The Life and Times of Liam O’Donnell, volume 5 of the Irish-American Story, covers from the end of WWI through to the end of WWII; a period quickly fading from memory. One might wonder how I bridged the awesome gap from our involvement in China during the 1930s to the Pacific campaign in 1942. The answer is simple … I introduced a fictional character to someone who had been in both places.
Fortunately, I had just such an acquaintance and even more advantageous, he wrote a book about his experiences. I met Father Gehring at a communion breakfast the year he published A Child of Miracles. I dusted off and reread his work before writing the Liam O’Donnell book a half-century later.
On his first overseas assignment, my fictitious correspondent, TJ Barr, met Father Gerhing in Shanghai. Later Father Gerhing was a chaplain on Guadalcanal. At this stage of the campaign, the Japanese had supremacy of the sea. To protect what remained of the fleet, our Navy had pulled away from Guadalcanal, leaving a division of Marines helplessly exposed. Just before launching a nighttime attack, the Japanese slaughtered an entire native village, with the exception of a five or six year-old Chinese girl. The following is contained in a letter from Paddy O’Donnell who was in the hospital with Pat Reath.
Chapter 20, of the Liam O’Donnell book,
America Strikes Back
Halsey’s chauffeur who visited us in the hospital was none other than Father Gehring, the Vincentian,Tom Barr had met in China. … One day he told us about Patsy Li, a Chinese orphan, who natives had given him to take care of. Imagine a bunch of battle-hardened Marines bringing fruit and flowers to their adopted orphan. Seabees made wooden dolls, using scraps of parachutes for clothing.
Two of my former bosses, both ex-Marines, had served heroically on Guadalcanal. I included in my book: Pat Reath, a New Jersey Irishman, and John Solar, who claimed to be a dumb Polack, but was a Bohunk with a tinge of Irish blood. A 1977 National Geographic article stated, “People in countries as diverse as Spain and Hungary still consider themselves to be Celts.”
By my reckoning somewhere between 1.5 and 2.0 million Irish-American and Irish-born wore the uniform of the United States during WWII.
The following from a plaque that hung behind Pat Reath’s desk told the tale:
The First Marine Raider Battalion
Of them let it be said,
They were the very best.