Irishmen honoured for Korean War service


IRISHMEN WHO served with US forces in the Korean War were honoured at the American embassy yesterday, 60 years after the war broke out.

Ranging in age from 79 to 87, the 12 men – six of whom were in attendance – were awarded the Korean War Service Medal for their part in defending South Korea between 1950 and 1953.

The Korean War began in 1950, when the North Korean People’s army crossed the 38th parallel on which the country was divided to invade the south, then under US military administration. Many of the Irish participants were newly arrived emigrants in the US who became subject to the draft.

Welcoming the servicemen and their families, some of whom travelled from the US, US ambassador to Ireland Daniel M Rooney said: “You joined the army of your adopted country and came to the aid of Korea in its time of need.”

For Seán Taheny, from Gurteen in Sligo, the medal joined 10 others pinned to his chest. Mr Taheny, who served in the trenches in Korea, emigrated to the US in 1949 and was drafted in 1951. Describing his time in Korea, he said, “the cold and the heat were desperate. We had a rough time of it. I saw friends wiped out.”

Mr Taheny returned to Sligo and to farming in 1955 and now has 13 grandchildren, “I was lucky to get away, it could have been the other way.”

Others honoured were Patrick Casserly; Charles Dennehy; James Dolan; Thomas Dunleavy; Patrick Fox; Michael Joy; John Lee; Michael McCabe; Michael McCormick; Michael Reynolds; and Stanley Thompson.

The Korean War Service Medal was first awarded to South Koreans who had participated in the counter-assaults against North Korea.

It was later extended to all UN troops. However, the US declined to award the medal to its soldiers based on regulations that curtailed the wearing of foreign decorations on US military uniforms.

In 1999, the South Korean government proposed the medal be reactivated and retrospectively awarded to all who had served in the Korean War, which had been the first military test of the United Nations. The US agreed. Up to four million people are said to have died in the war. Korea’s ambassador to Ireland Chang-Yoeb Kim told those honoured: “Without your brave sacrifice, the peaceful and prosperous Korea of today would not be imaginable.”


IN 1949 Thomas Dunleavy left the village of Brooklawn in Galway for New York. One of eight children, he had gone to work with a local farmer at the age of 12. “There probably wasn’t enough food for everyone, so I was sent out to work” he says in a broad, Galway-New York accent.

At 19, he boarded a flight from Shannon. “I guess I wasn’t willing to settle at the farming, I wanted to see what else was out there.”

Nine months after arriving in New York, the Korean War broke out. Dunleavy, though not yet entitled to US citizenship, became subject to the draft. “We had 16 weeks basic training. I was put forward for lieutenant school, but when they found out I wasn’t a citizen, I wasn’t allowed to go.”

He arrived in Korea on St Patrick’s Day, 1952. “It was dark. We pitched our tents in rice paddies. We were soaking wet.

“After that, it was a six-hour march to the front line . . . it was pretty scary.”

Dunleavy served on the front line for more than seven months. So what was it like? “You don’t want to know about that . ”

Under sustained attacked, his right arm was shattered by artillery fire. “I don’t know how I got out of there. My mother said it was all the masses and rosaries she said.”

He spent three months in a Japanese hospital and was awarded the Purple Heart.

Returning to New York aged 24, he completed high school and eventually qualified as an accountant, running his own practice for 45 years. He married Margaret and together they have 11 children.

“You’ve got to mention Philip Lynch and Martin Dunne,” he insists. “They were in the same row as me at school in Brooklawn.”

Both men, emigrants like Dunleavy, were also drafted. “Philip was killed on the front line in 1951. Martin had his right leg blown off.”Dunleavy still campaigns for Dunne’s widow to receive the veteran’s allowance. Lynch’s body was returned to Ireland and Dunleavy tends his grave on his annual Galway visit.