Irish Tribute: Our Shared Heritage
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 Tradition of honor among the Irish in the US Services
American Servicemen 280 American servicemen take part in St. Patricks Day Parade in Washington DC
American servicemen take part in St. Patricks Day Parade in Washington DC

By Dermot O'Gara

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 will go down as one of bloodiest days in US history, with thousands losing their lives in the attacks on New York, Pennsylvania and Arlington, VA.

Arlington, of course, is home to the Pentagon, the US Defense Department.

The list of dead from the attack on the Pentagon includes names like Donovan, Dolan and Dunn, Irish names all. In the US military, as in many other aspects of American life, the Irish have managed to make a lasting impression and indeed many have gone on to become great leaders. It shouldn't surprise us then that down the years, the history of the US armed services and the history of the Irish in America have become intertwined. And the history of both goes back more than two hundred years.

In 1766 John Barry, a young Irish-born son of a Wexford tenant farmer, took command of a US schooner, Barbadoes, out of Philadelphia

Commodore John Barry as he would later be known, became the first US Naval Officer to capture a British war vessel on the high seas and Barry's heroics would earn him the epithet, 'The Father of the American Navy'.

His achievements include against-the-odds victories over the British, quelling three mutinies; fighting on land at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton; and fighting the last naval battle of the American Revolution aboard the frigate Alliance in 1783.

Barry continued to serve as a Naval officer until 1801.

The Irish also came to prominence in the US Army, and to this day the reputation of the Fightin' Irish 69th lives on. Formed in 1851 as The 69th New York Militia, the regiment was renamed the 69th New York State Volunteer Infantry in 1861 after fighting valiantly at Bull Run. Made up predominantly of Irish immigrants, the 69th, or 'Sons of Erin' were led by officers with names such as General Thomas Francis Meagher, Colonel Michael Corcoran, Colonel Patrick Kelly and Colonel Robert Nugent.

By the time World War II came about, the Irish had become part of the fabric of American society. One of the countless young Irish Americans queuing up in front of the recruitment offices was Audie Murphy from Greenville, Texas. Murphy went on to become one of the most decorated American combat soldiers in World War II. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, four Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and the European Theatre Medal with seven Battle Stars.

After the war he moved to Hollywood and went on to star in over forty movies. Most of these were westerns, but in the 1955 production, To Hell and Back, he played himself.

As America went to war again - first in Korea and then in Vietnam, the Irish were once again to the fore. Among those to lose their lives while serving in the US forces in Korea were Mark James Brennan of Kiltamagh; Co Mayo, John Corcoran of Millstreet Co Cork and John Canty of Lixnaw Co Kerry,

The conflict in Vietnam too claimed the lives of many Irish-born American servicemen including Bernard Anthony Freyne, of Ballaghaderreen, Roscommon; Patrick Gallagher, from Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo and Corkman Edward Anthony Scully, while Irish Americans such as David Joseph Boyle of California, Cornelius James Cashman of North Royalton, Ohio and Sean Timothy Doran of Lennox CA were among those who fell.

The families of Robert Edward Dolan, William H Donovan Jr, and Patrick Dunn, all of who lost their lives while serving as US Navy officers in the Pentagon have suffered great losses. They can however take some comfort from the fact that these men were part of a rich and long tradition of Irish involvement in the US Military.

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