US Marine Falls in Love with Kiwi Girl
By Lyn Williams
Edwin Lackey (Ed) was born on 11 March 1922 in Britton, Oklahoma, USA, the son of Jake and Lydia Lackey. He served in the United States Navy and was a survivor of the strike on Pearl Harbour in 1941.
While stationed in Wellington during World War II, Ed and a few other sailors pooled their money together and purchased a motorbike to share between them when they had liberty time in New Zealand. Ed was a bit of a character and made friends very easily. Noeleen worked at a milk bar in downtown Wellington and she also worked with the Wellington Red Cross, serving meals to all of the U.S. servicemen. It didn't take long until Ed met and fell in love with the gal who was serving him his meals, Noeleen Elston. It was quite special to have a motorbike and Noeleen was instantly impressed with the handsome young sailor. Noeleen introduced Ed to her family and they really enjoyed meeting the young serviceman. All of the children were very excited because he brought along American candy for all of them. I guess he was trying to impress the family to help sweeten them up in hopes of winning Noeleen's affection. They dated for a short time and it didn't take long for the two to fall head over heels for one another and they were married. After they were married, Ed was relocated and they moved into a small flat on Kyber Pass in Auckland.
Noeleen Elston was a foster child, but when she was about 18 years old, her foster mother died and her birth mother (my grandmother) went and brought her back to the family home in Wellington. Noeleen was welcomed into the large Wallis family of ten, although my dad said they were too young to know who Noeleen really was and in those days you did not ask, nor were you told anything.After meeting all of the family in Wellington, Noeleen and Ed returned to Auckland and in a very short time, Ed Lackey was shipped off separately by the Navy.
One of my Aunties remembers how my grandmother took her and her sister on the overnight train to Auckland to say good-bye to Noeleen when she boarded the ship to America. My Aunty remembers sleeping on the floor of the train and said that when they arrived in Auckland, she was so excited because she discovered that they had Coca-Cola bottles you could purchase from a machine! That was extremely "new wave" back then.
It wasn’t long after Ed was shipped off, that Noeleen emigrated to the United States on board the USS Naval ship “General William Mitchell” on 18 February 1945. This ship was filled with sailors in one part and war brides in another portion. All the girls had to bunk together during their trip across to America. Noeleen was aged 24 years at the time and it must have been a very scary time for her to be travelling so far away from her family, but it would also have been quite an adventure.
Ed and Noeleen eventually settled in Fresno, California, where Ed’s family were and they built their first home there. Ed and Noeleen had five children (three sons and two daughters) living in the United States - John Lackey and his wife Kathy of Santa Cruz, David Lackey of Cincinnati, Oh., Charles Lackey and his wife Sharon of Bakersfield, Noeleen Hetrick and her husband Bill of Redding, Robin Tong and her husband Calvin of Capitola.
Our family lost contact with Noeleen after several years living in the United States, and we always wondered about what happened to her. It was not until after my grandmother died, and I started searching my family history, that I located Noeleen’s birth certificate and realised she was my grand-mother’s daughter. I had no idea how I was ever going to find out what happened to her or whether she had a family of her own.
Noeleen’s family grew up hearing lots of stories about their mother’s beloved New Zealand, but Noeleen never came back to NZ again. Her family in America tell us they too spent many years looking for us after their mother died, but it was not until my uncle passed away that they saw his obituary on the internet and found us (he had the same name as my grandfather). Two of Ed and Noeleen’s daughters, Noeleen Hetrick and Robin Tong, came to New Zealand to meet their long lost NZ relatives, and we have now all become good friends and will always keep in touch with our new American relatives.
Ed had a long career as a Fresno City Police Officer and retired in 1972. He then went into construction with his friend the late Mac McGinty building and refurbishing homes including building his residence in the Ranchos in Madera. Ed loved to fish and spent many summers in Fort Bragg, California, where he introduced his children and grandchildren to the sea, boating, and how to catch that big salmon or ling cod. Ed was a “larger than life” personality with many of his own sayings that have been remembered and cherished by all who knew him.
Edwin Lackey passed away peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, December 14, 2008, after a battle with cancer. Noeleen Lackey passed away on 30 November 1999.