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Vietnam veteran lauds Irish who served
Matthew Carroll of King George County has an ambitious goal: to raise $300,000 for a memorial, in Ireland, to honor Irish citizens who fought in the Vietnam War.
Carroll served in the conflict, as did 2,500 people who were born on the Emerald Isle. He hopes Americans will pay their respects to their Irish counterparts.
“If people are going to come to this country and fight and die for us, the least we can do is honor their service,” Carroll said.
Irishmen who immigrated to America in the 1960s and ’70s were eligible for the draft if they were 18 or older, Carroll said. Others chose to enlist in the Marine Corps.
Irish citizens also served with Australian forces and with United Nations peace-keeping operations in southeastern Asia, he added.
Carroll is of Irish descent. In 1998, he received a trip to Ireland as a 25th wedding anniversary present and has spent six to eight weeks there a year ever since.
The 64-year-old visits in the fall, after the tourists have gone home. He enjoys the music and camaraderie.
His reason for wanting a memorial in Ireland goes beyond his heritage.
“Certainly, I identify with them being Irish, but it’s their veteran status, not their Irish status, that’s the key,” he said. “They are my brothers and sisters.”
THE IRISH EXPERIENCE
Carroll and his wife, Diane, moved to King George six years ago when she became rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church. The two have three grown children and four grandchildren.
The King George man still bears scars from wounds received in Vietnam, when he was a crewman on an Army battle tank.
Twenty-five years after his service in the Big Red One, also known as the 1st Infantry Division, his injuries caught up with him. Carroll had been working full time as a shipping agent in Hampton Roads when he couldn’t climb ship ladders anymore.
He got full disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs about 18 years ago. He has almost total hearing loss, shrapnel injuries and spinal damage.
In recent years, he’s pursued something he always wondered about—how many Irish fought and died in southeastern Asia.
When James Durney published the book “Vietnam: The Irish Experience” in 2008, Carroll learned that more than 2,500 Irishmen and women served between 1959 and 1975.
Of that number, 29 people, including one female nurse, were killed in action or died of accidents or natural causes while there.
Armed with statistics, Carroll proposed the idea of a memorial. With help from friends in Ireland, he ended up in front of the Ennis Town Council in County Clare in December.
Council members agreed to provide space for the memorial in a quiet, wooded grove near a concert hall.
The plan is to dedicate the Irish Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Project in eight months, on Veterans Day.
(Carroll spells Viet Nam as two words in keeping with the country’s original spelling.)
IRISH IN THE MILITARY
Currently, memorial designs are being submitted to the Ennis Town Council. Carroll wants the locals to decide what form it will take.
He has asked that native materials and craftsmanship be used. He also wants the wording on the memorial, which will list the names of the 29 who died, to be in English and Irish Gaelic.
Irish people are “standing in line” to donate, but Carroll hopes to raise the money in America.
“I think he’s got a pretty good shot at it,” said John Rowan, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
His group has endorsed the memorial and he believes others will share the financial burden to honor the dedication of the Irish to their adopted land.
“The Irish have a history of sending people off to war in all kinds of uniforms,” he said. “The Irish have been heavily involved in the military from day one and are heavily noted in the Medal of Honor ranks, not the least of which is the Civil War.”
‘THE MORAL FORCE’
Carroll has recruited two Washington-area residents to help with the project.
Brian McDonnell is a senior executive retired from the federal government, and and Joseph Quinn spent 40 years as a certified public accountant.
Quinn, who has a weekend home in Lake Anna, praised Carroll’s “verve and enthusiasm” and McDonnell called him “the moral force behind the effort.”
All three men are Irish, served in the military during the Vietnam era and frequently visit Ireland. They share a desire to recognize others who answered the call to duty.
“As a Vietnam veteran, not a day goes by that I don’t think about my brothers and sisters who served with me,” McDonnell said in an email. “Through this project, I am able to give a little back to those Irish citizens who chose to serve our country during the Vietnam War.”
HOW TO HELP
Donations can be sent to the Irish Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Project, Box 90592, Alexandria, Va. 22309. They also can be made online. Go to Facebook and search for the project.
WHO WE ARE is an occasional series about people who illustrate the diversity of life in the Fredericksburg region.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425