ROMANCE REKINDLED: Dick Tracey and Norma Milford
After 70 years Richard Tracy from Dayton, Ohio, and Norma Milford of Snells Beach are once again engaged. The rekindling of a World War II romance in Warkworth comes just as New Zealand recognises the arrival of United States forces here 70 years ago.
Former Marine Richard Tracy, 93, returned to New Zealand last weekend to resume an engagement with Snells Beach resident Norma Milford, 89, that he broke off while fighting in the Pacific in 1943.
Sweethearts Dick Tracey & Norma Milford & their familes in Whareroa Farm, with John Porter and Anne Evans from the Guardians of Whareroa Farm.
He was a 23-year-old from Franklin, Ohio, when he and his comrades found two bodies of Australian and Japanese soldiers that had been lying in New Guinea's undergrowth for a year. It stopped him in his tracks.
Many of his friends had been killed or badly wounded, prompting Richard to believe he might be killed and never found. That helped him make a decision he hoped would be a kindness.
He wrote to Norma, the 19-year-old fiancee he'd left behind in Palmerston North, and ended their relationship.
"It just wasn't fair to be involved with someone when there was a war on. I didn't want her to wait in case I ended up all shot up or was lost in action," he says.
Richard had been with the 1st Marine Corps Division, the first US servicemen to arrive in the country at Wellington in June 1942.
The division was based in camps at Paekakariki and only stayed a few weeks before the battle at Guadalcanal. Richard was among the few ordered to stay behind.
He met Norma after he went along with a friend to make up numbers with a young woman from Palmerston North whose own fiance was away fighting.
When that young man arrived home unexpectedly, Norma took her place. Love blossomed for Richard and Norma after the second date. Then Norma got meningitis, missing a date with Richard and ending up in Wellington Hospital.
"I was put in the ward for the dying," she says. "My mother managed to get word to Richard just as he was about to board a ship to Australia."
Norma eventually started seeing Maurice Milford, a New Zealand army man she and Richard had double dated with several times. They married and had three children. Maurice died in 1997.
Richard suffered a broken leg during a beach landing on Peleliu (Palau) when a fellow marine landed on him as they jumped out of their Amtrac landing boat.
"He saved my life. When I fell, the guy who took over my kit, which had a mortar base plate and binoculars, was shot dead by a Japanese sniper."
Richard was invalided from the war after time in a field hospital and then a hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia.
The former printer returned to his trade and married a nurse - also named Norma. They had five children and spent 64 years together.
But contact with his former fiancee didn't end completely. Norma's daughter Robyn Anne Milford, training to be a doctor, did her elective training at Cleveland in Ohio in 1971. She arranged to meet Richard and his family for a few hours.
Richard and his wife were in New Zealand in 1989 on holiday and spent an evening with them.
February 22, 2011, is now etched into New Zealanders' consciousness as the day 185 people lost their lives in the Christchurch earthquake.
It is also the day Norma received a call from her Catholic parish asking her if she had ever been engaged to an American marine.
Richard, now a widower, had been showing a friend old photographs and reminiscing. His friend was intrigued by the story behind the "pretty little girl" from New Zealand in a photograph and contacted the New Zealand church to see if she could track Norma who is Catholic.
"The moment I heard her voice I knew I wanted to see her again," Richard says. He arrived in New Zealand last Saturday.
The two have reunited and their engagement is back on, 70 years after they first met.