By Ray O’Hanlon
At least one member of Congress is taking an active interest in the campaign to grant posthumous U.S. citizenship to Irish soldiers killed in the Korean War.
The Echo was contacted in recent days by the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress with regard to stories written about the effort to honor the dead Irishmen who died in U.S. Army uniforms in the 1950-53 conflict.
The CRS can’t reveal on whose behalf the research is being conducted, but a number of members of the House of Representatives and Senate have been contacted in recent months by individuals and organizations, including the AOH, with regard to the men, at least one of whom is still listed as missing in action.
The word that something might be afoot in Washington was welcomed by Mary Doody of Chicago, who lost her then 23-year-old brother, Michael Fitzpatrick, in the war.
"All these years I didn’t think anybody in the world cared that Michael was never made a citizen," she said. "I know he would appreciate the efforts being made on his behalf and the others now."
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Fitzpatrick came to Chicago from Claremorris, Co. Mayo, in 1947. He got a job with a steel company and was content to wait the required five years to become a U.S. citizen.
In his spare time he played the accordion and gained a reputation for his prowess on the instrument in the Chicago Irish community.
In December 1950, life took a different course. With war raging in Korea, Fitzpatrick was drafted into the army. He was trained as a medic and assigned to the 2nd Division’s 23rd Infantry division. He was shipped to Korea in May 1951.
Doody received her last letter from her kid brother on Aug. 16. Two days later, Fitzpatrick was listed as missing in action. His body was recovered and sent back a few weeks later to the U.S. for burial in Chicago.
But because he was not a citizen, he could not receive a military funeral. A lone officer represented the army at the funeral.
"He came and saluted and that was it. And, of course, my brother never was made a citizen," Doody said.
A law granting fast-track citizenship to servicemen was passed by the Eisenhower administration after the Korean truce but was not made retroactive. Fitzpatrick, and as many as a dozen other Irish draftees killed in action, remained non-citizens.
This failure to match the ultimate sacrifice with the honor of citizenship is what inspired Kerry native and Korea veteran John Leahy to mount a campaign to right what he sees as an injustice.
Leahy’s effort to secure posthumous citizenship for the Irish-born U.S. soldiers has been gathering momentum in recent months, although his original list of nine soldiers has since expanded to include several others, including Mike Fitzpatrick.
"These brave soldiers were wronged 50 years ago and it’s time for this injustice to be addressed," Leahy said.