Liam Flynn funeral: ‘Ireland has given up one of her sons’

Kildare man Liam Flynn, a US special forces marine, is buried at Arlington cemetery

Irish-American Liam Flynn, the US special forces marine killed in a helicopter crash off Florida last month, was laid to rest at an emotional ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington DC.

Staff Sergeant Flynn, who was from Betaghstown, Clane, Co Kildare, was buried with full military honours watched by his widow, Destiny, 11-month-old daughter, Leilani, parents, Ann and Billy, and six of his seven siblings.

His funeral at Fort Belvoir US army base in Virginia and interment at nearby Arlington, America's most hallowed cemetery, where President John F Kennedy is buried, was attended by dozens of colleagues from the United States Marine Corps, Army and Navy.

Staff Sergeant Flynn (33) moved from Ireland to Queens, New York in 2002 and enlisted in the US Marine Corps in 2006.


He served four tours of duty, one in Iraq in 2007, where he was injured trying to save a mortally wounded friend, and three in Afghanistan, his most recent from November 2013 to June 2014. His war decorations included a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

Stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Flynn joined the Marine Special Operations Command, the elite forces of the corps, in 2010. He was preparing for his fifth deployment when his US army Black Hawk helicopter crashed in thick fog off the Florida Panhandle on March 10th, killing all seven marines and four soldiers on board.

Great nations

“I am sorry that you lost your son and thank you for giving him up for the benefit of our great nations,” Fr

Robert Spencer

, a navy chaplain told Flynn’s parents and siblings at a packed Fort Belvoir chapel illuminated by the bright uniforms of the marine “dress blues”.

“Ireland has given up one of her sons to defend freedom and for that we are grateful. You raised a wonderful son – very courageous, very brave – and we have reaped that benefit.”

The funeral Mass booklet featured a Celtic cross and a singer sang O Loving God, Receive His Soul, a hymn to the tune of Danny Boy.

Virginia police stopped about 20 miles of traffic along one of the country’s busiest highways for Flynn’s long funeral procession to Arlington as it passed the unmistakable shape of the Pentagon.

As his family sat in two rows before his coffin at the cemetery, a seven-member marine honour guard fired a three-volley salute.

An army bugler played the Last Post as six marine "body bearers" slowly wrapped the American flag that covered his coffin in triangles and handed it to his wife. A second folded flag was given to his daughter, who turns one tomorrow, and a third to his mother. A bagpiper played Amazing Grace.

After the ceremony, a procession of tearful marines knelt at his coffin, heads bowed, and then kissed or tapped the casket. Two badges – an Irish flag and the “Marine Raiders” insignia of the Marine Special Operations Command, known as MARSOC – were placed on top. His mother afterwards sprinkled the coffin with holy water from Knock.

Most determined man

Maria Butler

, his eldest sister, described him as “the most determined man you have ever met”. She tried in vain to talk him out of joining the marines but it was something he wanted since he was boy.

"'It's simple, Maria,' he told me. 'I want to protect and fight for those who can't,'" said his sister, who travelled from Australia.

Her brother was very humble and very private, she said, and never spoke about his experiences in Iraq or Afghanistan. “He would ring us to say he was off and ring us to say he was back – that was it.”

Speaking to The Irish Times last week, Destiny said that she spoke to Liam shortly before he boarded the Black Hawk and that he had spoken of the bad weather for their training exercise. "It is heartbreaking that someone can go through four deployments and be killed this way," she said.

He was immensely proud of being a marine and of being both from Ireland and a naturalised US citizen, she said. “You were really cheated out of life if you hadn’t met Liam.”

Those who served with him recalled his courage and leadership in conflict, and how his Irish accent resurfaced when things got heated.

One former marine, Bo Guinn, noted his work ethic and determination, pointing out that the Kildare man failed rifle training at boot camp the first time around only to become a special forces sniper six years later. "Not bad for an Irish immigrant from Queens," he said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent