It was also a sunny day and for that all who gathered in Green-Wood Cemetery Brooklyn last Saturday gave fervent thanks.
The event, attended by over 200 people, was the unveiling of a commemorative headstone honoring the 28 Irish-born men who fought and died in American uniform during the Korean War.
The 28 secured posthumous U.S. citizenship three years ago by a special act of Congress.
But that was an honor given to each of the men as individuals.
Those who had campaigned for citizenship for more than 25 years wanted to see a memorial dedicated to all the 28 as a group.
That memorial, a 4,000-pound gray granite stone, was unveiled at Saturday’s event. It bears the names and native counties of the 28.
Those on hand to witness the unveiling included Irish Consul General Tim O’Connor, Deputy Consul General Breandan O Caollai, and a representative of the Korean Consulate in New York.
The unveiling of the memorial, which is situated just a few yards from the grave of Wolfe Tone’s widow Matilda, followed concelebrated Mass in the cemetery chapel during which the names of the 28 were read by Dr. Catherine Thornton, who had joined the organizing committee after the death of her husband, former Irish Echo editor John Thornton.
The memorial stone is just a few minutes walk from the chapel and led by pipers from the NYPD Emerald Society and a U.S. army honor guard, those in attendance, including a number of veterans of the 1950-53 Korean conflict, walked in procession to the memorial.
Led by master of ceremonies and memorial committee member Tim Murphy, the unveiling and proceeded under a brilliant blue sky and warm October sun.
For some, it was a reminder of a near match of a day in Washington, D.C. three years ago when the 28 were made American citizens.
After an invocation and blessing by Revs. Paddy O’Connor and Brendan Fitzgerald, a presentation of national colors by the honor guard and the singing of both the American and Irish national anthems by former New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade grand marshal, Connie Doolin, the memorial was formally unveiled by relatives of two of the 28 soldiers.
Four of 28 rest in other U.S. cemeteries, 20 are buried in Ireland while four are still listed as missing in action in Korea.
Green-Wood’s selection as a site for the memorial came comparatively late in the three year campaign spanning the Washington conferring of citizenship and Saturday’s unveiling.
But it is being viewed as fortuitous. The memorial will be included in the annual commemoration event sponsored by the Brooklyn Irish Parade Committee, said Kathleen McDonagh, the committee’s chairperson.
Applause for this announcement was in addition to a similar response to the revelation by Green-Wood president Richard Moylan that the cemetery had only days before been designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Tributes to the 28 came from, among others Consul General O’Connor, who spoke movingly of the bonds between Ireland and the United States, and this reporter, who delivered the keynote address.
Letters of support and congratulation from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Joe Crowley were read to warm applause.
Mayor Bloomberg was represented at the unveiling by Commissioner Brian Andersson of the Department of Records while Sen. Schumer was represented by senior aide, Martin Brennan.
Also in attendance were Assistant Chief Michael Collins of the NYPD and John Dunleavy, chairman of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee.
Particular tribute was paid to Kerry native and Korean veteran John Leahy, viewed by all as the original and main driving force behind the citizenship and memorial campaign.
Leahy presented a plaque during the ceremony to Mary McGinn, widow of Brian McGinn who had chronicled the lives and deaths of the 28 on a website that was to prove crucial in the citizenship campaign.
The unveiling ceremony was concluded with words from committee members Joe and Tadhg Murphy, who was the committee member who worked on the design of the headstone and as a liaison with its makers.
A rendition of God Bless America by Connie Doolin and the solemn playing of Taps filled the final moments of a ceremony sprung from a war long ago but a conflict, as more than one speaker noted, was making headlines to this very day.