US Marines Return to Wellington 70 years on from War

12 June 2012

The United States Marines have again disembarked in Wellington - but this time they are here to play.

On Thursday, it will be 70 years since US Marines landed in Wellington. Six months earlier, war had broken out in the Pacific. The Americans helped to fortify New Zealand from a possible Japanese attack. In return, New Zealand offered the US a valuable source of supply and a strategic military post for operations in the Pacific.

The US Marine Forces Pacific Band, based in Hawaii, is in Wellington to commemorate the 70th anniversary.

The band, made up of 50 highly trained Marines from across the US, will play at Civic Square - not far from where the marines disembarked in 1942 - from 12.30-1.15pm on Thursday 14 June.

The band also plays tomorrow (Wednesday) at Old St Paul's Cathedral from 5.30pm, and on Thursday at a ceremony on Parliament's forecourt at 5.45pm. The programme includes a bit of everything, from military music to jazz and rock.

At any one time there were up to 45,000 American troops stationed in camps in New Zealand between June 1942 and mid-1944. US servicemen usually came to Wellington either before or immediately after experiencing the horror of war on a Pacific island. Their presence contributed to a minor economic boom, especially for dry cleaners, taxi drivers and milk bars.

The Council's Events Portfolio Leader, Councillor John Morrison, says the significance of US forces based in New Zealand during the war is sometimes lost in the stories about fights between US and Kiwi servicemen and the local women who married US soldiers and sailors.

"The most important relationship is the one between the two countries," says Cr Morrison.

"We are a tiny country compared with the US but we share common values such as democracy and civil liberties, and of course the big thing we had in common at the time was that we were both at war with Japan.

"The 'American invasion', as we like to call it, was a friendly invasion and one that we are very thankful for and will never forget."

United States Ambassador David Huebner says the breadth and depth of present-day interaction between the two countries is based on a long, uninterrupted history of friendship.

"We have a very long history of engagement," says Ambassador Huebner.

"This year marks 70 years of formal bilateral relations as well as 174 years of American diplomatic presence in Aotearoa. With the signing of the Wellington Declaration both countries committed to finding new and innovative ways of expressing our long-held friendship.

"The events will mark 70 years since United States forces travelled halfway across the world to help defend the Pacific and New Zealand, our 'friend in need'. New Zealanders welcomed the arriving US Forces with a hospitality and friendship that endures to this day."

Ambassador Huebner says Kiwis welcomed the arriving US Forces with a hospitality and friendship that endures to this day.

"As New Zealand and the United States commemorate our shared history, we reflect on values that underpin our special relationship. Together, as we remember the hardship and loss of World War II, we also celebrate our response to those dark times, our camaraderie and the spirit of the men and women, military and civilian, called to serve in the face of such adversity."