Wednesday, January 28, 2004


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MARFOREUR remembers the 'Irish Marines' of WWII
Submitted by: Marine Forces Europe
Story Identification Number: 20041304630
Story by Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad

LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland(January 28, 2004) -- In 1942 United States Marines forged a relationship with a Northern Ireland community so strong it remains to this day.

The Marines who came here in 1942 experienced a contrast to the events of World War II that were occurring elsewhere. That exceedingly pleasant atmosphere and genuine hospitality of these people toward Marines still exists today.

Recently approximately 40 Marines from Marine Corps Forces Europe experienced the friendliness that is legendary of this region. The Marines participated in a professional military education event that taught them the history and culture of this region.

“This is a tangible way of showing Marines that you can become fully accepted in a foreign community, even in a time of crisis,” said Col. Brendan Kearney, Chief of Staff, MARFOREUR. “The impact on the Derry community is a testament to the World War II Marines who came with an open minded approach to life.”

The ‘Irish Marines’ of World War II were part of the 1st Provisional Marine Battalion that landed in Northern Ireland on May 12, 1942. These Marines spent two years guarding the Naval Operations Base that was vital to the Battle of the Atlantic. In that time the Marines became an important part of the community. They hosted children’s parties and barbecues, put on boxing exhibitions with local champions, and even started the Marine Corps Pipes and Drums Band after being challenged that Marines couldn’t play the bagpipes.

These Marines made a very positive impact on the city of Derry. One child who lived near the camp was particularly impressed and enjoyed his time with the Marines. He learned to play baseball, and the Marines gave him candy. This young boy also saw that the Marines were able to see beyond politics and work together. That young boy was John Hume, and he grew up to become co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize for his pivotal role in ending decades of violence in Northern Ireland. He is now a member of both the Westminster and European Parliaments.

Hume played a big role in the PME, this time himself teaching the importance of acceptance and diversity to the Marines.

“We are building our links with America very strongly,” said Hume. “Since modern technology has made it a smaller world, we are in a stronger position to work together.”

“There’s no better friend, no worse enemy than a United States Marine. That type of philosophy has been with us since our inception.” said Sgt. Joseph Forbes, who attended the PME. “It was with us in WWII. It impressed and inspired a great many people at that time, to include Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume. Although Derry has seen three to four generations since WWII, this youngest group continues to cherish and embrace the spirit of the Marine Corps. Sixty years later they still know who we are, and they love us. Makes you feel good to be a Marine, doesn’t it?”

“The information obtained was overwhelming,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffery Lamey. “A Nobel Peace Prize recipient was inspired by U.S. Marines stationed here. I learned from him that the impact of the teamwork and comradery of the Marines helped him to bring the people of Northern Ireland to peace.”

Author and filmmaker, Dr. Mary Pat Kelly recognized the strong ties of this community to the Marine Corps. Through her efforts along with the O’Kane/Donnely family of the Beach Hill Country House Hotel, former site of the Marine Corps Headquarters, interest has grown in restoring this connection.

“The relationship with the people here is very positive and very genuine,” said Gunnery Sgt. Juan Allen. “You really feel like the relationship is growing. We were welcomed with warm hospitality by all the people, I felt very comfortable there.”

Allen chose Derry as the place to perform his re-enlistment along with Sgt. Major Carlton Kent, Sgt. Major MARFOREUR.

“It was something very special to not only be on this historic ground, but to be piped in to a re-enlistment in Derry Ireland. Not a lot of people get to experience something like that.” said Gunnery Sgt. Juan Allen.

“I am truly touched being able to stand on these grounds,” said Kent. “I wish every Marine could experience this.”

In 1997 the Hon. John H. Dalton, Secretary of the Navy, dedicated a monument to the 1st Provisional Marine Battalion, and the Beech Hill US Navy-Marine Corps Friendship Association was formed and the Hon. John Hume was named Chairman.

“You may no longer hear the strains of bagpipes being played by American Marines at the Beech Hill Headquarters,” said Dalton at the dedication ceremony. “You may no longer hear the sound of young Marines teaching the children of Derry how to play baseball in their off-duty hours. But the sound of their time here, and what they gained, echoes for all time.”

Since the dedication, an annual ceremony has been held for those who embody the spirit of friendship shared by the Marines and the people of the community during the war. This year the Marines involved in the PME participated in a wreath laying ceremony that honored the WWII Marines.

“I really enjoyed the closing ceremony,” said Kearney. “All in uniform, wearing service alphas, which are very similar to the uniform of the WWII Marines. It really evidenced the linkage between what we did here and what went on 60 years ago. This was a great experience. Socially it was a good time, but it was also a time of listening and learning.”

Photos included with story:

The Hon. John Hume, co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Peace Prize for his efforts in brokering peace in Northern Ireland stands in front of a monument built in tribute to those who lost their lives on 'bloody sunday'. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad

John Hume was very personable and available to the Marines who were honored to be in the presence of a man like Hume. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad

Music is a very important part of the Derry community. Whether it's an out of tune sing-a-long over many pints or the best choir in town, an old saying says, there is often a tune in the Derry air. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad

A tree can be found near the Beech Hill Country House Hotel that has been carved with the initials of Marines since 1942. It has now become a tradition for visiting Marines to add their initials and become a part of the history of the "Irish Marines". Sgt. Chris Rager adds his name to the list of Marines who have been there. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad

This tree has initials carved in it from Marines dating as far back as 1942, now the most recient visitors have left their mark on history. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad

Sgt. Major Carlton Kent and Gunnery Sgt. Juan Allen re-enlisted at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel and as part of the cerimony were marched into the Marine Room by a traditional bagpiper. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad

Marines from Marine Corps Forces Europe took part in what has become an cerimony at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel in Londonderry, Northern Irelnd. The event is held to honor the spirit of friendship shared by U.S. Marines and the people of the community since WWII. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad

The Marines were able to experience the true tradition of North Ireland. Shown here are a U.S. Marine and an Irish bag piper having a drink at a pub, just as Marines and Irishmen have been doing for generations. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad

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