Sgt Nathan E. Cook, 145th Regt., 37th Infantry Div., came down the gangway at Prince's Wharf in Auckland to become the first US soldier to step onto NZ soil, today in history, 12 June 1942 (Sgt Cook was chosen in commemoration of the explorer Captain James Cook).
Our country became a rear base for the Allies' counter-offensive against Japan. This American 'invasion' led to a considerable clash of cultures. Many local lads resented their presence: the phrase "overpaid, oversexed, and over here" was coined at this time, and ignited many an ugly brawl with the 'doughboys'.
At any one time between June 1942 and mid-1944 there were 15,000-45,000 US servicemen in camp here, mainly around Auckland and Wellington. Most spent time in NZ either before or immediately after experiencing the horrors of warfare on a Pacific island.
For both visitor and host, it was an intriguing experience with much of the quality of a Hollywood fantasy. The US soldier found himself 'deep in the heart of the South Seas' – a land of tree-ferns and semi-tropical 'jungle' (in the words of his US Army-issue pocket guide). Little wonder that marine Leon Uris later wrote a novel about the experience (Battle Cry) and Hollywood made a film (Until They Sail), based on a James Michener story, starring Paul Newman.
Almost 1500 NZ women married American servicemen, and were known as 'war brides'.
And the first steps were taken today in history...