Foyle College’s flagpole ceremony celebrates links back to WW II

The flag flown at the time of the assassination of President John F Kennedy at the US Naval base in Derry in 1963 has been presented to Foyle College at a memorial dedication ceremony.

Monday, 5th August 2019, 8:14 am
Updated Monday, 5th August 2019, 9:14 am
The Mayor, Councillor Michaela Boyle and U.S. Consul General to Belfast, Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau, pictured with members of the United States Naval Communications Station Londonderry Northern Ireland Alumni Association, from left, James Sullivan, President, John Reigle, Vice President, Ted Nevels, Secretary, Frank Ekstrom, and Dennis Kolodziej, Treasurer, after the unveiling of the memorial in the grounds of Foyle College on Tuesday. DER3119-103KM

The new Foyle College campus sits on the site of the old US Navy communications base which operated at the Limavady Road in the Waterside from 1943 to 1977.

The original flagpole from the military base now occupies pride of place in front of the main entrance to the new school building. A commemorative plinth was unveiled at the special ceremony last week, which was attended by over 100 members of the USNAVCOMMS Londonderry Alumni Association and their families on Tuesday.

Association treasurer Dennis Kolodziej from Detroit Michigan said it was an honour to be back at the site once again.

Emotional scenes as family members watch the ceremony in the grounds of Foyle College on Tuesday. DER3119-104KM

“Long before Foyle College acquired this property NavComm Derry Alumni were looking at setting up some kind of memorial or some sort of tangible item for remembrance,” he explained.

“At that time the base housing was still here and a number of other buildings and we thought that they were going to repurpose it but it didn’t happen that way.

“We came out here in 2011 when Foyle College had acquired the grounds and met with Neal Stewart the bursar and we talked about the possibility of having some item here for perpetuity.

“It turned out to be the flagpole so we made the proposal to the school board about placing it as a historical monument to both us military and civilians who worked on this base from World War Two to 1977 when the base closed.

Neil Stewart, of Foyle College, and Dennis Kolodziej, Treasurer of the US Naval Communication Station Londonderry Alumni Association, pictured after unveiling the memorial stone in the grounds of Foyle College on Tuesday. DER3119-101KM

“We designed the monument with Limavady Memorials and without them, this never would have happened.

“We tied this in with our reunion which we hold in Derry every four years.

“Two items of significance to the base was the captain that closed the based, Captain McEwan still had the base closing flag when they turned the base over to the army and he donated it to our organisation and that is going to be donated to the city museum, and we have a second flag here which was flying on the base when President Kennedy was assassinated and that flag is going to be presented to the school.”

The inscription on the commemoration reads: “The United States Navy, during World War Two, acquired use of this land and established a radio station that played a key role in support of the Allied communication during the Battle of the Atlantic.

“Following the end of World War Two, US Navy communication activities remained on this site, expanding its mission to provide communication support for US Navy and NATO ships at sea, as well as being an important military communication link between Northern Europe and the United States.

“On September 30, 1977, the US Navy Base in Londonderry was closed, bringing to an end 35 years of United States Navy presence on this site and also bringing to an end what had been a very long and close relationship between US Navy sailors and the citizens of Derry.

“At the time of its closing, this base was the oldest US Naval installation in Europe. No other US armed service branch remained in Derry longer than the sailors of the US Navy.

“This flagpole, original to the base, is the sole remaining historical artefact located on this site. The flagpole and memorial marker are dedicated to all the US Navy sailors who proudly served in Derry.

“They will be remembered.”

Foyle College bursar Neil Stewart said: “This started back ten years ago when we took over this site and during one of the Americans’ reunions we met on the site and they asked if we could save something as a memorial and we decided on the flagpole which used to sit down at the bottom of the site.

“After construction began in 2015 on-site, we took the flagpole to Fleming Engineering in Co Donegal to have it restored and ultimately it was returned to the new school grounds.”