Seventeen former United States Marines and their families took time out of their tour of Ireland to visit Derry on 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 Derry Cathedral, Very Rev Dr William Morton, showed the visitors the United States Ensign which had been 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 Londonderry Royal Naval Association showed the group the International Sailor statue at Ebrington.
Military Historical Tours had commissioned a wreath in the colours of the US Marine Corps. Col Wall and the Deputy Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Thomas Kerrigan laid the wreath 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.
Dave Wall, Colonel USMC Retd 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 Foyle. Code-named ‘Base One Europe’, it was officially commissioned as US Naval Operating Base Londonderry on 5 February 1942. It brought in U.S. Marines to guard the bases and depots of the US Navy’s main center 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 honor those Marines as well as sailors & 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 and I thank you all for being able to join us here at this scenic spot.”
On behalf of the Derry City and Strabane District Council, the Deputy Mayor, Ald. Thomas Kerrigan officially welcomed the American visitors to the North West: “The North West has strong links with the United States and there are lots of examples down through the centuries. For example John Dunlap, printer of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, had learned his trade in Strabane before emigrating to America. These 18th century links between America and the North West were re-forged during the Second World War when the Foyle became the US Navy’s first naval operating base in Europe. The visit today is an example of where we can use this shared heritage to promote the economic and cultural well-being of both our countries. As the 70th anniversary of VE Day, today is a very appropriate date for Military Historical Tours to make its inaugural Annual Base One Europe visit to the North West. It was a privilege to join with you to lay a wreath to remember the United States forces who served here and who played such an important part in bringing the Battle of the Atlantic and the War to an end. I look forward to welcoming future tours by Military Historical Tours to our region.”
Mrs Pat Hume is a patron of the Beech Hill US Navy and Marine Corps Association, which seeks to capitalise of this shared heritage for educational and economic benefits. On behalf of the Association Mrs Hume presented the 2015 Paddy Hone Award to Military Historical Tours, to thank them for bring this inaugural tour to Derry.