Marines warmly welcomed back
A Kapiti woman, whose first date was with a United States Marine in the 1940s, has welcomed the veteran fighters back to Paekakariki more than 70 years after they struck out for war.
Author Joan Ellis was at the village's rail station on Monday as five Second Marine Division veterans stepped off the 10am train from Wellington.
Ellis, who has written two books about the war years, said she was 18 when the marines first arrived.
"The first date I ever had was a marine.
"We were good Catholic girls and we used to take them home, and mum and dad would boot them out when it was time for us to go to bed."
On Monday the marines toured the region, returning for the first time since the early 1940s.
They arrived in Wellington and caught the train to Paekakariki to visit the sites of the marine camps and lay a wreath at the marines memorial in Queen Elizabeth Park.
Ellis said she met the visiting marines as part of a trip she took seven years ago to Washington DC.
"I'd already written one book, and I'd taken it over there, I was a guest of the Second Division, and these guys followed me round and told me their stories, and when I came home I thought 'I've got to write another book'."
Visitors Dean Woodward and AJ Bowden's story of their time in combat, Foxhole Buddies, made it into her second book.
Woodward, of Texas, said the trip back to New Zealand after so many years was "kinda shocking".
But the scenery, he said, was one of the things that had always struck him about the country.
"The whole thing was so beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. It overwhelms your senses.
"I don't know that the people who live here know how beautiful it is, because they see it every day."
The veterans were on a stop-over en route to a ceremony in Tarawa, in Kiribati to repatriate the remains of 25 fellow marines who lost their lives there during the war.
For the likes of Wendell Perkins it was "wonderful to be back" even for a short visit, after shipping out on November 1, 1943 for combat in Tarawa.
"We were kids, we didn't even know what we were getting into except that it was going to be something special. And it was."
Meanwhile the visit gave Ellis, 90, a chance to reconnect with an eventful part of her youth.