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Witherbee vet rediscovers his past

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."

Then...

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."

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