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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Dec. 21) – The safe return of the Tongan Royal Marines from Iraq on December 17 had to be the best Christmas present for Tonga this year.

After Tonga stood up to be counted in the Coalition of the Willing and sent soldiers to Iraq, the country can now be relieved that there were no casualties.

It was only the second time that Tonga had sent soldiers to the battlefield.

The first time was during the Second World War, when a platoon of 28 soldiers under the command of Lt. Ben Masefield saw action at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands in 1942. In two separate engagement it lost two soldiers, Lt. Ben Masefield and 2nd Lt. Taliai.

The Ambassador of the United States of America to Tonga, Mr David Laurence Lyon, was at Tonga's Fua'amotu Airport to welcome back the men, and he spoke at Mala'e Pangai on Saturday for the welcome parade. He praised the courage of the Tongan Royal Marines.

He told the King, "It is symbolic of the shared history of our two nations that your troops served and fought with the same US. Marine division as Tongans did in Guadalcanal during the Solomons Campaign over 60 years ago. Then, as now, we stood shoulder to shoulder in confronting a common enemy. Then, as now, the only solution to a fundamental danger to world peace was victory."

King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV said that Tonga's relationship with the United States goes back over 100 years, during both the first and the second world wars. He said that during the Second World War, at one time, more than 50 American warships were at the Nuku'alofa harbour in preparation for the Battle of the Coral Sea.

He thanked the soldiers for their love of their country and of the human race.

December 22, 2004

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