Denis Hewitt has vivid memories as a 4-year-old watching the young American soldiers comb their hair at his central Whangārei home before setting out in the morning to face WWII.
His family, based on Kauika Rd, Whangārei, had offered to billet some of the Americans arriving fresh-faced to our country, having never heard of New Zealand.
"I can remember them like it was yesterday," says the Kamo man on his 81st birthday this week. "I don't remember more recent things but, as we get older that's what seems to happen.
"Some were just country boys from farms. Many of the older American men were badly damaged and had malaria but we had the young boys come stay with us who were homesick and hadn't heard of New Zealand at all and were just learning to fight.
"I can clearly remember one called 'Rosie' because I thought, 'What a strange name for a man'.
"They were lovely guys. I remember watching them combing their hair while holding up a little mirror. They were always very tidy.
"When dad came home, they were shocked because he was an officer [Captain Arthur (Bill) Hewitt, second in command of the defence forces from Auckland to the North Cape], but he said, 'Don't worry, you can just call me Bill'."
Those were during the "black-out" days, when, "Old man Jones would say, 'I can see a bit of light coming in through your window!'
"Morale in Northland was very low at that point. We all had trenches in our backyards -which later got filled in with household rubbish - and mum had a bag of essentials kept by the back door and, if the Japanese were going to land, we were going to race up Western Hills into the Pukenui Forest where there were big Māori pits up there."
Luckily, that never happened and Denis believes Kiwis have a lot to be thankful to the Americans for. In True Tales of Kamo, he describes New Zealand during WWII as, "there for the taking and Japan knew it".
"We were defenceless. What few fighting men we had were already involved in the European conflict. We didn't have the manpower, the guns, the boats or the ammunition. We never will. Mother England was on her knees, as was the British Empire. None of them could possibly come to our aid. We were done for.
"My poor parents and all the other parents and people in New Zealand were horrified. A ruthless, cruel enemy at our doorstep and there was nothing that they could do to save their children and their fellow New Zealanders.
"And then came the Americans! When the battle-weary American troops arrived in Wellington, the Wellington people lined the streets in their thousands and cheered and cheered the Americans. God bless America! New Zealand thought that they could save us. The Americans were not nearly so confident.
"The troops that arrived in Wellington at that time were worn out from fighting in the tropics. They were emaciated, injured and suffering from tropical diseases, particularly malaria. The Wellington people took them into their homes, fed and cared for them. The Americans loved them for that.
"Meanwhile, thousands of other American servicemen were arriving in other parts of New Zealand. These included younger soldiers who were just learning to fight.
"Many thousands arrived in Northland, Whangārei in particular. We welcomed them with open arms. We welcomed their airplanes, we welcomed their tanks, we welcomed their massive guns and all of their modern ammunition. Such was the weight of all this gun power it was said that Northland sank a couple of inches into the sea!
"Most of all we welcomed the men. They were such pleasant and polite young people. Very generous, a bit bewildered and homesick. We billeted them in our homes and our daughters danced with them at night."
Denis says the USA had learnt a valuable lesson from the disaster in Pearl Harbour. Arriving in New Zealand, they dispersed their troops over a wide area and attempted to conceal most of the campsites.
"It was well that they did conceal them as the Japanese had launched a small seaplane from a submarine near the Hen and Chickens Islands. This plane flew over Northland, Whangārei in particular, presumably looking for the Americans and also for ideal places to land on our beaches."
From the available information that Denis' father had received in his role, it appeared that the Japanese intended landing in Bream Bay, Ruakākā, Marsden Point, Uretiti and the Whangārei Harbour.
"My dad always said, if you hear a plane, run, and get down flat. At Horahora School, there was a row of trees and we would run for the trees. Even this morning, I heard a small plane and, something inside me instinctively clicks."
Denis recalls reading recently that, so confident were the Japanese of taking over the country, that they had already printed New Zealand currency.
He said the US soldiers were well looked after by their own people and his father was amazed to discover, while visiting the Three Mile Bush camps, that the tents were carpeted.
"They were 'wealthy' compared to us Kiwis. The men had silk stockings to give away to our girls, and their mothers. They had dollars to spend and give away to the kids."
He recalls his mother-in-law telling him of the huge camp at Kensington Park where the cooks would tell the local kids to line up, before dishing them up free food. While this was going on, American soldiers would be walking by and "accidentally" drop some coins for the kids.
Sadly, while some Whangārei shopkeepers ripped them off by grossly over-charging, Denis says the Americans were regarded as polite and endeared themselves to locals.
"I was told that the Americans were overwhelmed by the local people's hospitality and they tried to reciprocate by helping wherever possible. They helped re-form Three Mile Bush Rd and helped build some of the stone walls.
"Many must have died here. Train loads of injured fighters were offloaded at the American hospital at Whangārei Boys' High School. Others died in training exercises, especially when practising landing on our beaches. Much to the horror of our teenage Kiwi boys, who were training with them, the American soldiers used live ammunition, even when training. The Kiwis soon learnt to keep their heads down!"
Denis' family never did hear from their American friends again and he believes Whangārei needs a memorial to acknowledge the US soldiers.
"Sadly, we realise that most of them died in the Pacific, fighting for their freedom and ours.
"I am unaware of any places where the Americans were buried in Kamo or Whangārei so I expect that it is true, as I have been told, that all the bodies were returned to the USA.
"Certainly, when they left Kamo, they were very tidy, cleaned up and took everything with them. Apart from the two concrete pads, you would never know that a huge army was camped in Three Mile Bush.
"In many places, in many other parts of the world, where our Kiwi soldiers fought and died, great memorials have been built in their memory. Those people were, and generations later, still are, just so grateful for the sacrifices our young men made in fighting for their homes.
"I ask you, is there anywhere in Whangārei or Kamo where a memorial has been built to similarly remember those gallant young American soldiers and airmen who saved our country from being overrun by a ruthless enemy?
"In fact, sad as it really is, most of the people now living in Whangārei have no idea that thousands of American soldiers actually lived in Whangārei during the war and their very presence and their heroic efforts in the Pacific conquered a ruthless enemy.
"My father said all along, without a doubt, we'd be gone if it weren't for them."