During the 1960s a new sub-division was built in Paekākāriki. The first new streets were Tarawa Street and Porter Place. Tarawa Street was named after the Battle of Tarawa (in Kiribati) to commemorate the connection between the people of Paekākāriki and the 18.000 U.S. Marines of the Second Division, who fought in the battle during World War Two.
From June 1942 the U.S. Marines began arriving and were stationed at Paekākāriki to train for the Pacific Campaign. They prepared for tropical and jungle warfare on the local beach and in the Tararua Ranges.
The Battle of Tarawa took place in November 1943. It was considered the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. It is sometimes referred to as the American Gallipoli. The coral atoll of Tarawa (now the capital of the Republic of Kiribati) was an important strategic airbase, occupied by the Japanese. 18.000 Marines arrived at the atoll on November 19, 1943. On November 20 the Second Division launched what they thought would be a straightforward attack. The island was heavily fortified and defended by 4,690 Japanese and Korean troops. The tides were lower than expected, preventing a close landing. U.S. soldiers waded to shore chest-deep in water, soaking their equipment and losing radio communication. Many were killed or injured before arriving on the beach.
It took seventy-six hours for the U.S. Marines to secure the base. More than 1000 U.S. troops were killed and over 2000 injured. Only 17 Japanese soldiers survived. In total nearly 6.400 Japanese, Koreans, and Americans died.
The loss of life at Tarawa was a grief shared by many locals who had opened their homes and formed strong friendships with these young men from the other side of the world.
In 2014 six American veterans nicknamed The Band of Brothers visited Paekākāriki on their way to Tarawa to repatriate 25 of their fallen friends.
It’s hard to imagine the influx of thousands of American servicemen on a tiny seaside town. The American marines earned twice as much as their Kiwi counterparts. Their uniforms were flash, their manners impeccable. Whilst Kiwi troops were stationed in Italy and the Middle East the Yankees, as they were called, were introducing the glamour of Hollywood along with Coca-Cola, ice-cream sodas, doughnuts, jazz and swing bands, steak and chips, baseball, coffee and milkshakes.