600 Grace Street, Chicago
60 years on, Carol Peters still vividly remembers the day she and her family spent with a US Marine during World War II.
Between 1942 and 1944, over 100,000 American soldiers were stationed in New Zealand for varying periods of time, both for ‘rest and relaxation’ from fighting in the Pacific and to reassure New Zealanders they would be protected should the Japanese land on their shores.
These men made a huge impact on New Zealand society. They provided both relief and curiosity for New Zealanders. Their customs and behaviour, their strange accents, excellent manners, and free-spending habits all made them stand out from their more reserved New Zealand counterparts.
Carol remembers regarding then “as being from another world, the world of Hollywood; film stars, cowboys and Indians and glamour”. Coffee houses and milk bars sprung up and taxi drivers, florists, jewellers and hotel owners all experienced a boom. A lively nightlife developed in Auckland and Wellington and ‘Kiwi’ women were swept off their feet to the tunes of the American ‘big band’ music.
Carol grew up in small town Nelson during World War II with her mother and father who were avid fishermen and spent many a day on the river banks with the family’s dog. During the war only a few American soldiers filtered out from the cities and as far as Nelson whilst on ‘R & R’. One soldier, Mike Reife, a member of the US Marine Corps Military Police, approached the Mayor of Nelson to find out where he could find someone to take him fishing.
Carol, a young girl at the time, remembers her father, a friend of the Mayor’s, being concerned about petrol rationing and hence was delighted when Mike turned up waving extra petrol coupons.
Carol was awestruck by this soldier and in later years penned her experience to paper. She remembers they went fishing on “the first available Saturday, the car loaded with fishing gear, picnic, rugs, dad, mother, Mike, me, and the dog. I think perhaps Mike enjoyed the relaxed family outing. No formality, he was in uniform but was soon behaving like one young man on holiday. Having never spoken to an American I was wide eyed and filled with questions, despite my mother’s interruptions of “leave Mike alone”, and “don’t pester him with questions””.
“When we arrived (at the river) and the anglers were getting kitted out with waders, rods and nets, Mike made my day. He took off an identity bracelet he was wearing and handed it to me with the instruction to wear it and look after it for him. Look after it! Why I would have guarded it with my life”.
“I must have read the inscription on it dozens of times during that day. ‘Mike Reife, 600 Grace Street, Chicago'”.
Carol remembers Mike calling in the next day with gifts for her father, mother and an enormous box of candy for her.
“The box was brown and white and had a type of nougat in brown and white wrapping, plus other sweets, including something called ‘Babe Ruth’ which was delicious but not a name I knew”.
Carol and her family never hearrd from Mike again. Many US Marines left New Zealand for an assignment to capture Tarawa Island in the Gilbert Islands. this landing turned into carnage as the Japanese opened fire on the US troops as they waded ashore, with more than 900 killed and over 2,000 wounded.
Carol kindly donated, along with this wonderful story, a truncheon which Mike gave to her mother that day to use as a trout ‘donger’ to kill fish. (Pictured above)