IRISH IN THE US MILITARY
Jim Otto, President AOH Division One
Presented at a Division Meeting under the topic
of "For the Good of the Order," in November 2001
I took up the idea of this project, and thanks to surfing and digging deep on the Internet, I have found so much information. To begin with, IF I really wanted to do justice to this subject, it would take me several years, and could wind up doing a college course on this subject, which is NOT such a bad idea. It should be brought to the attention to the American citizen just how much the Irish have contributed to building this country from the ground up.
The United States of America, I can state with total accuracy, would NOT be a country, or at least the country, as we know it today, without the involvement of the Irish-American. From the very beginning, we were there. In 1770’s, when the revolution began to spread its wings, actual records show that about 50% of the entire US Continental Army was Irish-Americans, including some 1,492 officers and 26 Generals. John Barry, father of the American navy, and Jeremiah O'Brien (whose father was from County Cork) captured a British schooner in the first naval engagement of the revolution. In 1776, the First Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, and eight of those signers were Irish-Americans, with one Charles Carroll III, even being a Catholic. He was born in Maryland in 1737, and with laws prohibiting Catholics from voting, holding office, worshipping openly or even educating their children as Catholic. Yet despite these rampart open prejudices, he took an active part in the revolution using his business expertise and perception to help the colonies against the British. He later served as a Senator in the 1st Continental Congress at the age of 30, and when he died in 1832, he was reputed to be the richest man in America. One further fact on the signers of the Declaration of Independence, everyone of the signers were declared by the Crown as traitors, and a standing order was issued that these men be found, tried for treason and were to be hung.
Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) was born in the Carolina hills into an immigrant Irish farming family. He fought in the Revolutionary war at the age of 11 and all but one of his immediate families was killed in that war. In the war of 1812, his troops crushed the Creek Indians and then totally routed the great British Army, at the battle of New Orleans, on January 8, 1815, just after the British command in America had surrendered and signed the treaty of Ghent. He went on to be elected to congress, at the age of 30, and then became the seventh President of the United States.
David (Davy) Crockett was from Tennessee and served under Jackson in Florida and eventually was elected for several terms to congress and a Democrat, and one term as a Whig. He moved to east Texas in 1835, and was hanged after the fall of the Alamo in 1836, which took Santa Ana 13 days to overwhelm with the final battle lasting only 90 minutes.
We also need to mention the name of Daniel Boone, who although NOT officially military, worked for a scout for the military and who did open the Kentucky wilderness to settlements. He eventually moved into Missouri, and built a home in this area out at Defiance, and another in the area what is now Booneville.
This brings us up to the time period of the 1860's and the American Civil War/War between the States where the Irish-American in great numbers, stepped forward once again, on both sides. I could do more than eight hours on this period alone. The Irish rolls presented more than 150,000 men for the Union Army alone with some 7 generals who were Irish-American, along with some 39 regiments who had identified components, while the Confederate States of America fielded some 80,000 Irish-Americans with some 6 generals. Some 70 Irish-Americans were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in this war. Some of the most notable Irish-Americans were, for instance: Matthew Brady (1823-1896) whose famous Civil War combat photographs still keep us in awe even today, OR U.S. Grant-General of the Union Army, and 18th President of the U.S. and of course the most famous groups of that war was the "Irish Brigade". The Irish Brigade was organized just after the First battle of Manassas (Bull Run). The brigade’s nucleus was the New York Sixty Second, Sixty Ninth, and Eighty Eighth Infantry. In the fall of 1862, the 28th Massachusetts, and the 116th Pennsylvania were added, and the 29th Massachusetts also served for a short time. The Brigade saw action in Peninsula campaign, at Antietan, 2nd battle of Manassas, Fredericksburg (where, thanks to incompetent blunders of General Bumside, the brigade suffered some 41% casualties (killed/wounded/missing) also at Chancellorsville, at Gettysburg, where they once again suffered heavily in the cornfield battle. Cedar Run, the Wilderness, Spotslvinia Courthouse, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. Five men commanded the Brigade; Colonel Richard Byrne-killed at Cold Harbor, Colonel Patrick Kelly-killed at Petersburg, Major General Thomas Smyth-died at Farmville, with Brigadier Generals Robert Nugent and Thomas Meagher being wounded. The brigades battle flag was of bright green cloth with a golden Irish harp and in Gaelic, their motto, "Never retreat from the clash of spears ". Confederate General Robert E. Lee told US Grant at his surrender' You know the reason you have won? You had most of the Irish with you " Lee states after the war, " Never men so brave. The brigade suffered some 4,000 casualties-killed, wounded, or missing. This is more overall than was on its rolls at any one given time. The "Fighting 69' " served proudly in World War I and even today is serving as a New York National Guard unit where it still draws heavily on the Irish-Americans.
In the "Indian or Plains War " and the westward expansion of this nation's frontiers (1868-1895) over 69% of the US Army troops stationed west of the Mississippi were Irish Americans, with many less than two years in this country. Bat Masterson as was William "Buffalo Bill" Cody were Indian fighters or scouts along the frontier All along the western frontier, at the army outpost and forts the Irish Americans, many of whom were NOT even US citizens, hut they were there, answering the call. Possibly the most famous-good, bad indifferent- was Civil War General now Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his Seventh US Cavalry. While out walking one day. Colonel Custer heard some of his Irish troopers playing this one tune. It stuck in his mind and the more and more he heard the tune, the more he fell in love with it. He commanded that IT would become the official regimental song, and it became known us the "GARY OWEN". On May 17, 1875. The Seventh US Cavalry rode out of Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territories on a mission that would lead them to the valley of the Little Big Horn, and as they rode out the regimental band played two tunes— "The Girl I Left Behind” and this tune which is still played today, and this tune which you will now briefly hear, "THE GARY OWEN" ......................PLAY THE TAPE-———
The Irish were once again in the forward ranks in the Spanish-American war . and were in great numbers in Teddy Roosevelt's "Rough Riders ", as well as the border incursions in the 1915-17 episodes chasing the Mexican Poncho Villa, with General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing.
In the year 1900, John Phillip Holland convinced the US Navy to begin using the submarine. Then in 1917, the United States was drawn into World War 1, so once again it became time to roll up the sleeves and really go to work. Although too old to serve in the military, being born on July 3,1878, George M. Cohan, writer, playwright, producer, director and actor/dance man, and the man who is known as the "Father off-Broadway. Went to work to support the troops by playing at different camps for US servicemen, and at the same time writing patriotic songs to booster the sprits of both the fighting men AND the people left on the home front. Songs like "You 're a grand old flag " and Over there ". Then there is the legendary US "Fighting 69' ", one of the more famous units of World War I.
World War I, the war "to end all wars "-so they said, ended on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, and Americans came home and "got on with their lives, that was until Sunday December 7, 1941 when the United States was once again thrust hack into war, and the Irish Americans raced to the forefront. We have a job to do, so let's get it on. The very 1st Congressional Medal of Honor of World War II went to Col in Kelly of the US Army Air Forces. Looking at the Congressional Medal of Honor records, you find that many, many of the recipients were Irish born (born in Ireland and came to this country) Irish-American, and IF you really scrutinize the records, the number of Americans of Irish decent are added, the number REALLY goes way up. People like Colonel William "Wild Bill" Donovan who, while serving with the US "Fighting 69"'", in World War I, won the Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart with 2 oak leaf clusters, and the French Croix de Guerre, and now that we 're involved in World War II, Donovan sets up and heads the OSS- Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. Other Irish-Americans include people like John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn, and of course Audie Murphy who was the most decorated soldier of World War II. Let me expound on this Irish-American Texas farm boy's decorations; they include; The Congressional Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star with First Oak Leaf Cluster, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with "V" (for Valor) device with First Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart with Second Oak Leaf Cluster (that's wounded THREE times) Good conduct medal .and over 25 other awards, both US and foreign. In August 1945 aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo bay the second world war came to a close, and the Irish Americans came home once again, and got on with their lives.
That was until 1950, and the start of the Korean "police Action", conflict, or no matter what you call it, it was a WAR. And as in the past Irish and Irish Americans came forward in great numbers, many who were not even US citizens yet. In those days, immigrants could be drafter to serve and then they were eligible for citizenship 90 days after their discharge—IF THEY SURVIVED THE WAR. In this ear, there are 23 cases where Irish born soldiers were killed and never received their citizenship. Some of them were returned to Ireland for burial.
In late 1957 the US started really getting involved in Vietnam. As the years rolled by, and the war grew and expanded and more and more troops were committed, once again the Irish and Irish-Americans pushed to the forefront to serve. During the Vietnam War, it is "unofficially estimated that over 2,000 of those soldiers who served "in country" were men and women who were born in the Republic of Ireland, and many of those who served were not even US citizens. But the U.S. was their adopted country, and they saw it as their duty to serve. There are countless thousands of Irish-Americans on "THE WALL"(that's the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.) and joining their brothers AND sisters are some 20 Irish immigrants-19 men and 1 woman. The breakdown is as follows; 13 army/ six marines/ and one nurse- 2nd Lt. Pamela D. Donovan, from Dublin Ireland. These people came to America with the intent of serving in the US military and they ALL volunteered for service in Vietnam. Many of these Irish servicemen's families were totally unaware of their American military service or even of their deaths. They simply left "the ole sod" and never looked back!! And to this date in 2003, they are still NOT officially citizens of the United States. 1 can not close out this chapter of our history without telling of Father Aloysius P. McGonigal, an AOH member and a military chaplain. He served "in country" where the residue always hits the fan, and where there is great carnage, and men—boys really- die terrible deaths every day and where Father McGonigal was known all over I Corps area and indeed South Vietnam. It was 12968, and this Jesuit Chaplain was assigned to the US advisory compound in Hue, and the Tet offensive was in full bloom. He was only 5' 6" and would almost disappear inside a flack jacket. But his men, the "grunts" or infantrymen were dying before the battlements of Hue's Imperial Citadel. He was with a unit that was not his own, in a battle he could have missed, and he practically had to fight his way to the battlefield, BUT this is where he wanted to be—he was needed here. On Sunday, February 4, 1968, HIMSELF said," Aloysius, enough is enough. It's time to come home" He died with a bullet in his forehead while serving with the First Battalion Fifth Marines. He had said, " Hey, there was no Catholic Chaplain with the unit, so 1 had to go! What more can we say!
There is a book now out that list all of the recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor from 1863 thru 1994. There are some 3,401 recipients. One of the categories of information in the book is "birthplace", listing the state & town for US recipients, and the country for those born outside the US. Foreign born list 33 countries with Ireland having a listing of 258. Nineteen fighting men have been awarded the medal a second time. Five of the nineteen were born in Ireland.
Throughout our entire history, before there was even a UNITED STATES country, there was the Irish-American there in the front of the line to answer the call to arms for freedom. As I near the end of this presentation, I sincerely hop you have gained some knowledge and made your chest expand, even just 2-3 inches with pride. Close your eyes and just look over your shoulder, and you'll see the ghosts of your brothers and sisters who served in places like Concord and Lexington at bloody Chancellorsville and little round top at Gettysburg or charging up San Juan hill in Cuba or the forest of Verdun. Take a real close loon -there there on bloody Omaha beach or that top slit trench on "Pork Chop” Hill to the severe cold of the Chosin Reservoir to the hell that was in the Ashau Valley, or Hamburger Hill, or In Granada, Panama, Somalia, Kuwait City, and even today on the streets of Baghdad. As long as there is a need, a threat to our freedoms. The Irish-Americans has been, is and always will be ready, if needed to lay his life on the line to defend the freedoms he totally believes in and the ones we so richly enjoy today. Gentlemen there is not now, nor has there ever been an ethnic group or race that has stood up, shoulder to shoulder in greater numbers than the Irish. We have over 700 years of hardships at the hands of the British, and we know damn well what freedom is, and what it takes to preserve it.
Walter Winchell, in his radio broadcast in March 1945 said it best, "You can't strike the American Flag without expecting to get hit back by some Irishman. The nation will be standing at attention when the Irish wear green in their lapels for old Ireland on the 17th of March, because so many, many thousands of Irishmen are wearing the green, on their graves, for America".
And so to each and every one of you, my Irish brethren, when we walk out of this meeting tonight, let us all walk a little taller, a little straighter and be damn proud of your Irish heritage, for well over one million Irishmen have paved the way for you, and then tonight get on your knees and pray to "HIMSELF" to wrap his cloak around our service personnel and protect them and bring them home soon.
May HIMSELF bless you all, and May HE bless both Ireland and America.
An addition to this history report: Originally produced in November 2001, I “updated” the report in 2003 to include the Vietnam era. Now in December, 2005, I most joyfully update the report once again with the following news; In the “American Revolution” portion of this report, I spoke of John Barry, as the “father of the American Navy” Now I can add to this report The Commodore John Barry Resolution was signed by President Bush on Thursday, December 22, 2005 officially recognizing Commodore Barry as the first flag officer of the United States Navy --- 202 years and three months after the Wexford-born Barry passed into the history books. In other words he was named to the rank of “Admiral” (ALL Generals/Admirals are “flag officers”) and thusly, the 1st “Flag Officer” of the United States Navy Many thanks to Congressman Peter King (NY) and Senator Arlen Specter (PA) and their staff and all the cosponsors for making it all happen.