The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

Special Commemorative Issue, November 2002
 
   
 

The Fighting Irish On The Traveling Wall

By Jim Belshaw


John Driver's family owns a barber shop in Dublin, Ireland. Go into it and look up on the wall, and in all likelihood you'll recognize what is displayed for every customer to see - a military decoration, the Purple Heart, an American medal earned by a young Irishman.

John Driver is not alone. There are others.

Army Lt. John Cecil Driver began his Vietnam tour of duty on Jan. 17, 1969. On April 17, he was killed in action in Thua Thien. His name may be found on The Wall at Panel 27W-Line 99.

Had he not recorded his home of record as he did-Dublin, Ireland-Declan Hughes never would have known about him. He would have assumed the official record was correct, that it reflected no Irish-born veterans killed in Vietnam, and he wouldn't have given the idea of Irish-born Vietnam veterans a second thought.

Nor would Hughes have found Maurice O'Callaghan, born in Dublin, killed in Vietnam, buried in New Jersey, re-buried in Dublin.

"I spent a couple of months wandering around cemeteries in Dublin until I found him," Hughes said. "He was buried in New Jersey in 1967 and re-buried in Dublin in 1976 when the family moved back to Ireland." Nor any of the others: Patrick Nevin (Claremorris), Paul Maher (Dublin), Timothy Daly (Limerick), Bernard Freyne (Roscommon), Michael Smith (Cavan), Patrick Gallagher (Ballyhaunis), Edward Howell (Dublin), John Gollopy (Limerick), Edward Scully (Cork), Edmond Landers (Tipperary), Anthony O'Reilly (Galway), Philip Bancroft (Belfast), Sean Doran (Dublin), Peter Nee (Conriemara) -- all killed in Vietnam, all on The Wall, all born in Ireland.

Nor would Hughes have found the four who died while serving with the Australian "military-David Doyle (Dublin), George Nagle (Tipperary), Thomas Bimie (Belfast), and Robert Fleming (Northern Ireland).

Declan Hughes believes there are more.

"I firmly believe this is not the total," he said. "I'm at the point where I can't walk away from it now. I would hate to think there are another sixteen or six or twenty-six and nobody ever knows about them. It's something that needs to be finished."

Born in Dublin himself, Hughes is not a Vietnam veteran, but through the years has come to know the war and its lasting effects through the eyes of Irish veterans who served with American and Australian units, and from his work with Vietnamese refugees who settled in Ireland.

In 1997, a friend traveled to Vietnam and returned with a ring reportedly taken from an American killed in action. Hughes set out to see if he could return the ring to the family of its owner.

In 1998, he traveled to Washington, D.C., where he met the late Libby Hatch, then with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. During that stay, Hughes attended a press conference near The Wall.

When it was over, Hughes asked a question: When was the Traveling Wall going to Ireland?

"They looked at me as if I had two heads," he said.

Hughes wanted the Traveling Wall-and the attendant press coverage-in Ireland. He thought that based on the rough math he'd been doing, there had to be more Irish Vietnam veterans. And he needed a way to get the word out that he was looking for them.

"If you assume the millions of Americans who claim Irish ancestry are correct, you have to make the next logical jump from that which is a percentage of them went into the American military and a percentage of them went to Vietnam and a percentage of them died."

Hughes returned to Ireland to continue his search. When Libby Hatch discovered three American Legion posts in Ireland, she notified Hughes. He wrote to them, but only one responded. He addressed the post, telling them of his search but coming away thinking few, if any, believed he'd turn anything up.

But clues continued to dribble in. He went on a talk show that led to more information. He found a third Irish veteran killed in Vietnam, then a fourth.

The Irish news media started to pay attention to the story.

On Veterans Day in 1998, a wreath was laid at The Wall to honor the Irish-born killed in Vietnam.

For three weeks in April and May 1999, the Traveling Wall toured the Four Provinces of Ireland, recognizing the men and their families for the first time. For the first time, the families met one another, many of them believing their relatives had been the only Irish-born to die in Vietnam. Everywhere The Wall went, the Irish news media covered the story.

Eventually, Hughes would find 16 Irish-born veterans killed in Vietnam while serving with U.S. forces.

"No one knows how many the total will be," he said. "I think a lot of the Irish and Irish-Americans who served could be particularly helpful in finding them. I'm fairly certain they would have known of other guys in Vietnam, no matter what other area they served in. I reckon that if you're in Vietnam, no matter if you're in the front or the back, you hear an Irish voice and you recognize it and remember it. I think a lot of guys have information I would love to have, particularly Irish guys who now live in America."

Anyone wishing to contact him should write to this address: Declan Hughes, Top Floor, 119 Capel Street, Dublin 1, Republic of Ireland; Telephone from U.S. (011-3531) 872-2371.

   

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