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Documentary to tell tragic story of U.S. Sailors

A documentary recounting  the story of a tragic wartime incident off  Paekakariki in 1943 that claimed the lives of 10 US Navy sailors is about to start filming near Wellington.

Made by Mission Hall Creative and funded by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the short film recreates the experience of signalman Frank Zalot.

Zalot, who lives in Massachusetts, was serving in New Zealand in support of the 15,000 US Marines stationed in three camps on the Kapiti Coast from 1942 to 1944. He has returned to New Zealand this month to take part in a two-week programme marking the 70th anniversary of the Marines’ arrival here.

Short filmaker Linda Niccol and producer Shona Jaunas will film Zalot while he is here as he recounts his experiences of June 20, 1943 when the landing craft he was aboard capsized in rough seas and freezing conditions.

His experience is one they have wanted to capture on film for some time.

"It is a very dramatic story and time to pay tribute to these servicemen who were incredibly brave,” Niccol said.

Zalot, a signalman on the troop transport USS American Legion, was one of 25 navy personnel in the ‘beach party’, whose job was to guide the other 34 landing craft bringing 1600 Marines ashore at Paekakariki.

His landing craft was the last to leave the beach to return to the ship about 9pm. While being towed out to sea huge waves smashed into the boat, capsizing it and resulting in the deaths of 10 men. Zalot was rescued after about 45 minutes.

A memorial to the men who lost their lives was unveiled this week, and Zalot will fit filming around other commemorative events.

Niccol and Jaunas say the opportunity to capture Zalot’s story was a rare and privileged experience. He would tell his story and also be used for voiceover segments. A cameraman wearing a small head camera will brave the waves at Paekakariki to provide footage for the re-enactment.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage will make the documentary available for viewing on its website and Niccol and Jaunas are hopeful it may attract interest in the development of a feature-length film.

For more information on the history of the U.S. Marines in New Zealand see

The programme for the 70th anniversary of the US Marines in New Zealand is at

July 2012 update - this film clip is now available on the Ministry's YouTube channel.

Updated on 23rd July 2015