Bloomberg Unveils Monument to ‘Fighting 69th’ in Ireland
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BALLYMOTE, Ireland (AP) – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a memorial Tuesday in honor of the “Fighting 69th,” a famous U.S. Army regiment with Irish-American roots that has lost 19 members in Iraq.
Bloomberg was the key guest of honor at an outdoor ceremony in the village of Ballymote, where the memorial _ a steel column composed partly of metal salvaged from the remains of the World Trade Center _ was shown to several hundred dignitaries and guests.
The choice of Ballymote, in western Ireland’s County Sligo, reflected the fact that the commander of the 69th Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War, Brigadier Gen. Michael Corcoran, was raised in Ballymote.
In his speech, Bloomberg praised the regiment’s record of valor and sacrifice in combat since its debut in the Civil War. As part of the Army of the Potomac it fought in major battles, including the disastrous First Battle of Bull Run in 1861 and the watershed Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.
As part of the U.S. army’s 42nd (Rainbow) Division, the Manhattan-based regiment saw action in World Wars I and II and most recently in Iraq, where Bloomberg noted 19 of its members have been killed: 10 from New York and nine from Louisiana.
“We have been deeply moved by the supreme sacrifices its recent members have made. … Today we honor all of them,” Bloomberg said.
The 69th was founded in 1851 in New York City, composed chiefly of recent immigrants from Ireland, who had fled the devastating Great Potato Famine of that time. Its enduring importance to Irish-Americans is demonstrated every March 17, when members lead the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.
About a dozen protesters representing a group called the Sligo Anti-War Coalition picketed Tuesday’s ceremony, but police cordoned them off several hundred yards away. They waved placards and banners denouncing Israel’s recent retaliatory attack against Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon and Bloomberg’s support for it, as well as the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Protest leader Tim Mulcahy said the group supported the monument but wanted a U.S. politician opposed to the Iraq and Lebanon attacks to unveil it.
Mulcahy noted that U.S. President John F. Kennedy brought a “Fighting 69th” regimental banner to Ireland in 1963, and said the late president’s younger brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy, “would have been a lovely choice to come to Ballymote to finish the job.”
Police also barred the protesters from a later luncheon and reception in Sligo Town Hall.
There, Bloomberg said he supported efforts to legalize an estimated 50,000 Irish living illegally in the United States, and to boosting the number of work visas issued by the United States to Irish citizens.
“I know there are many Irish-born New Yorkers who are caught in the trap of our federal immigration policies,” he said. “If we’re going to continue to attract the brightest and the best to the United States _ and Ireland has more than its fair share _ we need to inject some common sense into our immigration laws.”