Irish soldier receives Purple Heart 100 years after he was killed

Private Michael Walsh was killed while serving with the US army in first World War

Five great grand nephews of  Michael Walsh at Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin with a display case containing his Purple Heart medal. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Five great grand nephews of Michael Walsh at Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin with a display case containing his Purple Heart medal. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

One hundred years after he was killed in France in one of the final offensives of the first World War, Mayo man Private Michael Walsh has posthumously received a Purple Heart, one of America’s highest military honours.

Private Walsh was killed on October 24th 1918 less than three weeks before the Armistice. He was hit by shrapnel in the battle area and died during the Meuse Argonne offensive, the biggest battle ever involving American soldiers.

The Purple Heart was presented to the Walsh family by Major Zachariah Fike, the founder of Purple Heart Reunited, at a ceremony in the Glasnevin museum.

The organisation was set up six years ago to ensure that the families of those in died in combat while serving in the US military receive the honour which is given posthumously to those who die in the line of duty.

Walsh’s grave is located in the biggest American military cemetery in Europe - the Meuse Argonne where more than 14,000 US soldiers are buried.

His family visited his grave for the 100th anniversary of his death.

Michael Walsh was born in 1888 in Claremorris, Co Mayo. In the summer of 1911 and then 22, he emigrated to the United States where he got a boat to New York.

He got a job with American Express loading and unloading parcels. In 1917 the United States entered the war and Walsh was drafted to serve with the 116th regiment of the 29th Division of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).

Walsh’s parents received a letter from the US Adjutant General’s office 10 days after the end of the first World War informing them that their son had been killed.

Mr Walsh’s father Patrick wrote back: “Although his young life, as well as many thousands of others, has been sacrificed on the battle field for the liberty of small nations and the freedom of humanity, we hope they have not been sacrificed in vain and that your beloved President Wilson will be as good as his words and that he will hear Ireland’s sad, sad story at the peace conference and release her from the bondage from which she has been suffering for 118 years”.

The Walshes, along with millions of other Irish-Americans, were to be disappointed when President Wilson did not support an Irish delegation to Versailles.

His great-niece Finola O’Mahony said going to France to find his grave was a “most moving experience”.

She said: “The Purple Heart is a wonderful recognition of my great-uncle’s sacrifice. It’s an important to give a voice to Michael and men like him. His family never found out where he was in France. They never knew he died. It’s been like a detective puzzle. Now we know where and how he died.”