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
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.
"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
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.