Historic ‘Stars and Stripes’ to be raised at US Navy memorial event

1977.
1977.

The actual ‘Stars and Stripes’ lowered at the official closure of the US Navy’s communication station in Derry more than 40 years ago is to be raised again at a special commemoration event in the city next week.

The flag, which belongs to Captain Tom McKeown, the last ever commander of the Derry base, is to be flown at a ceremony to celebrate the US Navy’s four decades in the city after World War II.

An aerial view of the US Navy camp at Clooney in the early 1970s.

An aerial view of the US Navy camp at Clooney in the early 1970s.

The ‘Star Spangled Banner’ will be raised on a flagpole that is original to the base - believed to be the sole remaining historical artefact located on the site which is now, of course, occupied by Foyle College.

The flagpole and a newly carved granite memorial marker are to be dedicated to all those US Navy sailors who served in Derry between 1943 and 1977.

Next Tuesday’s ceremony will be attended by, among others, the US Consul, Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau, the city’s Mayor, Michaela Boyle, as well as a large contingent of former US sailors who will be in the city for their biennial reunion.

It was during WWII that the US Navy acquired use of the land at Clooney to establish a radio station that played a key role in support of Allied communication during the Battle of the Atlantic.

At the end of the war, the US Navy remained on site and expanded their mission to provide communication support for both their own ships and NATO vessels at sea.

On September 30, 1977, the navy base in Derry was closed, bringing an end to a 35 year link with the site. More importantly, it marked the end of a very long and close relationship between US sailors and the people of Derry.

At the time of its closure, the Waterside base was the oldest US naval installation in Europe.

Captain Tom McKeown, who has undertaken the task of delivering the 1977 closure flag for next week’s ceremony, recalls his time in Derry with real affection, often referring to the “love affair” that developed between US Navy personnel and the people of the city. This love, he says, still exists today.

Capt. McKeown (83) says the courageous sacrifices that US Navy men and women endured trying to keep family together, and the anxiety and stress they had to cope with during the Troubles, are reflected in the 1977 flag.

He told the ‘Journal’ that Derry was a “very special and magic place”. For hundreds of US sailors based here, their years in Derry, he says, were the best of their lives.

Indeed, of all the events in his long and distinguished career, the one that stands out from all the rest is the time from 1976 to 1977 that he spent in Derry as commanding officer of the Derry Naval Station.

It was, he says, “a very special time in my life. Derry was my home for a year. I look back with very fond memories.”

Next week’s navy reunion in Derry is organised by the veterans association, NAVCOMMSTA.

The ‘Alumni Association’ was formed in the summer of 2000 with the aim of reuniting those sailors and civilians, and their families, who served at the U.S. Naval Communication Station in Derry, during its years of operation: 1942 to 1977.

Since its formation, the US Navcommsta Londonderry Alumni Association (USNLAA) has been actively accumulating and storing member donated photos and memorabilia.

During their stay in Derry, the group will host a number of events including a gala dinner dance at the City Hotel.

The alumni has travelled to Derry before for its reunions, hosting successful events in 2015, 2011, 2007 and 2003.

Other reunions have taken place in Las Vegas, New Orleans, Charleston and Virginia.

For more information on the alumni association, check out its website at http://navcommsta-londonderry.freeservers.com