US in the late 1940s, early 50s offered a better way of
life but also the battlefields of Korea
is about to repeat itself as a group of Irish heroes travels
towards a sporting battle in Japan and Korea this summer.
Irish soccer supporters are hopeful that their soccer heroes
can conquer the Cameroon, Saudi Arabia and Germany in the
early stages of the World Cup finals to book a place in
the playoffs in the Korea cities of Seoul, Pusan and Inchon.
But 50 years ago, a number of courageous Limerickmen were
among those who took part in an altogether different kind
of battle in the countryside and the cities of Korea.
Today, few people will know that exactly half-a century
ago Irishmen serving in the US army, as part of a United
Nations force, were shipped to Japan en route to Korea.
Following training in Japan they were sent into Korea where
they fought on cold battlefields in defence of the freedom
of South Korea.
Tragically, 27 of them - including four from Limerick city
and county - were called upon to make the supreme sacrifice.
Their story deserves to be remembered in view of the forthcoming
Irish involvement in the 2002 World Cup co-hosted this year
in Japan and Korea.
Following an easing in US immigration regulations after
World War Two, many young men said goodbye to their Irish
homeland between 1947 and 1953 and headed for the shores
For the most part they were the sons of Irish labourers
and small farmers, who travelled across the Atlantic in
pursuit of a more prosperous life in America. Their goal
was to become citizens of the United States. For some their
families in Ireland would never see them again as events
in Korea were set to alter the course of their lives.
In June 1950, the Land of the Morning Calm was thrown into
turnmoil when the communists of North Korea invaded the
South and the United Nations was called upon to act in its
defence. This was the first time that the UN, then in its
infancy, embarked upon a course of military action and 15
countries - spearheaded by the US armed forces - sent troops
in response to the UN mandate.
The situation appeared to be under control by September
1950, as the North Koreans were first repulsed and then
pushed back into their own territory by UN forces. However,
in October the situation escalated into a more serious conflict
after the intervention of an enormous Chinese army that
had suddenly entered the war in support of North Korea.
Apparently, the Chinese became alarmed to find UN troops
so close to their borders in North Korea and the UN forces,
outnumbered by the massed attacks of Chinese infantry, were
forced into retreat and were in danger of being pushed out
A new commander was appointed and the UN forces managed
to hold on, to regroup and then to counterattack. Fierce
battles followed between January and July 1951 as Chinese
attacks were gallantly countered by the allied troops of
The UN counter-offensives eventually pushed the Communist
Forces northwards and a defensive line was established across
the middle of Korea. The war then followed a pattern of
attack and counterattack above and below this line of defence.
In July 1951, truce talks were initiated and the war entered
a period of stalemate. Despite this, fierce fighting continued
and major battles continued to be fought until, on July
27, 1953, a truce was signed.
The 38th parallel, which runs across the centre of Korea,
was agreed upon as the line of demarcation between North
and South Korea.
The escalation in the war following the Chinese intervention
was to prove a dramatic turning point for some of the Irishmen
who had emigrated to the US prior to the outbreak of war.
Along with thousands of young Americans many of them were
drafted into the US armed forces and most of the Irish who
died in Korea were killed during the nine month spell of
relentless massed Chinese attacks on the South.
Twenty-seven Irishmen, four of them from Limerick; Pte First
Class William (Billy) Collins, Tullig South, Templeglantine;
Cpl Alphonsus OConnell, Sarsfield Avenue, Garryowen;
Pte First Class William (Billy) Scully, Galbally, and Pte
First Class John Francis Dillon, Coole, Kilteely are known
to have died on the battlefields of Korea between 1950 and
Ten other counties are represented on the role of honour:
Cork, 5; Kerry, 4; Mayo, 3; Roscommon, 3; Antrim, 2; Leitrim,
2; Galway, 1; Louth, 1; Longford 1; Tipperary, 1.
The remains of most of those killed in action were returned
to their families in Ireland for burial. An American officer
represented the United States at the funerals.
A military-style headstone with a simple inscription was
erected at each of the graves. A few were interred in the
US in accordance with the wishes of their relatives.
In all, a total of 36,940 Americans were killed in action
and 8, 176 were declared missing in action at the end of
the Korean War. South Korea sustained 1,312,836 military
casualties, including 415,004 dead; casualties among other
United Nations allies totalled 16,532 and included 3,094
dead. The casualties estimated among the communist forces
were two million.
The truce was signed at Punmanjom in July 1953 and marked
the end of hostilities in the Korean War. But the North
and the South have remained estranged and buffered by a
demilitarised zone. An armed stand off still exists between
the two Koreas, who are still technically at war.
Today, the Irish who served and died in Korea have not been
forgotten in the USA, thanks largely to the unstinting efforts
of a small group of Irish-American Korean War veterans.
When those young Irishmen left Ireland in the late 1940s
and early 1950s, their aim was to settle in the United States
and to become citizens of that country. Those that were
fortunate enough to return to the States after the war come
to a conclusion in 1953, eventually qualified for citizenship
and all the benefits that accompanied it.
In 1953, a Bill was passed granting citizenship to all immigrant
soldiers who served in the US armed forces. However, this
was not made retrospective which meant that those who served
from 1950 to 1952 in Korea had to wait for five years from
the time of their arrival in the US.
As for the Irish and other non-citizens who gave their young
lives for their adopted country, on the brutal battle fields
of Korea before 1952 - they never had the opportunity to
fulfil their ambition of citizenship.
For many years a campaign has been underway in the United
States to honour these Irishmen by seeking to have posthumous
citizenship granted to them.
John Leahy, from Derrevrin, Lixnaw, Kerry has been in the
vanguard of this effort. The Kerry man left Ireland in 1949
and 10 months after his arrival in America was drafted into
the US army.
Sgt Leahy served with distinction on the frontlines in Korea,
where he was attached to the 82nd AAA (Anti-Aircraft Artillery)
Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division.
John had to wait the full five years for citizenship upon
his return from Korea and has spent the last 25 years campaigning
for the posthumous award of US citizenship to his fallen
He has been busy lobbying politicians and trying to increase
public awareness not only on behalf of the Irish casualties
but also for all immigrant US soldiers killed in the Korean
War. His enthusiasm has inspired others to get involved
in this noble cause.
Most recently, Dan Herlihy, a Korean War veteran from Youghal
who lives in Massachusetts, has become actively involved
in the Korean Veterans Posthumous Citizenship issue.
His intervention has given a new and decisive impetus to
the campaign. Last July 25, Representatives Martin Meehan
and James McGovern of Massachusetts introduced the Posthumous
Citizenship Restoration Act of 2001 in the Congress.
Significantly, the Bill was immediately passed to the House
Judiciary Committee where it is likely to be supported by
both sides of the house. If, and when the Bill becomes law,
the young Irishmen who died for the American flag in the
Korean War will be eligible to become posthumous citizens
of the USA.
Furthermore, last December 19, a companion Bill sponsored
by Senator C Schumer of New York, was introduced in the
Senate. The resolution was co-sponsored by Sen LD Chafee,
Rhode Island, and Sen Hillary Clinton, New York.
The Bill proposes to extend the deadline for granting
posthumous citizenship to individuals who die while on active-duty
service in the armed forces. It was referred to the
Senate Judiciary Committee.
John Leahy has championed the cause of his dead Irish comrades.
These soldiers were wronged nearly 50 years ago. It
is time for this injuries to be addressed, he says.
In this, he has served them well and done them proud.
Fifty years ago, on February 3, 1952, more than 3,000 people
attended a Requiem Mass in St Patricks Cathedral,
New York, in tribute to these Irish youths killed in Korea.
At that time the remains of nine young Irishmen were about
to be shipped back to their families in Ireland for interment.
Last February 4, an anniversary Memorial Mass was concelebrated
at the same venue in honour of the Irish born US soldiers
killed during the Korean War. Veterans organisations joined
with family members and friends in acknowledgement of the
contribution and sacrifice of these men 50 years ago.
An internet site - www.irishinkorea.org - has been set up
in tribute to the Irishmen known to have died in Korea,
while serving with US forces.
Fiftieth anniversary commemorative ceremonies have been
taking place since the year 2000 and will continue until
2003. These have been organised by the governments of the
United States and the Republic of Korea and have been conducted
in Korea and the US.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Korean War,
the ROK government decided to issue the Republic of Korea
War Service Medal to pay tribute to the Korean War
veterans for their historic endeavours to preserve freedom
of the ROK and the free world.
This offer was originally made 50 years ago to US military
personnel, but was only recently approved by the US Congress
and accepted by the Defence Department.
The forthcoming World Cup will see the Irish team training
in Japan in preparation for matches in the football arenas
of Japan and South Korea. Fifty years ago, many young Irishmen
underwent final weeks of training in the land of the Rising
Sun before being sent to the theatre of war in Korea.
Since China and the USA have also qualified for these finals,
we may see some intriguing games between some of the former
protagonists of the Korean War. South Korea itself will
be participating as one of the two host nations. Regardless
of the outcome on the field of play next June, the Irish
will be happy that they have made it to the finals and supporters
will rejoice in the participation of their team.
In sharp contrast to this, when news of Irish casualties
in the Korean War was reported back to Ireland 50 years
ago there was great sadness in certain Irish households.
This conflict coming so soon after the World War Two had
ended was unexpected and brought grief to number of an unfortunate
Irish families, as the 20th century reached its halfway
Soon Irish fans will travel in hope to a land where the
hopes of a group of Irishmen, from a previous generation
were dashed. This time, as Irish links with Japan and Korea
are renewed, all participating Irishmen will hopefully return
home and will live to fight another day.
A word of thanks to the following who provided photographs:
Mary Ita Roche, Tullig South, Templeglantine, brother of
Pte William Collins; Joseph Dillon of Coole, Kilteely, brother
of Pte John F Dillon; Donal OConnell, Garryowen, brother
of Cpl Alphonsus OConnell, and Denis Henebry, Deerpark,
Galbally, nephew of Pte Billy Scully.
Alphonsus was in Inchon landing
Corporal Alphonsus OConnell lived at Sarsfield Avenue,
Garryowen, before emigrating to America in 1947. This was
the family home of Sam and Elizabeth OConnell.
When Alphonsus emigrated in 1947, he stayed with his Uncle
David in Brooklyn and worked in New York as a carpenter.
His brother Donal said that many of the OConnells
were carpenters. There was also a tradition of emigration
(to the US) in the family, both on my fathers and
mothers side. Uncles and aunts had previously emigrated.
When the situation in Korea deteriorated Alphonsus was drafted
into the army for training. Eventually, he was sent to Korea,
where he served with the 8th Engineer Combat Battalion,
1st Cavalry Division, US Army.
At the outbreak of war, the 8th battalion was quickly ordered
to Korea, landing at Pusan, in July 1950 where the 8th Engineers
were pressed into intermediate action demolishing bridges
in order to halt the advance of enemy forces. In addition
to demolition and construction duties they often acted as
infantrymen on the front lines.
In September 1950, the 8th took part in Gen Douglas MacArthurs
famous amphibious landing at Inchon. They came ashore far
behind the lines of North Korean forces.
The hazardous task of clearing mines was one of the main
duties of the 1st Cavalry Division engineers. On October
29, 1951, Alphonsus OConnell was killed in action
in North Korea. He had been sent to clear mines left behind
by retreating Chinese forces when an explosion claimed his
Only weeks later, his battalion was withdrawn from Korea
after over 500 days in combat. His remains were not repatriated
but were buried in a military cemetery in the US.
Donal OConnell recalls how his mother Elizabeth, received
a letter of sympathy from President Harry Truman telling
her that the Purple Heart had been awarded posthumously
to her son.
Today, like his parents before him, Donal resides with his
own family at Sarsfield Avenue, Garryowen. The 1st Cavalry
Division has officially adopted the rousing Garryowen as
its regimentals marching tune.
life cut short by a snipers bullet
PTE William (Billy) Scully, one of 14 children born to Denis
and Bridget Scully, originally lived in Kilgrena, Galbally.
His family later moved to nearby Deerpark, where he was
raised. Billy played gaelic football, and was adept at hurling.
At the age of 23, he emigrated to America in 1947 with his
older brother Jack. Their three sisters, Mollie, Nellie
and Kitty had previously settled in Manhasset, Nassau County,
and Long Island, New York. Mary Scully remembers that Jack,
had misgivings about going to the US as he was concerned
that his younger brother could be drafted into the US army
in the event of war. William, however, wanted to stay in
America. Jacks foreboding came true as, a year after
his arrival, Billy was called up to serve a tour of duty
as an infantry trainee. His nephew Denis Henebry explains
that Billy was given a choice when called up - enlist or
return to Ireland.
He was honourably discharged into the Enlisted Reserve,
but was recalled to active service in October 1950. That
December he was sent to Korea where he served with the 31st
Infantry, Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. On January 14,
1951, and only weeks after his arrival, Billy was killed
in action by a snipers bullet barely a month short
of his 27th birthday.
His family, and in particular his parents, were grief-stricken
when the news of his death was reported back to Galbally.
Not surprisingly his brother Jack, who had emigrated to
the US with him in 1947, found it hard to come to terms
with Billys death.
His body was shipped back to Ireland in accordance with
his wishes for burial in Galbally cemetery. Billy was awarded
the Purple Heart, posthumously. Denis Scully, Billys
father received certification of this, as well as a letter
from President Truman, in which he was thanked for the honourable
servive his son, Billy had rendered to the USA in time of
F fought and died with courage
PTE John Francis Dillon was born in Hartford, Connecticut
on July 24, 1930. He was the first child of Patrick and
Mary Dillon who had emigrated to America in 1929.
When John was four, his Irish-born parents decided to return
to Ireland. One of 11 children, John was raised in Coole,
As a child, John was always immensely proud of his American
status so it came as no great surprise when at the age of
17 he announced that he wanted to return home to the US!
His mother did not want to let him go, but Joe, the youngest
of the Dillon children, explained that John was claimed
out to America by his Aunt Catherine.
In March 1948, John Dillon bade farewell to his family in
Coole and headed off on his great adventure. His brothers
and sisters did not realise at the time that they would
never see him again.
Before sailing from Southampton, he sent his last £1
note back home to his mother.
Back in the US, John Francis Dillon, volunteered for the
army at the age of 19. He was sent to Korea where he served
with the 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.
On February 9, 1953 during a hard fought battle, in which
he reportedly fought with great courage, John was killed
in action aged 22.
Tom, Paddy and Joe and sisters Tess, Myra, Helen, Kitt and
Paula had lost their big brother for the second time.
Joe Dillon was less than one year old at the time of his
brothers departure for America. He never had the chance
to get to know his brother. His broken-hearted mother cried
every day for almost a year.
John Dillons remains were brought home to Ireland
for burial and interment took place at Coole cemetery on
May 30, 1953.
At the graveside an officer of the US army handed the Stars
and Stripes, the flag for which John Dillon gave his young
life, to his grieving mother.
Five months after his death hostilities ceased in Korea.
looked forward to becoming a US citizen
PTE William (Billy) Collins was a native of Tullig South,
Templeglantine. He was the son of Lawrence and Mary Collins
and brother of Maurice (Mossie), Sean and Mary Ita.
In 1947, a year after the death of his mother, Billy crossed
the Atlantic in search of a better life in America. He settled
in Astoria, Queens, Long Island, New York, where his Uncle
Martin had an apartment. His brother, Mossie, followed him
over in 1948. A next-door neighbour, from Ireland, Billy
Roche, came over to join them.
Billys sister, Mary Ita Roche, fondly recollects how
the young men were under strict instructions to keep their
room clean and tidy. Martins wife used to chide the
boys about the untidyness of their room.
She remembers how Billy and Mossie worked at the Manhattan
branch of A&P - a well known New York supermarket chain.
Billy looked forward to the day when he would become an
American citizen and with this in mind he declared his citizenship
papers. Sadly, his great ambition would not be realised.
In November 1950, Billy was called up for army training
and in February 1951 he arrived in Korea.
There, he was assigned to a heavy mortar company in the
23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Div, US army.
On May 18, 1951, Billy Collins was killed in action in South
Korea, aged 22.
His death was a bitter blow for his brother Mossie. Back
in Ireland unbearable grief was suddenly visited upon his
brother Sean and sister Mary Ita, as one of consideration
for her, Billy had concealed the news that he had been drafted
into the army and sent to Korea.
He didnt want me to worry about him she
In County Limerick, it was with regret that the people of
Tullig South, learned of his death, and in America a newspaper
reported: Astoria Soldier Dies for Nation not his own.
Billys remains were interred at Long Island National
Cemetery, Pinelawn, Farmingdale, NY. In a poignant graveside
ceremony, the folded US flag was handed over to Mossie in
the presence of his Uncle Martin.
Billy Roche also served in Korea. Fortunately he survived
and remained in the States and raised a family.
- courtesy of the Limerick Leader