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  • Writer's pictureKieran M. Lalor

Remembering Heroic Irish New Yorkers on St. Patrick's Day

Made up almost entirely of sons of Erin, The Irish Brigade helped preserve the Union during the Civil War by fighting with distinction at Bull Run, Gettysburg and Antietam. It is believed that Confederate General Robert E. Lee was so impressed with the military prowess of the 69th New York Infantry portion of the brigade at the Battle of Fredericksburg, that he gave them the enduring nickname the “Fighting 69th.”

No Parris Island recruit leaves boot camp without knowing about “Deadly Dan Daly,” a Marine Sergeant Major from Glen Cove, New York, who is one of only seventeen people in American history to receive the Medal of Honor twice. Daly fought in the Boxer Rebellion, the Banana Republic Wars and during WWI. In 2005 when the US Post Office released its Distinguished Marines stamps, Daly was one of four Marines so honored.

The “Father of American Intelligence” was also an Irish New Yorker. Bill Donovan, a Columbia University graduate and prominent Wall Street lawyer before his Army service, received the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross and two Purple Hearts during WWI. During WWII, he led the Office of Strategic Service, the forerunner to the CIA. After the war he was the special assistant to the chief prosecutor at the trial of several Nazi war criminals.

Even during unpopular wars, Irish New Yorkers answered the call and served heroically. Robert Emmett O’Malley of Queens was the first US Marine to earn the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War. The Medal’s citation reads in part, "Although three times wounded in this encounter, and facing imminent death from a fanatic and determined enemy, he steadfastly refused evacuation and continued to cover his squad's boarding of the helicopters while, from an exposed position, he delivered fire against the enemy until his wounded men were evacuated.”

O’Malley’s three brothers served in the Marine Corps as did his boyhood friend Thomas Noonan. Noonan was killed in action while saving the lives of his fellow Marines. For “indomitable courage, inspiring initiative and selfless devotion to duty” Noonan received the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Some 2.7 million American servicemen served in Vietnam but only 247 received the Medal of Honor. That two men who went to school and church together received the nation’s highest military honor for similar acts of selflessness and bravery says something profound about the Irish Catholic community in New York from which they came.

A generation later, two products of that same community fought and died together in Iraq. Lance Corporal Mike Glover of Rockaway, Queens was a scholarship student at Pace Law School who resurrected the school’s Gaelic Law Society before he gave his life for his country in Iraq. Glover’s platoon commander Captain John McKenna, a red-haired New York State Trooper who was born on St. Patrick’s Day, earned a posthumous Silver Star for giving his life in an attempt to save Glover. Glover and McKenna carried into the 21st Century a tradition of Irish New Yorkers demonstrating gallantry in defense of our nation that began long ago.

-Kieran M. Lalor

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