BY BRUCE M PETTY
AT 65, I THOUGHT I would be slowing my pace a bit, restricting my travels as much as possible to cruise ship lectures, and the like.
However, I serendipitously entered into a research project that was not on my list just a few months ago. It all started when Daniele and I were on Dawn Princess.
A friend in Wellington sent me a newspaper article going back to 2002. It was innocuous in the sense that it was about a monument to a group of British subjects, mostly New Zealanders, who were posted on islands around the Pacific before Pearl Harbor to act as Coastwatchers.
After Pearl Harbor, for many of these Coastwatchers, their situation became tenuous as the Japanese moved rapidly south, taking one island group after another. In the northern Gilbert Islands - present day Kiribati - seven of these New Zealand Coastwatchers were captured and sent to Zentsuji POW Camp in Japan. They were the lucky ones.
Their colleagues in the southern Gilberts, including Tarawa, were held there and later decapitated by the Japanese. Their remains were never recovered.
In 1943, after the Marines took the island, they erected a memorial to the 22 dead Coastwatchers. Years later, it was replaced; and in 2002 it was in need of replacing.
Simple enough up to this point, but yours truly being an inveterate networker, I forwarded this article to a few hundred people I network with on Pacific War issues. Lo and behold, one of them got back to me, saying he had just returned from Tarawa and knew where the remains of the 22 Coastwatchers were buried, going so far as to say he had the GPS coordinates.
I thought that was not only exciting, but important, so I passed that information on, again to a few hundred I network with.
Now, several governments and an untold number of individuals have picked up the story. They include the civil governments of both Australia and New Zealand and their respective militaries. I have been called by Maori TV, the Auckland Herald, documentary filmmakers, historians and writers.
I am getting 20-30 emails a day and relatives of the Coastwatchers are popping out of the Panga.
Let it suffice to say that this story is not over, and if you want to know more about the Tarawa Coastwatchers, I suggest that you Google the subject. G’day, mates, and Happy Trails…