Irish heroes of the Korean War

The ceremony took place in the village of Lixnaw, in Co. Kerry, last month to honour the Irish soldiers who died in the Korean War. A total of twenty-nine Irishmen died while serving under the conscription in the US Army under the banner of the UN from 1950-1953.

Each of the men emigrated to America in the 1950s to escape impoverished Ireland and find a new life. However this new life took the form of military service as they were conscripted into the US Army shortly after they arrived in America.

Following a short period of basic training, they were sent to combat zones in South Korea. According to Frank Quilter, the Chairman of the Lixnaw Korean Project, military service was compulsory at the time, and often both American nationals and foreign immigrants would flee to avoid being sent to fight in the war.

The project was initially undertaken to enhance the physical face of Lixnaw for the upcoming Tidy Towns competition. Mr Quilter felt that it would be both topical and symbolical to erect a monument in the town to honour the memory of the men who fought and died in the Korean War. "We decided about the time of the beginning of the War in Iraq that it would be a contemporary issue to focus on Irish soldiers who previously fought for America, and of course to pay tribute to their memory."

The Mayo soldiers who were conscripted and consequently killed in the war included: Mark James Brennan from Ballinamore, Kiltimagh, Michael Fitzpatrick from Claremorris and Micheal Gannon from Achill. There were also four soldiers from Roscommon, two from Leitrim, one from Galway and a Colomban priest, Fr. Frank Canavan from Headford in Co. Galway.

In 2004, the Korean War veterans hit the headlines when a campaign was launched to grant posthumous American citizenship to the Irish soldiers killed in the Korean War.
A website has been set up to honour these heroes and on it can be found a letter from one Corporal Partrick Sheahan, from Newtown Sands, Co. Kerry, in which he alludes to the reality of the war and the doubts for their presence in the region.

"None of the GIs are a bit pleased with what Truman, the Government, or the UN are doing for us. I think they could do a lot better and a lot of us think that the UN didn't want peace at all; it certainly looks like it over here."

The monument had taken the form of a stone arch, 12 feet high and 17 feet wide with three granite slabs on which all 35 names, addresses and dates of death are inscribed. Several guests including the United States Ambassador the Honourable James C. Kenny, and the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, the Honourable Kwon Jong Rak, performed the unveiling of the monument.

Mr Quilter estimated that a crowd of about 150 people attended the event, including a large contingent from the Columban Order, to remember the five Columban priests killed in the war. Speaking to the Western People, Eugene Gannon from Achill, brother of Michael Gannon who was killed in the war, expressed his delight at the public recognition of his brother's efforts.

He said "It was a great honour to be invited to this service which venerates the soldiers who were killed in the name of freedom. It is a very important event for my family."

Courtesy of Alanna O’Malley and the Western People
July 2005