The story behind the Sailors Memorial in Queen Elizabeth Park
In 2012, a generous grant from the Kapiti Coast District Council enabled the Trust to build a new memorial to commemorate the story of 10 sailors who drowned off the Paekakariki Coast in June 1943.
The Memorial represents a Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel or LCVP – best known as a Higgins boat. Higgins boats could transport up to 50 men on short ship-to-shore voyages and were the US Marines’ landing craft of choice in World War II.
Former U.S. President Eisenhower claimed boat designer, Andrew Higgins had “won the war” for America – saying if he hadn’t designed and built the LCVPs the Marines couldn’t have landed over an open beach.
On 20 June 1943, 35 Higgins LCVPs were deployed from five US naval ships anchored south of Kapiti Island. It was cold, with a heavy surf running. The practice landing was a fiasco. Most of the boats ran aground on sand bars and by the time they floated it was pitch dark. Boat-6, carrying the beach party, was last to leave, but its engine cut out. Under tow it capsized, and ten sailors drowned.
Seventy years later (28 May 2012), conditions were identical when three shipmates from USS American Legion stayed at Paekakariki. Attending a commemoration of the U.S. presence here from 1942-1943 were: Ray Plante who was on the ship, Ted Picard the coxswain (driver) of an LCVP loaded with Marines in combat gear, and Frank Zalot in the beach party of 25 sailors whose task was to manage the flotilla after landing their human cargo.
The sculpture was developed from a drawing by GWRC landscape designer, Barry Straight. Using the expertise of Nigel Pritchard from Riverbank Engineering in Otaki his drawing was computerised and using a Plasma-CAM laser-cutting machine was reproduced and cut out from single sheet of corten steel (hence the rusted effect).
The blessing of the new Memorial was a powerful moment for all those attending the Salute 70 Memorial Day Event in Queen Elizabeth Park. It is now a key feature of the U.S.Memorial and a popular site for photographs.