Presbyterian SymbolThe Presbyterian Historic Network welcomed Judy Bennett and Angela Wanhalla for the final lecture of the year.  They have become known for their research and investigation for uncovering the human story of children fathered by American soldiers in the South Pacific.

The South Pacific Command Area during World War II covered the Pacific Ocean east of the South West Pacific.  It excluded Australia and the western Solomon Islands.  American bases expanded into Polynesia and east Melanesia: New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii and New Caledonia.  This area remained outside of the Japanese expansion into the Pacific, although this was not to be expected.  So there were a lot of bored Americans, with plenty of time on their hands, the hidden history of families throughout the Pacific.

This is the beginning of the American military empire, expanding from between 11 to 14 bases to 2000 bases aroudn the world.  In June 1942 the first American Marines arrived in New Zealand via Samoa, a tsunami of men.

There are not a lot of Pacific records, including in Hawaii.  The dusky people of the South Pacific are at the bottom of archival records.

In the Cook Islands the District Agents were located across the road from the army camp and commented on what they saw and dealt with.  The consular records are in the contingent United States.  In Suva, Wellington, Auckland and New Caledonia immigrants had to meet the race criteria for white identity.  Immigrants needed to prove that they were more than 51% white: representing the grandparents on at least three sides of the family.  Immigration happens at the federal level of American government, but marriage laws in the United States vary from state to state.  The children raised in America become acculturated to the society that they live in.  They cannot return to their home culture.

If the men, the soldiers were determined to get their partner into America they would be transferred.  The opinion of the Red Cross was ‘He’ll get over it’.  Some of the American fathers attempted to establish contact with families and children in the South Pacific.  It was a struggle.

Different responses happen in different societies.  We know the illegitimate children in New Zealand but not the children who born to American soldiers.  In the Solomon Islands a strong sense of family shame resisted coming forward.  It would be disrespectful to their adoptive parents.  Children were adopted by wider family.  There were lower rates of institutionalism and abandonment in the South Pacific.

The study has focused on the children of the Pacific.  The white kids born in New Zealand are still looking.  The discovery of family secrets can be accidental, an angy moment from a third person in the family who knows.  This has become part of the narrative.  If the American family can be identified an unwillingness or lack of response is typical.  Sometimes the American family wants to know.

We can add a lot to people’s live by creating connections through archival documentation.  Discovering a photo or an image of the unknown father can be enough.  The narrative continues as the American military establishes a new base in the Philippines, the promise of a new forgotten generation.

Visit the U. S. Fathers of the Pacific Children website here.

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