Seventeen former United States Marines and their families took time out of their tour of Ireland to visit Derry on Friday last - the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe.
Their tour was organised by Military Historical Tours of Woodbridge, Virginia, at the invitation of the Base One Europe Museum at Beech Hill, Visit Derry and Tourism Ireland.
The group visited key sites associated with the US Naval Base during WWII including the present-day Beech Hill Country House Hotel, Ulster University’s Magee Campus and the NW Science and Innovation Park.
The Dean of St Columb’s Cathedral, Very Rev Dr William Morton, showed the visitors the United States ensign which was presented by the rear-guard of US Naval Operating Base in November 1945.
Military Historical Tours made a $400 donation towards the cost of conserving the ensign in time for the 70th anniversary of its presentation.
The local Royal Naval Association also showed the group the International Sailor statue at Ebrington.
Military Historical Tours commissioned a wreath in the colours of the US Marine Corps which was laid by Colonel Dave Wall, USMC Retd, and Deputy Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Thomas Kerrigan, at the Marines Memorial at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel.
Piper Jim O’Hagan, ex-Irish Army, accompanied the ceremony with an Irish Lament and the Marines’ Hymn.
Col. Wall explained the background to the Irish Marines legend:
“Although the Marine Corps’ battle was mostly in the Pacific during World War II, there has always been the cache of the legend of the ‘Irish Marines’ that came from Ireland and then went on to fight in the Pacific.
“From the gentle rolling, lush green countryside of Derry, the “Irish Marines” were thrown into the ‘Black Sand Inferno’ of Iwo Jima and the ‘Typhoon of Steel Kill Zones’ of Okinawa in 1945.”
In June 1941, a full six months before Pearl Harbor, the United States had secretly begun work on constructing a naval base on the River Foyle.
Code-named ‘Base One Europe’, it was officially commissioned as US Naval Operating Base Londonderry on February 5, 1942.
U.S. Marines were brought in to guard the bases and depots of the US Navy’s main centre of operations in Europe until after the Normandy landings in June 1944. Base One Europe was spread across seven sites in the Foyle Valley.
The woodlands around the present-day Beech Hill Country House Hotel provided the location for one the main accommodation camps.
Col. Wall added:
“It is here that the Marine Corps Memorial resides and we have come to honour those Marines as well as sailors and soldiers that served here during WWII in support of the critical Battle of the North Atlantic.
“We hope to return every year to honor these Marines and enjoy the charm and hospitality of our Derry hosts.
“To be able to walk the ground where the ‘Greatest Generation’ defended freedom is always worth the trip.”