Steve La Hood remembers ...

US Marines in New Zealand


In April 2011, I travelled from Wellington, New Zealand all the way to Quantico to receive the William Genaust award for an exhibition my company, Story Inc., produced about the Marines stationed in New Zealand during the Second World War. 

We called the show, now in the museum, A Friend in Need because that friendship cut both ways in 1942, and because a friend in need is ‘a friend in deed’. All these years later the people of Kāpiti New Zealand still celebrate the care we gave 'our (your) boys' and the continuing relationship we enjoy with the U.S. Marines. 

At the Awards Show, I was seated next to Norm Hatch and his 'aide de campe', researcher Susan Strange. Norman was then 91 and still feisty - (his review of my film work carried subtle editing criticisms). Then he casually mentioned that he'd shot many reels of film in New Zealand before his historic tour to Tarawa, and that the films hadn't ‘seen the light of day’ since. 

When Susan kindly informed me of Norm's death, I was struck by both sadness and synchronicity! As a favour to the Kapiti U.S Marines Trust, Story Inc., offered to help with the re-creation of a four-man hut 'Marines hut' in Queen Elizabeth Park, the original Camp Russell, built by New Zealanders for US Marines 2nd Division to train for the Pacific War.

Miraculously, Susan Strange, found Norm's films (and the hundreds of still photographs) in the NARA and Quantico Archives. So, we started frantically fundraising to meet the costs of scanning and digitising those long-lost images.

Norm's films show the Marines on R&R across the country - meeting Māori, going to horse-racing, enjoying our city life and the hospitality of families who knew what it was like to have a son at war. Many of our women married the surviving Marines and raised families across the U.S., one of those was my great-aunt, Edith.

Norman Hatch may be gone, but his films remind us of our shared legacy. I want to make a feature-length documentary about how the Second World War cemented our relationship with the Marines through families and friendship that continue to this day - and even with our Japanese 'enemies' who, today, have descendants who were imprisoned in New Zealand and filmed by Norm on a visit to the military camp in Featherston!

Back in 1973, on the first anniversary of my stay in America, Sheriff Grayson of Eureka, CA overheard my voice in a Denny's restaurant late one night. He recognised my accent. "Where're you from boy?” I was a long-haired hippie arts transfer student at Humboldt. I squeaked "New Zealand sir..." He clapped me on the shoulder and bellowed "What's the name of that place...ummm... Pakariki?" I answered "Paekāakāriki."

Read about the Norm Hatch Collection