During the Vietnam War, a soldier wounded on the battlefield had a better chance of survival than if he had been injured as a civilian in a car crash back home in the states. This remarkable statistic is due to the courage and dedication of the pilots and crews of the aeromedical helicopter evacuation unit, radio call sign “Dust Off”. A four man crew of a pilot, copilot, medic and crew chief would fly helicopters into the thick of jungle and battle to load and evacuate patients often while under enemy fire. The personal sacrifice of these brave crews was high; the loss of aircraft was 3.3 times that of other helicopter missions and about one third of all air ambulance crew members themselves became casualties. In a cadre of brave and remarkable men who achieved the extraordinary on a daily basis, one man exceeded even this elite groups standards of dedication and courage; he is Major Patrick Brady. Patrick Brady was born in South Dakota on October 1, 1936. His parents had separated resulting in a turbulent childhood where he and his brother were constantly being moved from relative to relative; Brady actually attended ten different schools in his first nine years of schooling. This changed when he moved to Seattle, Washington and began to attend the O’Dea School administered by the Irish Christian Brothers. The dedication and discipline of the Brothers provided young Patrick with strong adult role models; they instilled in young Patrick a strong sense of duty and a deep and enduring faith. Attending Seattle University, he enrolled in ROTC and was commissioned a second lieutenant upon graduation. After an initial assignment to Germany during the Berlin Crisis, Kelly enrolled in the Army Aviation School for training as a helicopter pilot. Upon graduation, Brady volunteered for service in Vietnam in 1963. It was in Vietnam as an aviator with the 57th Medical Detachment that Brady met another great influence on his life; his commanding officer the legendary Major Charles Kelly. Kelly was than ardent proponent of the dedicated Air Ambulance concept and his commitment to evacuating wounded under fire had earned him the nickname of “Mad Man”. On July 1, 1964 Kelly was attempting to rescue wounded soldiers when he was warned to leave a landing zone as it was still under enemy fire. Kelly’s response was “When I have your wounded”. Tragically, but fittingly as it epitomized his life, these would be Kelly’s last words as moments later a bullet pierced Kelly’s heart. The next day an Officer who was critical of Kelly’s aggressive flying tactics approached Brady, who was now the 57’s commander, throwing the bullet that had killed Kelly on his desk and asked if now would the unit stop flying so aggressively. Picking up the bullet, Brady replied, “We are going to keep flying exactly the way Kelly taught us to fly, without hesitation, anytime, anywhere.” Brady would be true to his word and faithful to Kelly’s legacy. On January 6, 1968, Brady was on his second tour in Vietnam, a Major and commander of the 54th Medical Detachment. He was awakened to a report that two wounded soldiers were in serious condition, but that seven other previous attempts to evacuate them had failed because of a thick blanket of fog that enveloped the area and would persist throughout the day. Brady and his crew successfully navigated in obscured visibility to the men’s position and successfully evacuated the wounded men while under fire. On the flight back, Brady picked up radio chatter that another unit had been caught in a fire fight and had seventy wounded men. Two previous attempts to evacuate them had resulted in the responding helicopters being shot down; Brady and his crew immediately volunteered to try again. Brady was initially followed by four other helicopters, but they turned back because of the fog leaving Brady and his crew to continue alone. Instead of seeing the fog as a problem, Brady used it to his advantage, knowing it would make it difficult for enemy gunners to get a fix on him as he flew directly over them. Brady and his crew would make five trips in what was reported as zero visibility under enemy fire and evacuated all the wounded. Some speculated that Brady’s Helicopter has special navigation aids, but Brady stated that his special equipment was “two good eyes, two good reference points and God’s good will.” Yet, Brady’s days work was not through; he received a call for a third evacuation mission. Here the wounded could not make it to the designated landing zone. Despite his Helicopter being severely damaged by enemy fire, Brady found and set down at an improvised landing site closer to the wounded from where they could be loaded. Upon returning to base, he obtained a replacement aircraft and responded to a report of an American patrol that was pinned down in a minefield. Noting a from the air spot where a Helicopter had set down earlier and realizing it was likely safe, Brady landed in the minefield and his crew exited the helicopter. Despite a mine detonating near his aircraft wounding two crew members and tearing dozens of holes in his aircraft, Brady was able to evacuate a further 6 wounded soldiers. In all Major Patrick Brady using three helicopters evacuated over 100 wounded soldiers that day, His dedication to rescuing the wounded and his incomparable courage would earn him the Medal of Honor, joining such other Irish Americans as Dan Daly, “Wild Bill” Donovan and Audie Murphy. Modestly, Brady says the medal belongs to those he cared for and those who cared enough for him to write it down. Throughout that remarkable day, Brady claims he was never afraid; crediting the faith instilled in him years before by the Irish Christian Brothers and the belief that if he was killed there could have been no better way to die than in service to his fellow soldiers. In the bigger picture, the events of January 6, 1968 pale in comparison to Patrick Brady’s broader career in Vietnam where he made over 2,000 flights and evacuated over 5,000 wounded, a reminder of the remarkable valor and sacrifice that so many of our veteran perform. While these unsung every day acts of courage may not be officially recognized by awards, may we never forget them or our veterans.
Kevin Gerard Barry was born on January 20, 1902 at 8 Fleet Street Dublin, the fourth of seven children. He spent several years of his childhood in County Carlow when his mother returned to her family’s home with her children upon the death of Barry’s father when Barry was just six years old. Barry returned to Dublin to attend Belvedere College, where he was a member of their championship Rugby team in addition to becoming an enthusiastic player on the schools newly formed hurling team. His schoolmates remembered him as friendly and generous. Yet Barry never let his extracurricular activities interfere with his studies and he earned a scholarship to University College Dublin to study medicine.
Throughout his young life, Kevin Barry was dedicated to the cause of Irish independence, joining the Volunteers at the age of 15. Starting initially as a courier, his intelligence and drive gained him promotion to a section commander despite his youth. He was involved in several major operations to secure the arms vital to obtaining Ireland’s independence. Most notably he participated in the raid on the King’s Inn, capturing the garrison’s arms. The 25 British soldiers captured during the attack were released unharmed as the volunteers withdrew. This must be remembered in considering subsequent events.
On the morning of 20 September 1920, Barry and his section were scheduled to participate in another arms raid, this time the target was a supply detail of British soldiers collecting bread from Monk’s bakery at the junction of Upper Church Street and North King Street. It was to be an uneventful raid of relieving the soldiers of their weapons and releasing them as had been done numerous times before; optimistically Barry believed that the raid would be over in time to allow him to sit an exam scheduled for that afternoon. Unfortunately, things went horribly wrong. After stopping the lorry and in the process of disarming the British soldiers, one of them was able to get a shot off at Barry’s party. What was to have been a nonviolent raid now became a shootout during the course of which three British soldiers were killed. Barry’s gun had jammed and he dove under another vehicle to free it, only to see his comrades withdraw. Barry may still have escaped capture had a well-meaning passerby not alerted the soldier to his presence thinking he was injured.
At the time of Barry’s capture, the British government had reached their peak of frustration in not be able to douse the fire of independence that burned in their oldest and closest colony. There was a firm belief in Whitehall that the rebellion could be halted using the time honored method of a few good hangings. Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, dismayed at the embarrassment that the undisciplined reprisals of the Black and Tans lamented “If these (rebels) ought to be murdered, then the government ought to murder them.” Not able to get the desired results from the judicial system, the British government passed the “Restoration of Order Act”, wherein prosecution of captured rebels would be done through military court martial and Kevin Barry would be the first example made. To perpetuate this farce of justice, Barry was involuntarily “enlisted” in the Lancashire Fusilier so as to give the military court jurisdiction. At his trial, Barry made but one statement “As a soldier of the Irish Republic, I refuse to recognize this court” and offered no defense. The verdict was a foregone conclusion; Kevin Barry would be executed by hanging as a criminal rather than treated as a captured soldier, this despite the fact that as noted captured British soldiers had always been treated with respect by the Irish Volunteers.
Barry met his fate with courage and the peace of a man who realizes there is a higher purpose to life. His one regret was that his request to be shot as a soldier rather than hung as a common criminal was denied, ironic given that to facilitate his military trial he had been impressed into the British Army. The Chaplin of Mountjoy jail, Canon Waters, was both sincerely alarmed at Kevin’s calm demeanor and under pressure from British authorities to report that the sentence of hanging had the terrorizing effect they desired on Barry so they could report it for propaganda purposes. Barry’s last visitor was his mother, who Canon Waters approached after she bid her son farewell. “This boy does not seem to realize he is going to die in the morning. He is so gay and light-hearted all the time. If he fully realized it, he would be overwhelmed.” An indignant Mrs. Barry replied, “Is it impossible for you to understand that my son is actually proud to die for the Republic?”
With his last words “Hold on and stick to the Republic”, Kevin Barry was executed by hanging on November 1, 1920 at the age of eighteen. In the end Canon Waters did come to understand Barry, writing to his mother “His courage was superhuman, and rested, I am sure, on his simple goodness and innocence of conscience. You are the mother, my dear Mrs. Barry, of one of the bravest and best boys I have ever known. “
The British government refused to release Barry’s body to his family. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the prison yard of Mountjoy jail and was soon followed by nine other volunteers hung under the “Restoration of Order Act”. The intent was that was that their deaths be examples, but their lives forgotten. However, thanks to one of the greatest of all Irish ballads that bears his name, and sung by singers as diverse as Paul Robeson to Bob Dylan, Kevin Barry would not be forgotten. In 2001, Barry and his nine comrades were buried with full honors in Glasnevin cemetery to lie beside Pearse, Ashe, Collins and Burgha. However after overcoming so many obstacles, Barry and his comrades are in danger of being forgotten again by the misguided forces of political correctness that don’t know the story of Barry’s times nor appreciate the courage and sacrifices he and his comrades made for the cause of freedom. Let us never forget, nor be embarrassed to speak of, Kevin Barry and his sacrifice for Ireland
Neil F. Cosgrove, Historian
That any country should have in its history an event known by the sorrowful name of “Bloody Sunday” is tragic. That a country should have in the space of 59 years, less than an average lifetime, three events called “Bloody Sunday” is truly horrific. Yet, in each of these adversities the strength and resiliency of the Irish people has been proven. The third and best known “Bloody Sunday” was when members of the British Parachute Regiment opened fire on unarmed protestors in the streets of Derry in 1972. The second was on November 21, 1920 when, in response to the killing of key members of the British Intelligence apparatus by Michael Collins’ “Squad”, members of the “Black and Tans” and “Auxies” vented their frustration and fury on the innocent civilians at Croke Park who had been peacefully watching a football match. However, the first sad day to bear the epithet “Bloody Sunday” in the twentieth century was August 31, 1913 in the streets of Dublin.
The origins of the first “Bloody Sunday” can be traced to a test of wills between two Irish men and the struggle for workers’ rights that was being played on the world stage in the early years of the twentieth century. The labor struggle was late to arrive in Ireland, Long used as a source of agrarian produce and farm rents by English landlords, there had been little capital investment and industrialization. What trade unions that did exist catered to skilled craftsmen who belonged to organizations based in Britain and with a Britain centered focus. The plight of unskilled workers, particularly in Dublin, was both deplorable and ignored. It is estimated that three quarters of the workforce of Dublin was unskilled. With twenty percent of that workforce being unemployed, it was possible for employers to pay desperate workers less than half the wage that similar work would earn in London. Families in the Irish capital often made their homes in one room apartments with no privacy in decaying tenements. Disease and high death rates were common.
It was these conditions that brought James Larkin to Ireland in 1907. Born the son of impoverished Irish immigrants in the slums of Liverpool, Larkin had left school at the age of fourteen upon the death of his father to work on the Liverpool docks. A commanding presence at over six feet in height and a gifted public speaker, “Big Jim” had been a successful labor organizer for the British based National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) in England, Scotland and Ireland. Larkin had perfected the tactic of the “sympathetic strike”, where workers not directly connected to the current labor dispute would walk out in “sympathy”, magnifying the strikes impact and the pressure brought to bear on employers. In Belfast, Larkin’s charisma was such that he was able to organize both Protestant and Catholic workers in that divided city in common cause, with carters, coal men and even the local Royal Irish Constabulary joining his strikes at one point. However, his more revolutionary views caused him to be expelled from the NUDL. Undeterred, “Big Jim” moved south to Dublin where he formed and founded his own union: the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) in 1908 which in three years became Ireland’s largest Union with 10,000 members. Seeking not only to improve their working conditions but also to restore their self-respect, Larkin’s ITWGU supported policies that promoted justice and encouraged cultural and social achievement. However Larkin’s main aim was to unionize the city’s unskilled workers; he coined the slogan “A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’.
After a few smaller successful industrial actions, Larkin set his sights on bigger achievements; his target was the Dublin United Tramway Company, owned by William Martin Murphy. Murphy was one of the largest and wealthiest employers in the city; besides the Tramway he owned hotels and newspapers. He shared Larkin’s humble beginnings and he too at an early age had to quit school to support his family. He was the model of a “self-made man” who put to lie stereotypes that the Irish had no head for business. While no means extravagant on wages, before the strike he appeared to enjoy a positive reputation as a fair and just employer who was often thought “too liberal” amongst the other employers in the city. However, under a soft spoken, well-mannered exterior was a will of steel and the all too often evident self-made man’s contempt for anyone who didn’t appear capable of doing what he had done. Dublin would now be caught between the irresistible force of Larkin and the immoveable object of Murphy.
On 26 August 1913 Larkin called for a strike against Murphy’s trams, timing his strike to occur during the Royal Dublin Society’s Dublin Horse Show, so as to maximize the strike’s impact. Murphy, adopting Larkin’s “sympathy tactics” quickly arranged for 400 of Dublin’s employers to combine to lock out any employee who was a member of the ITGWU, and thus this strike entered history as “The Dublin Lockout”. Events quickly began to spiral out of control. Employers started importing replacement labor from Britain; striking workers engaged in intimidation, often physical, of these ‘scabs’ and anyone who opposed the strike. The government agents of the Crown, as could be expected, supported the employers and quickly arrested Larkin on charges of sedition and conspiracy. Larkin’s strike had till now received lukewarm support from the general public, but the arrest of Larkin and suppression of free speech galvanized the broader community in support, not the first time the Crown would overplay their hand. While on bail, Larkin was advertised as the featured speaker at a rally at Sackville (now O’Connell) Street for August 31st. Authorities, working from Dublin Castle, immediately issued an order banning the meeting and Larkin’s speech. Larkin, addressing a crowd of supporters at his union headquarters at the ITGWU’s Liberty Hall, promised to speak at the appointed place and time. He then proceeded to publicly burn the banning order, setting the stage for the next day’s violence.
On August 31st, Sackville Street was packed with strikers and the simply curious who wanted to see if Larkin would indeed defy the order. Suddenly, on a balcony of the Imperial Hotel overlooking the street, a bearded man appeared. It was Larkin in disguise, and when he ripped the beard off and began to speak, the crowd went wild with cheering. No doubt incensed that Larkin had made a fool of them, the Dublin Metropolitan Police quickly arrested him and charged the assembled crowd with batons. Two men were killed and hundreds were injured and taken to hospital. Thus the first “Bloody Sunday’ of Irelands turbulent 20th century entered into history
The Dublin employers were to eventually break the strike in early 1914, largely because British Union members would fail to strike in support their Irish colleagues, but not before the people of Dublin endured months of suffering. Defeated, Larkin would soon depart for America. However, the violence of Bloody Sunday would have telling effects for the future. It engendered a belief among many that only the people of Ireland could improve the condition of Ireland. The heavy handed tactics of the Crown on Bloody Sunday left an irreconcilable rift between crown authority and the people of Dublin. The violence of Bloody Sunday 1913 inspired one of Larkin’s colleagues in the ITGWU to arm and organize security to protect future strikers and their rights of free speech and assembly from similar violence. That man was James Connolly, and his Irish Citizen Army would march with Pearse and his volunteers to free Ireland in 1916. But that is another story.…
Neil F. Cosgrove, Historian
On July 2, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was entering it’s pivotal second day. The Confederates were pushing on both flanks of the Union Line. An unauthorized advance by Union General Sickles exposed a salient in the Federal line which the Confederates were quick to seize upon. One of the areas of fiercest fighting has come down to history as “the Wheat Field”. Union Commander George Meade ordered the area to be reinforced in a desperate attempt to prevent a Confederate breakthrough; among those units that where to enter this maelstrom was the Irish Brigade.
The Irish Brigade was a brigade in name only. Originally composed of 5 regiments and 3000 men, the brigade’s heroism at the battles of Fair Oaks, Seven Days, Malvern Hill, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville had reduced its total numbers now to less than a single regiment of 600 men. Once again the Brigade was going to where the fighting was thickest and with victory or defeat hanging in the balance.
As the Brigade prepared to move off, their Chaplin Fr. William Corby C.S.C hastily mounted a boulder wearing his purple stole and said he would offer the men absolution. As one, the men of the brigade knelt and lowered their flags as Fr. Corby pronounced the
The entire surrounding second corps of the Army of the Potomac, irrespective of their own faith, fell silent as they watched this scene, even General Hancock, commanding the II Corps, removed his hat and bowed his head. As Fr. Corby’s last words faded away, the veterans of Irish Brigade moved off to battle, 198, about a third of their depleted number, never to return.
Witnesses described it as the most moving moment of the war.
Fr. Corby absolution at Gettysburg is commemorated with a statue at Gettysburg at the spot where it occurred and an identical copy in front of Corby Hall at Notre Dame.
Neil F. Cosgrove, Historian
The year 2013 marks the Two Hundred and Fifteenth anniversary of one of the watershed moments in the Irish struggle for freedom: the rebellion of 1798. The extension of some of the penal laws in the early 1700’s to include Presbyterians in addition to Catholics in an attempt to suppress any religion but that of the state sponsored English Anglican Church had led both groups to find an unprecedented common cause against a tyrannical government. This common oppression help forge a new national identity of United Irishmen. Inspired by the “rights of man” expressed in the American and French Revolutions, they sought to have a voice in their own government, including the Catholic majority who were excluded from political participation, and freedom of religious expression. After first seeking redress by constitutional means only to be frustrated by an alien government intent on absolute rule, the United Irishmen realized that the only hope for freedom was to “break the connection with England”. The result was a rebellion where members of both Catholic and Protestant communities rose in open rebellion. It was an unprecedented time giving rise to unlikely heroes, one of them being Fr. John Murphy of Boolavogue.
John Murphy was born in 1753 in Tincurry, County Wexford; one of five children of a local tenant farmer. As a Catholic under the Penal Laws he was barred from any form of formal education, instead receiving his schooling from the underground hedge schools run by the local priests. Deciding to take Holy Orders, Murphy was forced to travel to Spain in order to complete his education for the priesthood as seminaries were forbidden in Ireland. On his return home, now Fr. Murphy was assigned as the parish priest of Kilcormuck, better known as Boolavogue. At the time of the 1798 Rebellion he was 45 and described as short of stature and balding, but well-built and active.
The increasing militancy of the United Irishmen had resulted in the British government instituting brutal methods of suppression that did not trouble itself to distinguish between active rebel and the ordinary Irish population, with martial law being declared on March 2, 1797. The instrument of British government policy was the Yeomanry (the “Yeos”), private military companies raised by British landlords. Literally a law unto themselves, they dispense vigilante justice without trial to anyone suspected of being a rebel or sometimes just for personal gain. Their tactics included house burnings, torture, rape, theft, pitchcapping (pouring hot tar on a victim’s head then ripping it off when cool, effectively scalping them) and murder.
At first Fr. Murphy was an advocate for peace, urging his parishioners to comply with the authorities, give up their arms and even sign an Oath of Loyalty to the Crown. However, the continued outrages of the Yeomanry soon made Fr. Murphy realize that no matter what his parishioners did, they had already been found guilty of the crime of being Irish and subject to punishment by a reign of unchecked terror. The final straw was when the Yeomanry seized and executed twenty-eight innocent local men without proof or trial. Reports indicated that their next target was Boolavogue. Transformed now into the good shepherd called upon to defend his flock, Fr. Murphy organized a party of thirty men armed with a single gun and a few pikes improvised from farming tools. They intercepted the yeoman led by Lieut. Bookey at the Harrow as they were beginning to set fire to the homes of suspected rebels. In the confrontation that ensued Bookey and another yeoman were killed while the rest fled.
Now committed to the rebellion, Fr. Murphy led his men to a local armory where they were able to reclaim some of their surrendered pikes and guns. His numbers now swollen to over a thousand, Fr. Murphy and his men were able to defeat a well-armed force of militia and yeomanry at Oulart Hill. With this victory, almost the entire north of Wexford rose as one, causing the enemy to flee south. The next day Fr. Murphy and his forces captured Enniscorthy in a four-hour battle in which one hundred of his men were killed. Two days later, the rebel forces, now grown to some 15,000 men, captured Wexford town, the capital of the county. Here they released Bagenal Harvey, a prominent Protestant landowner and leader of the United Irishmen who had been previously captured, whom they appointed commander of the Rebel forces in Wexford, Fr. Murphy placing he and his men under his command.
However, courage and dedication alone could only do so much against the increasing number of well-armed, well led, professional soldiers now being sent against the United Irishmen. Fr. Murphy and his men were severely defeated at Arklow while simultaneously Harvey’s men were defeated at New Ross. The rebels were forced to retire on their central camp at Vinegar Hill. There they were confronted by 20,000 regular English troops and German mercenaries supported by artillery who quickly defeated the poorly armed rebels.
Vinegar Hill was the last major battle of the 1798 rising and now the brutal reprisals began. General Lake ordered every wounded rebel to be shot. The cavalry was released on the fleeing rebels, indiscriminately cutting down men, women and children alike. The Enniscorthy courthouse, used as a hospital, was burned down with its 80 wounded rebels inside. General Sir John Moore, later to become one of the most revered generals in the history of the British Army, wrote in his diary of “the violence and atrocity of the yeomen, who committed the most unpardonable acts.” And Count Hompech, commander of the German mercenaries, stated that 25,000 rebels were killed in cold blood after the fighting ended.
Fr. Murphy was also a victim of these brutal reprisals. He was captured at Tullow, Co. Carlow on 2 July. He was tortured, summarily tried and hung in the village square. The Yeomanry then removed his head displaying it on a pike while his body was burned in front of a prominent Catholic household as a “message”.
The 1798 rebellion has a mixed legacy. The English government, seeing the peril to their rule when the Irish united, made stoking the flames of sectarianism a government policy; using the age old strategy of “divide and conquer” to maintain control of their most troublesome colony. British Brigadier-General C.E. Knox wrote to General Lake: “I have arranged… to increase the animosity between the Orangemen and the United Irishmen, or liberty men as they call themselves. Upon that animosity depends the safety of the centre counties of the North.” The policy of government sponsored “animosity” still haunts Northern Ireland to this day and some could argue that the “Orange Card” is still being played by people still wishing to hold onto the power of the past. However, Fr. Murphy and the United Irishmen debunk the commonly held myth that sectarianism is endemic to Ireland. Fr. Murphy and the men of ‘98 and those who followed them give us a hope for the future, were Catholic and Protestant can both be proud of the common bond of being Irish and where the message of the later Irish Tricolor flag, the “Green” and the “Orange” traditions united by the common “White” of peace and freedom” may yet be fulfilled.
Neil F. Cosgrove, Historian