An island community has honoured a young US First World War airman who died in a plane crash off the south coast while returning from a dangerous anti submarine patrol.
Residents of Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay, Co Cork, also remembered the teen aviator who survived the crash and arranged for his descendants to lay a wreath at the crash site.
Californian Kym Kemp, whose grandfather, radio operator Neil Kemp, was just 18 when he was injured in the disaster, said it was a very special moment for her family. Accompanied at the poignant ceremonies on Saturday by her husband, Kevin Church, their son, Malachi, 12, and her mother-in-law, Donna Robinson, Ms Kemp said: “We had been trying to find out for some time what happened that day.
“And when we were contacted about this ceremony, we decided we had to come to Ireland. It’s our first time here and it won’t be the last time. It’s stolen our hearts.”
American and Irish naval personnel and historians joined locals on Whiddy to unveil the memorial to the dead US naval aviator, Walford August Anderson, on the pier, and to honour the roles of US airmen in the war. The US set up a seaplane base on Whiddy island in 1918 to counter the kind of German U-boat activity that had led to the sinking of the Lusitania south of Kinsale in 1915.
Anderson, 26, was killed in the crash on October 22, 1918, just metres from the shore after completing an air patrol for German U-boats off the south coast. His death came just months before the end of the war.
“We wanted to honour their memory, and we hope the event will also help to make their story, and the story of the Whiddy airbase, more accessible to people who visit the island in the future,” said Tim O’Leary, of the Whiddy Island Development Association.
While local families shared their memories of the crash over the years, Mr O’Leary said the story of the airbase was in danger of being lost. For many years, Ireland’s involvement in the First World War has been overlooked, he said.
“Now that involvement is being properly recognised, and the story of the base here, and of the young men whose lives were affected by it, deserves to be told.
“The commemoration is an important way of marking the contribution they made to the First World War.”
The stone memorial was unveiled by Ltt Col Seán T Cosden, the defence attaché at the US embassy.
Carved by Victor Daly, it includes the exact insignia which would have been worn by the young American airmen at the time.
Ms Kemp said her grandfather, who died in 1967, never really spoke much about the accident.
Despite suffering extensive burns to his back, he recovered and returned to the US, becoming a successful engineer. “He was a quiet, fun-loving man with a marvellous sense of mischief. His nickname was the silver fox because he was always coming up with tricks and practical jokes, and he had grey hair at 25.”
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