"Those Who Served" Essay Competition
Memorial Day, 2000

Sponsored by The Irish Center of Washington, D.C.
Sister Sheila Byrne, Executive Director
Vickie Curtin, Educational Services Chairperson

(Each Memorial Day and Veterans Day since 1999, the girls and boys of the Donnelly School of Irish Dancing, based in Annandale, Virginia, have participated in ceremonies honoring the Irish dead at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In sweltering heat and numbing cold, the colorfully costumed dancers have placed tributes including name plaques, yellow roses, Irish flags and personally addressed letters at the base of the black granite panels bearing Irish names. For Memorial Day 2000, the Donnelly dancers contributed the following essays, poems and letters to The Irish Center's first "Those Who Served" competition. The entries are presented here with the kind permission of the authors; Michelle Donnelly Kennedy, director of the Donnelly School of Irish Dancing; and Vickie Curtin, Educational Services Chairperson at The Irish Center, who conceived and organized the competition. -Ed.)

Honoring Irish American Veterans

We should honor the Irish Americans who fought and died in the Vietnam War for several reasons. Despite their newness to the United States, these brave young men went willingly to serve. Their deaths were a tremendous loss to their families and their nation.
We honor all veterans and so we should honor these Irish Americans in some special way. This may also help their families to know people care about their sons. Honoring these veterans may provide some comfort to their families that their sons will not be forgotten.

We can honor the Irish Americans and all Vietnam Veterans by visiting the Vietnam War Memorial. We can hang a flag at our homes to show our support. But most importantly, we can pray for their families.
I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose someone like these families did. It must have been the hardest thing on the wives and parents of these men. I just want to say that we DO care and that they are in our prayers.

Annemarie, Age 11
Donnelly School of Irish Dancing

The Price of Freedom

An Irish parent's greatest treasure
are the children that fill their days with pride and pleasure.

They watch them grow and spread their wings
and pray for happiness and other things.

These children left their country and their kin.
Looking for a better life,
but found a war they couldn't win.

They fought for the red white and blue
Remaining loyal to Ireland
while their love of the U.S. grew.

They were men seeking freedom so cherished.
They gave their lives so freedom would not perish.

Katy, Age 11
Donnelly School of Irish Dancing

Peter Mary Nee

Last year (1999) I wrote a letter to Peter Mary Nee and his family. In the letter I told how I was an Irish dancer and was writing to thank him for all the work he did for our country. On Memorial Day some girls from my dance school (The Donnelly School) and I took our letters and put them on the spot on the Vietnam Memorial Wall where our men's name was. We also sent the letters to their families. About a month from then I got a letter from his great-great grandnieces thanking me for writing a letter to him. My grandmother thought that at my great aunt's wedding a relative of his was there. So I think that my family (or part) are friends with their family.

Peter Mary Nee

I Thank You

Caitlin, Age 10
Donnelly School of Irish Dancing

For Sean T. Doran

the scorching heat
the choking humidity
All would have terrified lesser men.
the infernal napalm
the horrific traps
All would have petrified the faint of heart.

But not you.

days of mosquitoes
nights of anxious sleeplessness
Wondering why, how this could be real
and hoping it would be over soon.
days of fear
nights of the unknown
Fighting for yourself and those you would defend.

You faced the foe with infinite valor.

In the end it was
Twenty years
you gave the world
so there would be freedom.
Such a sacrifice would have horrified a weaker man.
But you, Sean Doran, had a
that has not gone unnoticed
and I thank you for it.

Veronique, Age 16
Donnelly School of Irish Dancing

Dear Mr. Gibson

(Laura dedicated her entry to John Michael Gibson, 42, a U.S. Capitol Police officer from Waltham, Mass. who died in the line of duty on July 24, 1998 in Washington, D.C. Gibson's fellow U.S. Capitol Police officer Jacob J. Chestnut, 58, a Vietnam veteran, was killed in the same incident. Both are interred in Arlington National Cemetery--Ed.).

Dear Mr. Gibson,

How is it in heaven? I wanted to let you know that the Boston Red Sox are doing good. They are in second place behind the New York Yankees. I am sorry that you died. What you did was very brave. I don't think that I could do what you did. I wish you wouldn't have died. When you died lots of people were sad, and especially your family. My mommy saw your funeral procession. But you saved people's lives. Savings people's lives must be hard. Savings people's lives is very brave. Like you I am an Irish American. People like you make me proud to be an Irish American.
Thank you for savings peoples lives.


Laura Kathleen, Age 9
Donnelly School of Irish Dancing

In Memory of Patrick Gallagher

I sit here today thinking of you wondering what you did
and what you went through

Eventful memories of your youthful years
were vanished in moments with a single tear

That tear drop bled and shattered your dreams
and your hope flew by never to be seen

Sorrowful yet sinister you took it aside
to alleviate your thoughts, no need to cry

Timid and noxious you stood up tall
and under your breath whispered "God help us all"

Time had come, your mother never knowing
swore your sister to secrecy about the tears that were coming

You packed what you had in the days that were left
and flew out to fight a war of unrest

To a land made by beauty you conquered your soul
set foot in Vietnam and became a hero to all.

Clare, Age 18
Donnelly School of Irish Dancing


Irish on the Wall

Irish in the Korean War

The Irish in WWII

Irish in Other Wars and Armies