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Comrades in arms - US & NZ in the Pacific war

NZ in Pacific War Bruce M Petty, writer and historian, was born in California in 1945, and enlisted in the US Naval Reserve in 1962 while at high school.

He later served for two years in Vietnam aboard USS Yorktown. After demobilization, he earned a degree in history from the University of California.

While working in Saipan from 1995-2000, Bruce wrote his first book, Saipan: Oral Histories of the Pacific War. Since then he’s written others on a similar theme: Voices From the Pacific War: Bluejackets Remember and At War in the Pacific: Personal Accounts of World War II Navy and Marine Corps Officers – all of them based on oral histories.

Bruce and his wife, a pediatrician, now live in New Zealand, where he’s produced a fourth book, New Zealand and the Pacific War, which is an unusual attempt to tell the story of New Zealand’s contribution to the Pacific war effort and relate how a strong relationship was forged with the US during this period.

This book was researched and written in New Zealand and published in the United States. The stories are written from oral histories that Bruce recorded with the protagonists.

Bruce got his inspiration from ‘Mac’ Gregory, a retired Australian naval officer who made him realise that most books written about the Pacific war tended to focus on the US and gave little credit to the Allied forces. “Certainly Gen Douglas MacArthur gave Australian forces little credit for what they did while under his command,” says Bruce.

The book is in four parts, which Bruce refers to as “voices of NZ veterans of the Pacific War, voices from the NZ home front, voices of Americans in NZ, and voices from the next generation.”

It includes many references to the Solomon Islands and Bougainville. And to give you a taste of the gritty stories Bruce uncovered, here’s a reminiscence from Kiwi Corsair pilot ET Lang from RNZAF No 16 Squadron, whose personal experiences score a chapter in the book:

I came home after my [Bougainville] tour and I didn’t weigh very much. That was from flying hard, not getting enough food and perspiration.

You were only expected to do three tours. Some were discharged but two of us from our squadron were posted to instructor school at Woodbourne to learn to be flight instructors. We didn’t think much of this idea at all, but we had no option.

We flew down together in a Harvard, a two-seater, one behind the other. We did a particular hairy landing one day, and I said to Butch, “Christ, butch, what the hell you doing? That was a hairy landing!”

He said, “I wasn’t flying the damn thing, you were!” I said, “I wasn’t flying it!”

‘New Zealand and the Pacific War: personal accounts of World War II’ by Bruce M Petty, McFarland & Co Inc, 2008, 233 pp. Visit Bruce’s website here for purchase information


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Term Papers

Thanks for pulling this together and sharing!

Bruce Copeland

Keith, I am interested in your involvement in the Montevideo Maru tragedy.

I have long been interested in the disaster on a Japanese vessel that left Wewak Harbour carrying prisoners who were the priests, brothers and nuns from the area.

Most, if not all, were killed when the ship was strafed by allied aircraft and the clergy were lying on the deck. The story was told to me by Bishop Austen Crapp of Aitape Diocese who was an old friend from my days at Igam Barracks.

It was one of those unsung disasters that only the clergy could keep to themselves. Bishop Austen, a Franciscan, knew George Hooke (junior) from his visits to Ali Island.

Ian Grattidge

I am looking to find some mates who served in the PNGVR. How do you contact the PNGVR ex-members association? I served with 12 Platoon D Company Madang: CO Major Harris; Platoon Sgt Gould I was a sec Sgt. I have caught up with a few of my PNG mates.

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