JOSEPH  BUTLER  WETZEL
[This report is a synthesis of material collected by this writer over a six-year period between 2007 and 2013. The source of personal family information about Joe’s early years is his youngest brother Bill who still lives in Monroe, Louisiana.  He is one of the two brothers who joined the Navy. Thank you for your service, Bill.  The source of personal information about Joe’s years in New Zealand is Joe’s grandson Michael, who first made public what he knew about his beloved grandfather when he delivered the eulogy at Joe’s funeral in 2010. That eulogy forms the basis of the general structure of this report.  Thanks, Mike.] 
My name is Michael, and I’m one of Joe’s many grandchildren. I have the honour today of speaking about the long and full life that he led. In his 92 years, Joe travelled the length and breadth of the Pacific with the United States Marine Corps; built a new life for himself in a blossoming small town in a young colonial country; was a devoted husband and father; involved himself in numerous sporting, social and charitable organisations; befriended nearly everyone he met, as seen by the number of people here; and maintained his faith in God, living a moral life in accordance with his beliefs.
Joseph Butler Wetzel was born on 11 July 1918 in Monroe, Louisiana (about 214 miles northwest of New Orleans and about 95 miles east of Shreveport).  He was the eldest of five sons born to Ethel and Matthew Wetzel, inheriting a multi-cultural makeup from his Irish-American mother and German-American father.  Indeed, among Joe’s ancestors was one Mattie Moore, his great grandmother and a member of the Choctaw tribe of Native Americans.
http://www.choctawindian.com/
Also, in Joe’s ancestry were two uncles on his Mother’s side who were Generals in the American Civil War, although - alas – one was on the Confederate side and the other was on the Union side.
Where Joe grew up during the Great Depression was his parents’ place, where they had a large garden that supplied a lot of the food the family needed.  Joe’s Dad was an industrious man, and doubtless, Joe’s personal sense of industry was learned from his earliest years by observing and working with his Dad. Joe and his brothers went without shoes and wore clothing made from flour sacks.  Fortunately for our family, Joe had many colourful stories about his days in the Louisiana countryside.  For example, he told us about an uncle who was growing watermelons for the state fair, and one particularly large example watermelon was his prized possession. Joe’s uncle, however, wasn’t the only admirer.  Joe and his brothers snuck into their uncle’s garden to have it for themselves.  Joe poetically described the boys eating the watermelon in the long grass, adding how crafty they were to walk back out using their own footprints created on the way in so that their mystified Uncle could later say only, “I could see where the buggers walked in, but I couldn’t see where the buggers walked out.”
In about 1921, an aeroplane landed in a local field. Joe and and his brother Matthew went to see, bringing their brother Robert - in his pushchair (which, for North American readers, refers to a baby stroller). The two older boys were so excited that they ran all the way home to tell their mother about it, forgetting one small thing.  A helpful neighbour told their mother that “Mr Wetzel’s baby is out in the field in his push chair,” and for that oversight, Joe got a hiding and had to run all the way back again to rescue his stranded brother.
Another time Joe and his brothers hid in the long grass by the railway tracks, smoking home-made cigarettes made from dock leaves, which made them cough until they felt sick. Later on, they also accidentally set off the fire alarm at their school and hid in a ditch when the fire service came, terrified their father would discover they were responsible.  (Some might speculate here that Joe intrepid behavior foreshadowed many tactics he would likely be called upon to use during combat years later in the Marine Corps!)
Joe’s Mother Ethel was a strict adherent of the Southern Baptist Church, and Joe was raised in a God-fearing house. As will be seen, Joe remained true to the Christian gospel throughout his life.
In 1936, Joe graduated from Neville High School in Monroe, Louisiana, …
:NEVILLE HS Wetzel's     alma mater.jpg
Neville High School in Monroe, Louisiana, as Joe knew it
www.louisiana-destinations.com
Joe trained for the ministry at the Louisiana College in Pineville, Louisiana, about 80 miles south by west of the Wetzel family home. Joe had intentions of becoming a missionary, and to do that he learned Spanish. Perhaps that’s why he originally wanted to name my mother ‘Juanita,’ writes Mike.
The spirit of Semper Fidelis was evident in several different ways during the course of Joe’s life.  With respect to the country of his birth, …
:L. Baptist College Alexandria Hall.jpg
Alexandria Hall at Louisiana College, Pineville, Louisiana
where some of Joe’s classes were held
http://www.campusexplorer.com
Joe left college and joined the US Marine Corps on 13 February 1941, ten months prior to America joining the Second World War, and served for 4 years and 8 months when he was honorably discharged in San Francisco, California in October of 1945. Joe said he could see the war coming, and he just wanted to be prepared for it. Two of his brothers also enlisted with the Marines, and the other two joined the Navy.  Joe’s father couldn’t understand why, from a family who raised in the countryside, all the boys joined water-based services, instead of the infantry.
Joe was with the Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. He said he had “an easy life” in the Corps, as he was, for most of his enlistment, the 2nd Marine Regiment’s postal clerk. But everyone in the Corps is a combatant first, which means Joe had to make his landings carrying not only his rifle and equipment, but also a steel safe containing $20,000 worth of stamps and money orders.
After making a practice landing at the Tonga Islands, he went straight to Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands.
http://www.ww2gyrene.org/2ndmardiv_history_part_3.htm
http://www.militaryvetshop.com/History/2ndMarDiv.html
He then spent about eight months in New Zealand, where his first impression was that “it was bloody cold.” The shirts and shorts of Guadalcanal were replaced with an overcoat. On the plus side, though, New Zealand had “all the ice cream you could eat.”  When Joe went on liberty, he went to the YMCA to see if he could spend some time on a farm, since he was “a country boy.”  
Joe and the entire 2nd Marine Regiment were at Camp Russell in the Paekakariki area, on the southern Kapiti Coast, about 22 miles north by east of Wellington.  Intensive training, rebuilding units who lost men at Guadalcanal, and recuperating from the effects of malaria and dengue fever preoccupied the Marines’ time in the Paekakariki area until their departure for Tarawa (Operation Galvanic) on 1 November 1943.  
These days, the location of Camp Russell may be found within the Queen Elizabeth Park.
http://pspt.wellington.net.nz/uss.htm
:CAMPs RUSSELL&MACKAY .jpg
Camp Russell (lower) and Camp Mackay (upper) near Paekakariki
http://www.marinenz.com/The+Camps
http://pspt.wellington.net.nz/uss.htm
There he met a young lady from Eltham, in South Taranaki District (about 140 miles north, up the Kaptiti Coast from Paekakariki where Joe was stationed), who invited him home for tea.  Joe said, “I apologise very much, but I don’t drink tea.”  She said, “I don’t mean tea tea, I mean a meal.”  The lady of course, was Peggy Whiting, and they married in July 1943.  Joe said he “more or less became a Kiwi right away, but [he] had a problem learning the language ... [he] had to learn English all over again!”
:MT TARANAKIb.jpg
Mt. Taranaki (8,261 feet) - which Joe saw almost daily
for some 65 years of his life, from either Eltham or New Plymout
http://cf.broadsheet.ie/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/FE4CE9F5344F481335FD183885781D45.jpg
In November 1943, Joe then participated in the amphibious assault landings at Tarawa, and Saipan, with a five-month ‘interlude’ between those two battles for training and recuperation of the troops at Camp Tarawa on the Big Island of Hawaii. After Saipan, Joe still had time to serve in the Corps, and was sent back to the fleet post office in San Francisco. After a separation of almost two years, Joe and Peggy were reunited in San Francisco prior to his being discharged and returning home to Louisiana.  It was there that Peggy gave birth to my mother Gail, and despite Joe’s mother being so excited that she was “running around like a chicken with her head cut off,” Peggy was too homesick to remain, and the young family returned to New Zealand in January 1947.
The spirit of Semper Fidelis was notably present with respect to his family life, too.
With all the returned service men in New Zealand, there was a shortage of housing, so they lived in Eltham with Peggy’s large extended family. I’ve made a special trip to see this house, and can assure you ... it’s very small!
:Eltham, Taranaki Dist. NZ.jpg
Street scene in Eltham, New Zealand
http://elthamvillage.webs.com/businessclubs.htm
Joe was going to University on the GI Bill, but transportation was frustrating because at that time there was “no bus service, no hitch-hiking” policy, and Joe disliked being away from his wife and daughter all the time.
Instead he got work with Penny’s Grocery Limited, and the family moved to New Plymouth. Not too long later, Joe added to his work load a stint at Social Welfare that 
:NEW PLYMOUGH c MT TARANAKI.jpg
New Plymouth, New Zealand with Mt. Taranaki to the south of town
http://www.newplymouthwine.co.nz/
lasted for 34 years.  Joe described his weekends as “family days,” and the family grew with the addition of Gary in 1952, and Christopher a year later.  Once, when son Gary was three and Christ was two, Joe got very upset when the two boys turned up at the store - with no one knowing where they were!  Finding their way to where Joe worked was a feat in itself, and they had to cross to get from their home on Plympton Street to where Joe worked.  It seems like the independent streak and the lure of adventure Joe exhibited as a young lad in Louisiana was genetically transmitted to his own boys here in New Zealand!
Joe was a very attentive father and loved his children. He was a wonderful husband to Peggy and brought her breakfast in bed every day of their married life.
When Gary spent three years in hospital with spinal meningitis and osteomyelitis, Joe visited him twice every single day for the entire period.  Joe also drove Gary and Chris, at 5am in the morning, to swimming training, in summer and winter, for years. Gary assures me that he hated attending swimming practice, but looking back, he appreciates the effort Joe made.
Semper Fidelis is seen also in Joe’s participation in community affairs in New Zealand.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/news/3468093/Joe-worked-for-betterment-of-all
When asked what might explain Joe’s gregarious and caring nature, his youngest brother Bill said, “Both Joe and his brother Bobby were outgoing that way; they took after their Mother.”
Joe preached at the local Methodist Church, kept a magnificent vegetable garden, and owned chickens. He watched cricket on Saturdays, loved rugby in winter, and was one of the volunteers who, in 1957, helped develop the area around Pukekura Park and New Plymouth’s entertainment gem, the well-used Bowl of Brooklands seen today. 
:BOWL OF BROOKLANDSc.jpg
New Plymouth’s Bowl of Brooklands: the attractive and effective venue
with a large sound stage fronting a large grass amphitheater adjacent to Pukekura Park
http://www.newplymouthnz.com
http://www.windwand.co.nz/pukekurapark.htm
http://www.pukekura.org.nz
Joe famously brought softball to Taranaki, when the crew of a visiting US warship asked him to build a team against whom they could play. He said: “The American Navy team were good. We lost the game, which we played at Pukekura Park. We also used to go down to Wanganui and play the air force.” Gary also played, and remembers matches against visiting US soldiers during the Vietnam War. Joe was chairman of the Taranaki Softball Association from its inception in 1959 until 10 years later.  He also launched indoor basketball in Taranaki, playing until his doctor forced him to stop at age 69.
http://www.sportsground.co.nz/tsa/
Semper Fidelis is seen also in Joe’s love of family and friends.
Sadly, Joe’s wife Peggy died in 1973, but the cycle of life goes on, and there was consolation in the birth of Joe’s first grandchild Lisa, six months later. Joe also made several trips back to America to visit relatives and work on his family genealogy.
In the mid 1970’s, Joe met his dear friend Beverley Rae and her family of three active boys, Ian, David and Neil. They were a comfort to him at that time, and he was very involved with the boys during their formative years, as well as spending much time helping his own son Christopher with his grandchildren Peggy, Vicky, Rebecca, Elainna and Matthew. Since meeting Beverley he also helped out at the St Andrews Presbyterian Church, preaching in the smaller suburban areas, assisting with funerals, and acting as the greeter at services where he had a gift for delivering ‘high-fives,’ which made him popular among the younger members.
Three times between about 1976 and 1993, Joe visited his family in Louisiana, and warm and welcome re-energization of family ties was had by all.  It was amazing and gratifying to see relations’ families grow and mature and lead good, upstanding lives.  And in the early 1980s, one of his younger brothers Bobby and his family travelled to New Zealand to reconnect and rekindle brotherly and family ties.  Joe’s youngest brother Will who is now 83 says that Joe and Bobby were very similar in temperaments and got along wonderfully well.
He was always busy, and liked nothing more than to be helping people – it was his reason for being. Consequently, and with unflagging energy, he was a founding member of Pukekur Toastmasters, worked for the Swimming Association, Heart Foundation, the charter president of the Egmont Lions Club, the New Plymouth library and the Blind Foundation.  For his many civic involvements spanning many years, Joe received the New Plymouth District Council's Citizenship Award in 1990. 
http://www.newplymouthnz.com/Events/CommunityEvents/CitizensAwards.htm
In the last 15 years one of Joe’s hobbies was scouring the garage sales and thrift shops - often days in a row - for toys in need of small repair, which he would mend and pass on to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He is a well-known personality on the op-shop scene.   As a U.S. Marine, Joe’s interests in toys and their magical power in the imagination of young people mirrors the goals of the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots Program in existence since 1947 (when a Marine Major in Los Angeles started the program; the first toy was a Raggedy Ann Doll hand made by the Major’s wife!)
Don Crain, email to the author, November 20, 2013.