(Author’s note: Part I, the essay “Honoring PFC Patrick McKenna,” was written in New York by me after we returned from from the July 2008 trip and the 90th Anniversary of the death in World War I of my grand uncle Patrick McKenna. The accompanying video was made in 2008 by Renee Bransby. She is only seen in one of the last scenes. She is from South Africa. The video and my story were completed independently and without any collaboration. Both products accurately capture the emotions of the experience. )
Part I: Honoring Private First Class (PFC) Patrick McKenna, New York Army National Guard, 69th Regiment (Fighting Irish)
Patrick was born to Thomas and Ellen McKenna (McCanny) at Carrickbee (Carrick-Kearony) Drumquin, County of Tyrone, Ireland on March 19, 1893. He was one of eleven children who worked on the family farm. Growing up they had limited opportunities due to hard economic times and the “Troubles”. Patrick emigrated with his sister, Sarah, and brother, Frank, to the United States in search of the “American Dream.” He left Derry, Ireland on the SS Caledonia and arrived at Ellis Island, New York on October 26, 1913. Patrick sought employment and a new life.
Remnants of House where Patrick McKenna lived in Tyrone County in Northern Ireland.
The winds of World War were stirring in Europe and many people from a variety of foreign lands emigrated to America. Opportunities were sparse and employment was almost non-existent. For Patrick, the “American Dream” quickly proved to be elusive. Irish immigrants were frequently greeted with the sign “NINA” meaning “No Irish Need Apply,” as they went door-to-door in search of an honest living. Patrick became a “Barman” in PB Molloy’s, a Midtown pub near 40th Street and Eighth Avenue in New York City, a few blocks from the quarters of my son, MJ’s, Firehouse at 48th and 8th Avenue.
Patrick enlisted in the 69th Regiment of the New York Army Guard, known proudly as the “Fighting Irish”. The 69th had a gallant reputation dating back to the Civil War when Irish immigrants, wanting to make a foothold in their new country, fought courageously for each cause whether it was for the abolition of slavery, protecting the boundaries of the United States or overcoming an opposing ideology. Patrick joined the 69th Regiment of the 42nd Infantry and drilled at the Armory on 26th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City. He soldiered with other Guardsmen, who later gained fame such as Fighting Father Frank Duffy, the Chaplain of the 69th, and for whom Duffy Square was named, and the famous poet, Joyce Kilmer.
World War I was raging for three years in Europe when Patrick joined the 69th. The trench warfare that evolved after the Allied victory known as the Battle of the Marne was at a stalemate. The death toll was high on both sides. This war employed new technologies such as advanced artillery shells, Maxim machine guns and a variety of chemical weapons such as phosgene, mustard gas and blister chemicals. The United States and Europe were separated by the Atlantic Ocean and many isolationists did not want the US to get involved. Many others were fearful of a world dominated by the policies of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser’s announcement of the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare against merchant ships prompted President Wilson and Congress to declare war against Germany on April 6, 1917.
At the outbreak of our involvement, the United States Army had only 137,000 soldiers on active duty and 180,000 soldiers in the National Guard and the Army Reserve. President Wilson tasked General John J. Pershing, nicknamed “Blackjack,” to be the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in Europe. It was Pershing’s job to train, develop and deliver an army large enough to win the war. Pershing felt that a soldier’s spirit and will power would overcome an enemy force armed with advanced machine guns, artillery shells and chemical weapons. This philosophy led to many losses. On July 16, 1917 Patrick and his comrades in the 69th were federally activated and renamed the 165th Infantry Regiment of the 42nd Division, also known as the “Rainbow Division”. He was in Company H of the 165th and at some point the Regiment joined in formation at Camp Mills in Garden City, New York for intensive training in preparation for combat. They boarded a troop train that carried them to the Port of Embarkation which was most likely Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There he boarded a troop ship to return to Europe to conquer the Hun and to win the war that was to end all wars. In return, all he wanted was a chance to realize the American Dream.
The 165th Regiment arrived in the Rouge Boquet Chausailles sector of France for duty on February 27, 1918. The “Rainbow Division” fought valiantly throughout the French countryside that year and, in the summer of 1918, they were preparing for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. It would be the largest battle ever fought by U.S. troops up to that time in U.S. history. It would also be the climax of World War I and would lead the Germans to surrender. In preparation for this battle, there were advance skirmishes throughout the area that caused heavy losses on both sides. These actions became known as the Champagne Battles for the region in which they were fought.
Pvt. Patrick McKenna
On July 16, 1918, PFC Patrick McKenna (USA) was Killed In Action (KIA) at Saint Hillaire. We do not know exactly how but hope to eventually learn the details of his heroic actions. It could have been by artillery shell, sniper attack or chemical attack. It is possible that Father Duffy administered the Last Rites to Patrick on that fateful day. The McKenna family in Ireland probably received a telegram from the U.S. Army indicating that their son, Patrick, was Killed In Action. The family surmised that he was “blown to smithereens” by a German artillery shell. The state of military mortuary affairs in World War I had yet to be developed. The massive number of losses created a logistical nightmare for the Army and communications as we know today did not exist. Soldiers who died from their wounds on the battlefield were buried near the battlegrounds’ in what would later become an American Military Cemetery.
Today, when a member of the Armed Forces dies in combat, the family is typically notified in person by an officer and a chaplain. An escort is assigned to accompany the casket and a Casualty Assistance Officer is assigned to assist the family of the deceased. The deceased usually receives a funeral with full military honors and an American Flag and any military awards are given to the next of kin on behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation. At best, Patrick and his slain comrades most likely received a group funeral with military honors.
My three brothers, sister and I are second generation Americans of Irish descent. Both sets of our grandparents immigrated to the United States. Fortunately, we were able to keep in contact with my paternal grandmother’s family. In 1960, when I was ten years old, my father’s uncle, Frank McKenna, visited New York with his daughter, Evelyn. My Grandmother, Sarah (nee McKenna) Ingram, and my entire family enjoyed their visit. The visit was grand with lots of merriment. Shortly thereafter my brother, John, while attending the State University of New York Maritime College, had the opportunity to travel to Ireland on his summer cruise. He visited with the McKenna Clan in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin and in Drumquin, Tyrone, and met many of our Grandmother Sarah’s immediate family. In Sarah’s lifetime, she did not have the opportunity to return to the Emerald Isle until she was in her 80’s and met for the first time some of her siblings who were born after she had left Ireland. In the late 80’s, Frank McKenna’s grandson, also named Frank, had a summer job at Gossman’s Dock, Montauk Point, New York. Even though he was years younger than I, we hit it off and became good friends. Our contacts increased as crossing the Atlantic became easier. We visited each other when touring the other’s country and at one point my daughter Erin spent a semester at Trinity College in Dublin. My son, Brendan, stayed at the McKenna’s residence in Dun Laoghaire as a late teenager. They owned McKenna’s Pub and among other things Brendan learned was how to drink Guinness beer properly.
Before my Grandmother Sarah passed, she used to thrill with me her stories whenever we visited. Strikingly, in all of our conversations, she never mentioned her brother Patrick, my Grand Uncle, and his dying for a new country of which he was not even a citizen. I can only surmise that in her grief she internalized her emotions and chose not to speak of him. We will never know. That all changed on January 16, 2007. My brother John, received a letter from Arthur McKenna, my father’s first cousin and father of Frank McKenna. He and Frank had gone to France in September of 2006 to find his Uncle Patrick’s grave. Another grandchild of Sarah’s, Cathy Berthard (nee Fulmer) from Atlanta, Georgia, while visiting Ireland, informed Arthur that information about Patrick could be found on various web sites. Apparently, Frank was able to navigate the web sites between the American Battle Monuments Commission and the U.S. Army military records. For all of these years the family never knew there was a gravesite. Arthur and Frank were able to confirm that Uncle Patrick was buried in Section G Row 32 Grave 25 of the Meuse-Argonne American Military Cemetery in Romagne, France. They enclosed a picture of themselves at Patrick’s grave marker.
John and I were astounded about the discovery. Neither of us had heard about Patrick nor of his service in World War I. Both John and I served many years in the military. He retired as a Navy Captain after 31 years of service in the United States Navy Reserve and I retired as a Lieutenant Colonel after 30 years in the United States Air Force Reserve. After retirement, we both joined the New York State Militia and currently serve in the state defense force. John was recently promoted to Rear Admiral and Deputy Commander of the New York State Naval Militia. By a strange twist of fate, I was initially assigned to the Air Division of the New York Guard and supported my former Air Rescue Wing but after a reorganization of the Division, I was assigned to the 88th Brigade of the 69th Regiment (“The Fighting Irish”). I now drill in the same Armory as did my Grand Uncle Patrick. Both John and I, in our separate military careers, knew what it was like to lose a comrade. On my daughter’s third birthday, I served as a pall bearer for two of my squadron mates who made the ultimate sacrifice. Now we were faced with a member of our own family who had died some 89 years ago in the service of our country. From the looks of it, the family only received a telegram that he was KIA. John and I felt that if Arthur and Frank could find Patrick’s gravesite, we could find the medals he earned and find a way to present them to the family.
John Ingram (left) and Marty Ingram point to the name of their grand uncle Patrick McKenna, on the roster of the 88th Brigade of the 69th Regiment (“The Fighting Irish”) in World War I, on the wall of the unit’s Armory in New York City.
My cousin, Frank, was residing in Sydney, Australia and through the miracle of e-mail we were able to organize a trip that would ultimately honor the sacrifice made by Uncle Patrick. Initially, we thought of it as a military recognition ceremony but it evolved into a much greater event. Our plan was to travel to the home of Evelyn and Mary McKenna to present Patrick’s medals and other awards. Then we all planned to journey to Meuse-Argonne American Military Cemetery, in Seine, France to be at Patrick’s gravesite for the 90th anniversary of his death. My sister, Helena, who also served in the New York Guard as a Sergeant, signed up for the trip along with her granddaughter, Veronika. My wife, always a military spouse, and my daughter, Erin, also insisted on witnessing the event. (Due to logistics, Erin would only be able to partake in the events in France.) Together, there were six of us from the States representing three different generations, the youngest being fourteen and the oldest being sixty-five. The generational and age differences insured that the recounting of the upcoming events would continue for generations to come. Just before our departure to our “Roots” we found out that a special guest would also be present at the event. Mary McAleese, the President of the Republic of Ireland, and her husband, Martin, are personal friends of Evelyn and Mary McKenna and they were enthusiastic to attend the reception.
Patrick McKenna’s name on a plaque honoring members of the 88th Brigade of the 69th Regiment who served in World War I.
John was successful in obtaining both a US flag and a New York State flag flown over the respective capitals. John also obtained a Presidential Memorial Certificate and many other citations and proclamations from the Governor of New York, a Congressman, State Senator and Assemblyman and a New York City Council member honoring Uncle Patrick. Through his contacts in the New York Department of Military and Naval Affairs (DMNA), John also located a numbered original New York State World War I Service Medal and the New York State Conspicuous Service Medal awarded to Uncle Patrick posthumously. My brother, Tom, who was unable to make the trip, provided the Fighting 69th Flag. I found Patrick’s military records and the list of medals he was awarded. I worked with a commercial vendor and designed a memory box that not only included Patrick’s federal medals but also his rank insignia, the patches worn by his unit and a brass plate that stated: “PFC Patrick McKenna, KIA, July 16, 1918, Citizen of Ireland, Patriot of the United States of America.” My cousin Tina, (nee Howley) who was close to Grandmother Sarah found a photo of Patrick in his US Army uniform. The photo was never before seen by any of us. Patrick was becoming real to all of us. While performing a drill at the Fighting Irish Armory in New York City, I happened to look up and see a dusty brass plaque from World War I and Patrick’s name jumped out at me. I called John and scheduled a photo opportunity with both of us in uniform. In the 69th’s Regimental Room we found three other plaques honoring Patrick.
Brothers Marty (left) and Frank Ingram at 2008 family event in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland honoring their grand uncle Patrick McKenna.
On July 10th, at the prearranged time and suffering from jet lag, we all met at Evelyn and Mary McKenna’s house in Dun Laoghaire, which is adjacent to Frank McKenna’s Pub. Prior to President McAleese’s arrival, the Irish Secret Service did a quiet sweep of the house. The reception was grand. We met many relatives who, prior to this, were unknown to us and were just faceless names on a family tree. When we sat down for dinner, I had the fortune to sit next to President McAleese. I told her that I never had the opportunity to sit down with a head of state. I mentioned that at one point in my career I was a United States Park Police Officer and had the honor to guard the White House and, at another point, as an Air Force helicopter rescue pilot, I had the privilege to fly in formation with Marine One while President George HW Bush was on board. Her presence was relaxing and our conversation drifted to Patrick McKenna and his sacrifice. We agreed that the soldier is not a war monger as some people might think. They are truly the ones who want peace because it is the soldier who may be called upon to make the supreme sacrifice. We also agreed that when governmental policies fail or when countries differ in their ideologies, diplomacy is the first choice to reach an accord. I knew of her and her husband’s terrific accomplishment in achieving peace and justice in Northern Ireland. I thanked her for her contribution to world peace and couldn’t help but think that because of peace being achieved, there would be fewer sectarian killings and that more children will have the opportunity to know their relatives.
Following dinner, we shifted to what I thought was going to be a recognition ceremony. The room became solemn. My cousin Frank was the first speaker. He had conducted extensive research on Uncle Patrick’s unit and informed us of the battle and troop movements and where he believed Uncle Patrick died. As he spoke, it became readily apparent that this event was more than a recognition ceremony for a slain soldier. In reality, it was an Irish Wake for Patrick. It was closure for Patrick and the entire McKenna Clan including the American family. It was the wake that was never held when the family received that telegram from the United States Army notifying them that he was KIA. Nothing had been rehearsed and everything was spontaneous. Each person’s remarks were poignant and included some aspect of Patrick’s life. We laughed and we cried. I felt closeness to my Grandmother Sarah’s family and thought it ironic that by waiting ninety years for a wake, Patrick would be bringing the family together again. The Atlantic Ocean was no longer an ocean, for me it became a pond and our family’s ties were much stronger.
Patrick McKenna’s WWI medals.
John and I presented the medals and the other accolades. John read Joyce Kilmer’s beautiful poem “The Rouge Bouquet.” Kilmer was killed in action nearly two weeks after Patrick and I couldn’t help but think that they somehow interacted and that maybe Patrick in some small way influenced Joyce Kilmer’s writing. President McAleese was the last to speak. In a few words she eloquently captured everyone’s emotions. She honored Patrick’s memory and the huge sacrifice that he made for his adopted country. She also complimented Frank and others for their sense of family. It was refreshing for her to see people who were focused on the sacrifices of others. As the wake came to an end, we were all emotionally exhausted. President McAleese presented each person of the American contingent with a beautiful copy of the History of the Presidents House.
We bid our farewells and prepared ourselves for the next part of the journey where on the 90th Anniversary of Patrick’s death, we were finally going to conduct his graveside service.
On the morning of July 15, 2008, we rendezvoused in Reims, France and the Clan gathered in the lobby of the Best Western hotel. Our plan for the day included a tour of the area where Patrick died and other parts of the Meuse-Argonne battlefield. When I looked around the lobby at my Irish cousins I could see the McKenna Family resemblances. Our eyebrows were perhaps the easiest DNA trait to detect. The differences in our accents easily identified where our recent roots were recently growing. I was amazed that as a “Gene Pool” we were able to reunite in a common cause, in a land foreign to all of us. Not one of us was alive when Patrick lived. Our group, from Ireland, Australia and the United States represented four generations with a single purpose: to honor Uncle Patrick’s life.
We had three rental cars to carry the family. Since Frank visited the cemetery a year before, he was going to lead the caravan. Frank’s brother, Peter, drove the second car and I was the “Tail Gunner” in the third. Frank, as the “Convoy Commodore”, laid out the maps in the hotel lobby and briefed us on our route. We knew if we tried to speak to each other on our cell phones we would amass enormous amounts of international charges, so Frank pointed out the places of interest in advance. We decided that each car should have a mix of the American and Irish contingents so that the idle time in the separate cars could be used to get to know each other better. So, in essence, we divided our “Gene Pool” into three cars and “Car Pooled” our way through the French countryside. Even with the best of plans the devil is always in the details. When we were leaving the lobby, we folded up the maps and I was under the mistaken notion that we had a map for each car. Adding some dysfunctional behavior to our newly reunited family, I was successful in innocently taking the only map of our route. In spite of this, Frank was able to expertly navigate us to our first stop at St. Hillaire, the place where Patrick died. Along the way we swapped stories and filled in the gaps of a family that was torn apart by war and economic hard times nearly a century ago.
The St. Hillaire of today did not resemble the area that Patrick experienced. The vegetation was lush and green. There was an air of peacefulness and it was unusually quiet today. I tried to visualize what it was like when Patrick died. In my minds eye I tried to see the smoke and haze of battle combined with the newly excavated craters formed from the German artillery shells. I tried to imagine the sounds of gun shot fire and the screams of the wounded and the dying, but I found my assessment incomplete. The hell of war can only be truly comprehended by those who experience it. It was at this location that Patrick left his hell on earth and found Heaven. We got out of our cars and stood together and quietly said a prayer.
Ossuary at Navarin, France – Photo by Doc Wilson, via findagrave.com.
Our next stop was the Ossuary at Navarin, France where the remains of 10,000 soldiers lie. It was very hot and we were all attacked by some pesky and hungry flies. My sister, Helena, quickly dubbed them the “French Flies”. As I stood there, not too far from the monument, I looked up at the sky and noticed a cloud that was shaped as a giant forearm with a hand and the index finger was pointed to the direction of St. Hillaire. Wondering if I was actually losing my mind, I asked my wife and daughter to take a look at the skyscape to see if they saw the same thing. They confirmed my interpretation and even took a picture of the cloud. Before the cloud dissipated several others in our group had the opportunity to see the same thing. Since this project began it was as if Patrick were communicating with us. It seems as if he were leaving clues for us to discover. The more clues we discovered, the more he became real. First it was the grave marker, next it was his photo and then it was the bronze plaques at the Fighting 69th Armory. I thought that the cloud pointing back to St. Hillaire was Patrick’s way of saying that we missed some valuable clues in the town in which he met his demise. Our schedule was tight and I made a mental promise to return someday to the area and to find the other clues. We paid our respects to those lying in the Ossuary and journeyed to our next destination.
Our last stop was the Blanc Mont American Memorial Monument at Sommepy-Tahure. It honors the 70,000 American soldiers who fought in the Battles of Champagne. They had plaques on the structure dedicated to the 42nd Infantry, “The Rainbow Division” as well other distinguished units. As we toured the site we visited the remains of actual trenches and artillery and shell craters used during the war. We all understood first hand the tragic waste that war brings. It was overwhelming to think that these brave soldiers slept, ate, and fought from the trenches on which we were now standing. We couldn’t help but think what could have been and what should have been. We all returned to Reims exhausted and committed to the concept of continuing Patrick’s legacy and remembering him forevermore.
On July 16, 2008, the 90th anniversary of Patrick’s death, we departed for the Meuse-Argonne American Military Cemetery. We met with Phil Rivers, the Director of the Military Cemetery, in the Visitors’ Building. He briefed us on the Cemetery in which 14,246 US War Dead are buried. He told us that approximately 40,000 tourists visit the cemetery each year. He explained that very few families visit an individual gravesite. Frank and Arthur were the first family visitors in 88 years at Patrick’s gravesite when they visited the gravesite in September 2006. It is the Cemetery’s practice, when a family member visits an individual gravesite; the staff rubs sand from the beaches of Normandy on the grave marker so that the inscription on the headstone stands out from all others. Before we left the Visitors Building for the grave site, Frank again took the lead. He instructed us that since this was an Irish funeral and that since Patrick died before any of us lived we should introduce ourselves to Patrick at the grave marker to let him know how we were related. At first I was a little cautious at this suggestion. The thought of attending the funeral for a person who had passed away ninety years ago and to talk to his grave site and introduce myself gave me pause. The more I thought of it, the more it made sense. Here I was yesterday interpreting clouds and finding Patrick at nearly every turn. The truth is that Patrick was real for all of us in the spirit form. He was not the only spirit form who would be present. I felt that our other ancestors would also be present as well as some of his comrades with whom he shared this beautiful countryside.
The Cemetery Director Phil Rivers, a US Air Force Veteran, and his Deputy accompanied us to the grave site. We propped Patrick’s picture on the tombstone as well as several of his medals and commendations that we brought from the wake in Ireland. The National Anthem was played and a bugler played Taps. Again we all became very somber. Frank assumed the role of the Master of Ceremonies and invited each of us to make our introductions and say a few words. In the background you could hear the birds chirping and the Director of the Cemetery was able to play the music to Amazing Grace, America the Beautiful and The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Our eyes filled with tears and our voices trembled as we spoke. My brother, John, again read Joyce Kilmer’s poem the “Rouge Bouquet” and he also read the Prayer of the Fighting 69th. I read the poem written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army entitled “In Flanders Fields.” We all spoke from the heart and expressed our thanks for his bravery and sacrifice. We concluded the funeral in the traditional Irish manner by saying a decade of the Rosary. The funeral was real and it brought closure to all of us. The Cemetery Director and his Deputy were in tears. Never in their thirty years assigned to these positions did they witness anything so moving. He advised us that we were the largest family contingent to ever visit a gravesite in Meuse Argonne. We committed to each other to return to the site in ten years to honor the centennial of Patrick’s death. We plan to invite all of Patrick’s extended family in Ireland, the United States, Australia, and wherever to attend the centennial anniversary of Patrick’s death at Meuse Argonne on July 16, 2018. Once again, Patrick will be successful in bringing us together. May he rest in peace and be remembered forevermore.
In the video above, filmed in 2008 by Renee Bransby (Frank’s wife; resides in Sidney, Australia), the main speaker is Artur McKenna, Patrick McKenna’s nephew. The other main speaker is Frank McKenna, Artur’s son. My brother John Ingram is one of the lead American representatives. My daughter Erin Adams is at the gravesite along with my wife, Nancy Ingram. My sister Helena Lampropulos is accompanied by her granddaughter, Veronica. Mary McAleese, then the President of the Republic of Ireland, also appears in the video.
(Author’s note: Part II, A Farewell to a Soldier, was published May 27, 2010 on the Focus FAA employee web site)
Part II: A Farewell to a Soldier
Ninety years after his death in battle, Uncle Patrick’s family said goodbye
On a clear July morning two years ago, four generations of the relatives of Pvt. Patrick McKenna, an Irish immigrant who enlisted in the New York Army Guard during World War I, gathered at his gravesite in a pastoral field in France.
The men and women had traveled from separate countries — Ireland, Australia, and the United States — to pay respects to the grand-uncle whose life and sacrifice had been unknown to most of his relatives for years. Among them was the fallen soldier’s grand-nephew, Marty Ingram, an assistant division manager in the Eastern Region’s Flight Standards Division office in New York, who had flown to Europe with his wife and daughter to pay his respects.
Marty Ingram, his wife, Nancy, and their daughter, Erin Adams, visit Grand-Uncle Patrick McKenna’s gravesite in France.
“When we got there, the whole place became solemn, you could hear the birds,” Ingram recalled. “Even though he was there for 90 years, it was as if he had just passed away.”
Ingram had never heard of his grand-uncle until several years ago after his father’s cousin, Arthur McKenna, was able to find more information about Pvt. McKenna on several Web sites, including the location of the young soldier’s grave in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, located near the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon in France.
After nearly disappearing into obscurity, the life of Pvt. McKenna — known to his relatives as Uncle Patrick — became a tale about family.
McKenna, one of 11 children, was born in 1893 on a farm in the county of Tyrone in northern Ireland. In 1913, he decided to immigrate to the United States in search of a better life. Three years later, in 1916, he volunteered for the 69th Infantry Regiment, a New York military unit that became widely known as the “Fighting Irish.” With the 69th Regiment, he drilled at the Armory in New York on 26th Street and Lexington Avenue. The unit included famous journalist and poet Joyce Kilmer, who was killed in France in 1918.
“He loved America so much that he was willing to make that commitment,” Ingram said. “He saw America as truly the land of opportunity.”
The Rainbow Division shoulder patch. Originally the patch was a complete half arc and contained thin bands in multiple colors. During the latter part of World War I and post war occupation duty in Germany, Rainbow Division soldiers modified the patch to a quarter arc, removing half the symbol to memorialize the half of the Division’s soldiers who became casualties (killed or wounded) during the war.
In July 1917, McKenna and his unit were renamed the 165th Infantry Regiment of the 42nd Division, also known as the “Rainbow” Division, and boarded a ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean to travel to the Rouge Bouquet forest in France, where they prepared for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, part of the final Allied-led battle that eventually brought the war to an end.
On July 16, 1918, McKenna was killed during battle at St. Hilaire. He was 25 and not yet an American citizen. The only notice of his death his family received was a telegram. Ingram said he believes the loss of his grand-uncle may have been too painful for his grandmother and other relatives to share.
“She had a really tough life,” he said. “She emigrated out of Ireland and left her family behind. With the upheaval in their lives, they focused on the moment and not on the past.”
In 2006, Ingram received a photo of the grand-uncle he never knew. The tall, dark-haired, gray-eyed man resembled some of his cousins. He found other similarities as well. Ingram, along with his three brothers and one sister, is a second-generation American, and he served for decades as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve. After he retired, Ingram joined the New York Guard.
In one of a series of what some might consider fateful coincidences, Ingram eventually ended up performing drills in the same New York Armory as his ancestor. One day during a drill, he spotted a brass plaque from World War I and saw his grand-uncle’s name. In another room, he found three other plaques honoring McKenna.
“He was there all the time,” Ingram said. “We just didn’t know it.”
Marty Ingram with then-President of Ireland Mary McAleese at a private family ceremony in Ireland to honor Pvt. McKenna.
After months of planning and research, Ingram and his relatives overseas organized a trip in July 2008 that would unite nearly 20 descendants to honor McKenna. Ingram traveled with his wife and daughter to the home of two of his relatives in the seaside town of Dún Laoghaire in Ireland.
There, he and his brother, John, presented a box that contained their grand-uncle’s medals, including a New York state World War I Service Medal. Ingram’s brother obtained a presidential proclamation signed by then-President Bush, among other citations. Inside the box was included a brass plate that read: “PFC Patrick McKenna, KIA, July 16, 1918, Citizen of Ireland, Patriot of the United States of America.”
Irish President Mary McAleese, a friend of Ingram’s relatives, attended the family’s ceremony — which Ingram called an Irish wake — and remarked that McKenna’s family had given him “peace of heart and peace of mind.”
A few days later, on the 90th anniversary of McKenna’s death at St. Hilaire, his relatives visited his final home at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, where more than 14,000 members of the American military are interred, most of whom were killed during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Each relative took turns introducing themselves to their ancestor and shared personal remarks, often accompanied by tears.
When Ingram’s turn came to speak, he placed his right hand on his grand-uncle’s tombstone, one in rows of white crosses surrounded by lush trees. He read the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written in 1915 by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a member of the Canadian Army. One stanza reads:
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Pvt. McKenna’s tombstone in the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery
As he spoke, emotions vibrated through him and his voice cracked.
“It came from deep within and it was with the realization about what this person had gone through with really no recognition,” Ingram said. “It came from a sense of family.”
The family concluded the funeral service with the Irish tradition of reciting the Rosary. Then, “Taps” was played. McKenna’s photo was placed on his tombstone, along with several medals and a small Irish flag.
In eight years, McKenna’s descendants plan to unite again to attend a tribute to him that will take place at Meuse-Argonne on July 16, 2018, the centennial of his death.
Ingram said he would like to spend more time in St. Hilaire, imagining what his grand-uncle’s last days were like there. And he’ll never forget that summer morning when generations of Irish, Australian, and American relatives joined to honor a fallen ancestor.
“That brought us together and created this common bond,” he said.
(Author’s note: Part III was written by Michael Gormley, who like myself is a great grand nephew of PFC McKenna. He resides in Northern Ireland and we met him and his family by sheer coincidence while visiting Uncle Patrick’s grave site in Muse-Argonne National Cemetery during the Centennial of his death in 2018. We have since become good friends (because of Uncle Patrick) and have visited his home twice. He plans to visit us, this coming July 4th. I hope to be able to bring him to the Fighting 69’s Armory in NYC. )
Part III: 100 Years after PFC Patrick McKenna’s death–From Carrickbwee to Verdun
On the 16th July 2018, Pearse, Catherine, Michael, and James Gormley with their families visited the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, 30 miles North of Verdun, France. While there, they met for the first time relatives from Dublin, Australia, and USA. The families met to pay their respects to their grand uncle, Patrick McKenna who had died 100 years ago to the day from wounds he received in battle on 15th July 1918.
The Ingram (New York), Mc Kenna (Dublin and Australia) and Gormley (Northern Ireland) families on 16th July 2018 at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery
Patrick McKenna was born on the 16th March 1893 in Carrickbwee (Glen Road), the 5th child born to Thomas Mc Canny and Ellen Mc Canny. Patrick’s youngest sister was Cassie, who was to marry Joseph Gormley of Claraghmore, the Gormleys’ who visited the graveside, grandmother. His youngest brother was Andrew (Andy) Mc Canny of Ennis, father of Thomas, Michael, Brendan and Kevin. Patrick had four brothers and six sisters, all who emigrated to America except for Cassie, Andy and Bridget who married Frank Quinn, father to Maureen, Veronica, Eileen, Zita, Malachy and the deceased Vincent and Noel Quinn. Patrick’s younger brother, Frank later returned to Belfast to run a public house before moving to Milltown Dublin before finally settling in Dun Laoghaire to run a public house which is still owned by the family today.
Patrick’s Father was Thomas Mc Canny born in Annalough who married Ellen Mc Menamin from Craig (related to the Mc Menamins that live there today) on 7th March 1886.
Patrick attended Carrick National School (Loughmulharn) until the age of 14. After leaving school Patrick worked on his Father’s farm as well as labouring on local farms of the O’Kanes, Donnellys, Maguires and Bartons. Patrick emigrated to America in September 1913, arriving in New York on the 26th of September to live with his sister Sarah who had married David Ingram of Ederny. The ship he sailed on was the Caledonian later to be used as a troop carrier and was sank of the coast of Africa in the Great War.
When the Mc Cannys left for America, it is believed that emigration officials on Eilis Island, not recognising the name Mc Canny, designated them on their papers as Mc Kenna.
Patrick worked as a barman for his older brother, Michael. He was conscripted to the American army in the summer of 1917 and served in 42nd Infantry Division of the 165th Infantry Regiment.
The United States entered the Great War in April 1917 and pledged their forces to the allies in Europe. Patrick was shipped to Europe via Belfast and Liverpool in the summer of 1917.
Patrick’s division, the 42nd Infantry Division fought under the command of the French Fourth Army in North East France. On the 15th July 1918 a major German attack took place east of the French city Reims. During the first day of the battle Patrick was wounded and died of these wounds in a field hospital on July 16th 1918.
The battle was known as the Second Battle of the Marne, a battle won by the allies in no small thanks to the American forces and while costly in terms of lives lost began the eventual complete surrender of the German Army 3 months later. In total 139,000 were killed or wounded on the Allied side, 12,000 of which were American. In all 116,708 American military personnel died during the Great War, a war that claimed the lives of over 17 million people.
Patrick is interred in the Meuse-Argonne American cemetery, a 130.5 acre site maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. The site was gifted to the American people by the French government in 1924. There are 14,246 graves and tablets of the names of 954 missing soldiers whose bodies were never recovered or identified.