Membership Notes, May/June 2013
A Good Thing For The Irish:
BY MICHAEL KEATING
The Ennis Town Council in County Clare, Republic of Ireland, listened carefully to the memorial proposal recommended by the gangly Americanalbeit Irish-Americanto commemorate the service of Irish citizens during the Vietnam War. Reaction was generally favorable, but there were reservations. Given Irish history, there’s a general reluctance to honor the wars of major nations.
But like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, the intent was to honor the warriorsnot the war. Matthew Carroll, who had served with the First Infantry Division, made it clear: More than 2,500 Irish fought in Southeast Asia, mostly with the Americans but some with the Australians. Twenty-nine died in theater, and twenty-two have their names engraved on The Wall. This would be an opportunity to honor these Irish citizens and the Irish nation for their service and sacrifice.
“The proposed memorial,” the town council concluded in December 2012, “is dedicated to those Irish who served and lost their lives during military service in Southeast Asia and is not a war memorial. It is not a judgement on the rights and wrongs of war but is a focus on creating a space for reflection for families of Irish men and women who served in allied military service in Southeast Asia.”
Then the Ennis Town Council set aside a quiet, wooded grove by its concert hall as the site of Carroll’s dream. Now the hard part started.
“Oh, Matt’s a moral force,” nodded Brian McDonnell, who worked for thirty years for the U.S. Department of Labor and was one of the original presidents of Dean K. Phillips Memorial Chapter 227 in Northern Virginia. “He’s a visionary. Me, I’m a dragger.”
So when Tidewater (Virginia) Chapter 84’s Carroll saw that his dream might have a chance, he turned to McDonnell to help him turn dreams to stone. Practical and unflappable, McDonnell also recruited Joseph Quinn, who had a background in finance. They understood that the elixir that turns dreams into reality is money. And that required marketing and outreach, so they formed a 501(c)3.
It will take about a quarter million dollars. The Ennis Arts Council has announced a design competition. More than thirty proposals will be submitted. There are just a few requirements: The memorial must include the namesboth in English and in Gaelic Irishof the twenty-nine who died in country. The names must be engraved so that, like at The Wall in Washington, people can make rubbings. And it must include the inscription: “The people of the allied nations express their heartfelt gratitude for the service and sacrifice of those above and to their families, loved ones and the Irish nation.”
Carroll wants Irish craftsmen to use native materials. But he would like the money to be a gift from the American people. “Certainly,” he said, “I identify with them being Irish, but it’s their veteran status, not their Irish status, that’s the key. They are my brothers and sisters.”
For Carroll, McDonnell, and Quinn, it’s strictly a labor of love. “For them to be remembered,” McDonnell said, “that’s a proper thing.”
All the money goes to the memorial. When Carroll and McDonnell return to Ireland in late spring to join the Ennis Arts Council in judging the design competition, they will travel on their own dime.
They love the project and, like so many Irish-Americans, they take pleasure in reestablishing contacts in the old homeland. They talk about the beauty of thousand-year-old Ennis and the surrounding countryside, the handsome Franciscan monastery, and the centuries-old pubs. They are looking for people to share their dream. They’re also looking for people to open their wallets.
“Matt and Brian have been VVA members for many, many years,” VVA President John Rowan said. “Theirs is a fine project, and I am confident that it will succeed.” VVA endorsed the work of the Irish Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Project at its January Board meeting, and encouraged members to contribute money and volunteer their time.
Carroll and McDonnell anticipate a November 2014 completion date. There’s a lot to be done between now and then. But the immediate obstacle is cash.
“We’re approaching Irish organizations, like the Ancient Order of Hiberians, and we’re approaching veterans organizations,” McDonnell said. “We’re honored that VVA was the first to endorse the project.”
To find out more about the Irish Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Project, visit www.theirishvietnamveteransmemorialproject.org To volunteer or contribute, contact Matthew Carroll at email@example.com Brian McDonnell can be reached at 703-863-2705.
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