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I grew up in ’60s/’70s New Zealand, at a time when the Nuclear-Free Pacific Zone conflicts were tossed around like political rugby balls. The United States wanted the right to patrol South Pacific “protectorates” ratified as part of the ANZUS Treaty with warships armed with nuclear weapons. The U.S. Consulate was constantly bombarded with diplomatic entreaties to reveal which ships, in fact, contained nuclear arsenals. For security’s sake, understandably, the queries went unanswered … this rankled the liberals/students/rebels with causes/environmentalists, and anyone with a beef against anything. The “old-guard” said nothing.

I would watch U.S. TV shows, and enjoyed the westerns, “Laramie” and “Rawhide.” I enjoyed mimicking the “Yank” accent in the war movies. My uncle flew carrier aircraft in 1942 out of Corpus Christi with the Fleet Air Arm; my stepdad was a belly-gunner on Halifaxes across Poland, both with lifelong mates from the United States and Canada.

My mum often told the story of the “almost” invasion of North Australia, in 1944, by the Japanese. Poised near Darwin in upper North West Cape, a large force of four divisions of Japanese commandos prepared to land and move Southeast toward the capital. Later, language indoctrination blueprints, rice-planting patterns, social unrest deterrent initiatives were discovered on the platoon and company leaders. They had Southern Hemisphere domination on their minds as an overall strategy to create a “southern foothold” on the world.

Luckily for us Aussies and Kiwis, U.S. intelligence intercepted the intended invasion, and the Fifth Fleet cut them off on the beach with overwhelming force, forcing total surrender. It was one of the most under-told stories of the war as a means to protect the intelligence operation. As a measure of thanks, both our countries ordered hundreds of nurses to the conflict areas near the Coral Sea, Burma and the Phillippines, some of whom married GIs. Not many people knew then, but New Zealand lost more troops per capita than any other allied country in U.S. conflicts. … We’ve been mates all along, in Korea, Vietnam, North Africa, Italy and Iraq.

She told me to remember this story, and if at some time in the future I should meet an American, to shake his hand, offer him dinner, buy him a beer. I’ve fulfilled her request over and over since I moved to this country in 1978. I’m a citizen now, but I won’t forget … unlike some of the other countries you liberated.

Happy belated Memorial Day, Vail.

Pat Mitchell, Edwards

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