Search for Ma­rine fa­ther

Fam­ily tie spans globe

Matamata Chronicle - - Front Page - By NI­COLA STE­WART ni­cola.ste­

Grow­ing up, all Michael Gaeng knew of his fa­ther was that he had been a US Ma­rine and had fought in World War II.

Po­si­tioned in the Pa­cific, he had met Michael’s mother on a short visit to New Zealand shores.

Lit­tle did they know, that their fleet­ing ro­mance would re­sult in not just one son, but three. Triplets.

Michael and his broth­ers John and Gra­ham were born on De­cem­ber 9, 1943 – just three of many ba­bies born to Maori moth­ers and US soldiers dur­ing the war.

Their story will fea­ture in the doc­u­men­tary Born of Con­flict to air on Maori Tele­vi­sion at 9am this An­zac Day.

Michael, now 70, moved to Mata­mata al­most a year ago and last week spoke to the Chron­i­cle about the fa­ther he never knew.

He and his broth­ers had a tough up­bring­ing, their mother was young and had lit­tle sup­port so, at age five, they were placed into fos­ter care.

They bounced be­tween a few homes be­fore end­ing up with Mr and Mrs Tom White­ley of Te Ko, Bay of Plenty, with whom they stayed un­til they left home.

In 1962, shortly be­fore their 19th birth­day, Gra­ham, Michael’s iden­ti­cal twin, died af­ter a short ill­ness.

‘‘ When


lost my


I be­came pretty mixed Michael.

‘‘I have al­ways strived to be like my fa­ther so I vol­un­teered for the army. I signed up for the SAS se­lec­tion course. Only seven of us passed.’’

He served his time in New Zealand from 1965 to 1970 and


said later took up a trade as a fit­ter­welder.

On March 20, 1971, he mar­ried Glen­nis, who had two young sons, and the cou­ple had a third son to­gether.

‘‘I never ever had the chance to do the things that sons do with their fa­thers – play rugby, play sports, go fish­ing, all those sorts of things.

‘‘So I spent a lot of time with my own sons and do as much as I pos­si­bly can to help them,’’ said Michael.

He still of­ten won­dered about his fa­ther and what had hap­pened to him af­ter he left our shores and, even­tu­ally, he de­cided to try and find him.

‘‘I knew his last name and that he was an Amer­i­can Ma­rine, and that was it.

‘‘We started send­ing letters to Amer­ica to try and find more in­for­ma­tion.

‘‘I had a lot of re­jec­tions. I didn’t know his reg­i­ment num­ber for a start, I never knew any­thing about that. So I had all these letters sent to me that said, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you.’’’

The New Zealand Re­turned Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion put him in touch with a for­ward­ing ad­dress for all US per­son­nel in St Louis, Mis­souri and af­ter more re­jec­tions he sent one last let­ter.

‘‘We had al­ways spelt our last name Geange but in the last let­ter I sent over, I said to them it could be spelt Gaeng and bingo!

‘‘I got this let­ter back and it was all very, very of­fi­cial look­ing.

‘‘At the time, I was kind of used to, ‘ We can’t help’, so I wasn’t par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested at first.

‘‘Any­way, Glenn made a cup of tea and we opened this let­ter and the first thing that popped out was a lit­tle three inch photo with two holes punched in it, and it was my fa­ther.’’

‘‘ I just looked at it and I started to cry be­cause I knew we had found him,’’ said Glen­nis.

‘‘He was the im­age of our son.’’

The let­ter in­cluded his fa­ther’s full name, Kenneth Joseph Gaeng, his date of birth, and his last known ad­dress.

Michael was so ea­ger to speak to his fa­ther he made a phone call that evening, not re­al­is­ing it was the early hours of the morn­ing in Mis­souri.

‘‘We were pet­ri­fied, we didn’t want to hurt any­one,’’ said Glen­nis.

‘‘We didn’t know if he had been mar­ried or if he had other chil­dren.’’

He was put through to Dan Gaeng and af­ter first speak­ing to his wife, knew he had found his brother.

‘‘ Dan came on the phone and I said, ‘I don’t know how to put this but your fa­ther is also my fa­ther,’ and there was ab­so­lute si­lence on the phone and I said to him, ‘ Now that I have said this, is my fa­ther still alive?’.’’

The an­swer was not what he was hop­ing for – his fa­ther had died five years pre­vi­ously, in 1994.

It turned out his fa­ther had mar­ried af­ter the war and had raised eight chil­dren in St Louis, just a few miles from the US per­son­nel site Michael had been writ­ing to.

He told Dan he was sim­ply in­ter­ested in find­ing out more about his fa­ther and promised to send pho­tos of him­self and his broth­ers.

‘‘I told him, ‘If you don’t want to have any­thing more to do with us af­ter that, I will un­der­stand.

‘‘He saw the pho­tos and he said, ‘ There’s no doubt you boys are my broth­ers, you look more like my dad than I do’.’’

For the fol­low­ing year, Michael stayed in touch with his new fam­ily in the US and in 2000, de­cided to make the trip to Mis­souri with his brother John, now liv­ing in Aus­tralia.

‘‘We flew to LA then to Denver. I was a bag of nerves, I didn’t know how they would ac­cept me,’’ said Michael.

‘‘We got into St Louis and there was this huge sign up in the air­port with bal­loons and ev­ery­thing say­ing, ‘ Wel­come home broth­ers’.’’

‘‘That blew me away. There was no shakes of the hand. It was hugs.’’

‘‘It was like we had known them for­ever,’’ said Glen­nis.

Dan had or­gan­ised for them to stay in the fam­ily home in St Anne so Michael could see where his sib­lings had grown up.

‘‘We drove in and we got to the front door and Dave [ an­other brother] said, ‘For all the years you put in and tried to find us, you will be sleep­ing in your fa­ther’s bed’.

‘‘ That put a shiver right up my spine. It’s some­thing I will never for­get.’’

They spent two and a half weeks in St Louis and cel­e­brated a midyear Christ­mas with the fam­ily.

‘‘There were a lot of laughs and a lot of tears,’’ said Michael.

His sib­lings were of­ten stunned at how sim­i­lar he was to their fa­ther, he said.

‘‘We were sit­ting at the ta­ble one night and Dave was stand­ing there with his arms folded, tears stream­ing down his cheeks, and a grin from ear said Glen­nis.

‘‘He said it was like his dad was home from va­ca­tion.’’

While there, Michael was able to visit his fa­ther’s grave in the Jef­fer­son City Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery and those of his two broth­ers Greg and Jimmy and his fa­ther’s wife Rose­mary.

He also vis­ited his dad’s lit­tle work­shop un­der the fam­ily home.

‘‘We go down and it’s spick and span, beau­ti­ful. And they have a lit­tle plaque on the wall and it has all the eight chil­dren’s names on it.

‘‘Greg, Jimmy, Dan, Karen, David, Jane, Timmy, Tommy.

‘‘And at the bot­tom, they add John, Michael, Gra­ham.’’



Fam­ily ties: Michael Gaeng holds a por­trait drawn by wife Glen­nis of his fa­ther, US Ma­rine Kenneth Gaeng.

Unique story: Triplets Michael, John and Gra­ham Gaeng (Geange) at six years old.

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