US citizenship for 28 Irishmen killed in Korean War

Fifty years after the end of the Korean War, the United States government yesterday bestowed posthumous American citizenship …

Fifty years after the end of the Korean War, the United States government yesterday bestowed posthumous American citizenship on 28 Irishmen killed in the conflict.

The citizenship ceremony, held in the offices of the US Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, was the culmination of a lifelong campaign by Korea veteran and Kerry native Mr John Leahy to see his dead comrades fully embraced by their adopted country.

Yesterday's ceremony was attended by Ireland's Ambassador to the United States, Mr Noel Fahey, as well as leading US politicians including senators Mr Edward Kennedy (Massachusetts) and Mr Charles Schumer of New York.

The 28 men served in the US army except for one who was in the US marines. Two other Irishmen killed in the conflict had already become US citizens by the time they died.


All were killed in combat or died after being taken prisoner, in the 1950-53 war on the Korean peninsula, a bloody and bitter struggle which pitted a United Nations force, mostly American in its composition, and the combined armies of North Korea and the newly Maoist China.

The Irish soldiers, all recently arrived immigrants, had either volunteered or had been drafted into the US military. It was not necessary at the time to be a citizen to be drafted.

Their lack of citizenship was quickly made plain to relatives in the US and Ireland after news came through of their deaths.

Though they had died in US uniforms and despite the fact that several of the 28 had won medals for courage under fire, they were not afforded full military honours because of their non-citizen status.

Revisions in US law after the war ended in with a truce in 1953 made it easier for immigrants serving in the US military to become American citizens, but the law was not made retrospective.

Mr Leahy, who is from Lixnaw but now lives in Florida, served as a sergeant with the US artillery. His efforts to secure posthumous citizenship for the 28 Irishmen finally bore fruit last year when political efforts on Capitol Hill by a number of Irish-American members of Congress, and Mr Schumer, resulted in legislation that was signed into law by President Bush.

The president's signature was put into formal affect by the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services at yesterday's citizenship ceremony, which was attended by about 200 people, including Mr Leahy and relatives of the 28 men from around the US and Ireland.

Details of the dead Irish of the Korea War are available on the website