WITHERBEE - A chance meeting and new friendship have reunited a World War II veteran with his past.
Raymond Dennis of Witherbee, now 93 years old, was fighting the Japanese in the Solomon Islands in 1945 when he became ill with malaria. Sent to New Zealand to recover, he met a Kiwi family and their daughter, Olive.
"I arrived in Auckland in June 1942 with (Army) Company A, 43rd Division," Dennis recalled. "We went through the towns of Ponsonby and Ellerslie. I met the Durbridge family in Ellerslie and we became friends.
"I left for the Solomon Islands, where I came down with malaria," he continued. "In June 1945, I returned to the Auckland area and went into the 29th General Hospital in Ellerslie for treatment.
"The Durbridge family, who I had met before, and I became friends again," Dennis said. "They made me feel like I was home. On some of my days off I would visit the family for tea and card games and Olive and I often went to amusement parks. The family helped me cope with being so far away from home."
While in the hospital Dennis became interested in a native wood carving technique. He made a jewelry box in the Maori tradition and gave it to Olive.
"I will never forget that special family and how good they were to me," Dennis said. "I kept in touch until 1955."
Fred Raymon of Ticonderoga met Dennis about a year ago while making a delivery to his home. Dennis had a New Zealand pennant in his home, which sparked Raymon's curiosity since Raymon had visited the country. In fact, Raymon has a friend living in Ellerslie.
"I asked him about the pennant," Raymon said. "He told me about his war time experiences and the box. I was fascinated."
Raymon, who has developed a bond with Dennis, soon contacted his friend in New Zealand, Allan Collinson, asking if he knew the Durbridge family. Collinson did not, but a quick look in the local phone book found Paul Durbridge - the son of the late Olive.
Paul Durbridge knew the story of Dennis and his mother. He even had the jewelry box.
"He (Dennis) was elated to receive word that his gift of the jewelry box has endured the years and remained in the Durbridge family," Raymon said. "Now Olive's son has the box. This has brought untold joy to Ray, who has so many wonderful memories of his stay in New Zealand during the war."
Durbridge has since written Dennis.
"I was delighted and surprised when contacted by Allan Collinson," Durbridge wrote. "After all the years I now know who made the box, which of course I still have and have kept in pristine condition.
"My mother, who is now deceased together with all her sisters, often spoke of the American servicemen they knew during the war and wondered what became of them," he continued. "The odds of contacting the very one who carved the box are amazing.
"We are a generation that can appreciate what the Americans did in the Pacific Theatre and the influence you had here," Durbridge concluded.
Dennis and Durbridge have exchanged letters and photos, including one of the jewelry box.
"The people I met in New Zealand were very nice to me and other U.S. soldiers," Dennis recalled. "May God bless them for being so nice."