to US Marines who lost their lives in a little-known landing craft accident while stationed in New Zealand during World War II has been unveiled almost 70 years later.

Hundreds of people including dignitaries, military personnel and family members gathered at one of the Marines' former bases near the capital Wellington on Monday to mark the 70th anniversary of American troops arriving in New Zealand.

About 15,000 troops were stationed throughout the country between 1942 and 1944, giving a sense of security against the threat of invasion while most of New Zealand's military forces were overseas.

Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae met with veterans Frank Zalot Jr,  left, Ray Plant and Ted Picard on Monday.

Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae met with veterans Frank Zalot Jr, left, Ray Plant and Ted Picard on Monday. Photo: GOVERNMENT HOUSE

Ten Americans who drowned in 1943 during a training exercise off Paekakariki Beach on the Kapiti Coast were officially acknowledged with a memorial in the shape of a landing craft.

Several US war veterans, including Frank Zalot Jr who survived that accident, travelled to New Zealand to attend the ceremony.

Mr Zalot told Radio New Zealand that his memories of a lucky escape as a 17-year-old are still fresh in his mind.

"I knew I was dying, and I'm looking desperately for a paper and a pencil ... I wanted to write a note to my mother that I was thinking of her to the very end. And then I passed out."

Mr Zalot said he was later told that all the lookout saw was his hand sticking out.

He said the veterans are overwhelmed by New Zealand's efforts to acknowledge them.

Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae paid tribute to the contribution of Mr Zalot and his comrades and spoke of the close link formed between Washington and Wellington.

On a more sombre note, he emphasised that Monday's ceremony - fittingly falling on Memorial Day in the US - was a time to remember the Marines who left New Zealand for battlefields across the Pacific and never returned home.

A memorial grove of trees will be planted in Queen Elizabeth Park on the Kapiti Coast to honour those killed during war in the Pacific.

A church service was also held at Old St Paul's in Wellington on Monday afternoon.