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Saturday 10 December 2016

Jadotville heroes honoured at last

Doves released to mark Irish peacekeepers' fight against odds

Published 23/10/2016 | 02:30

Salute to bravery: Survivors of the 1961 siege are honoured at a ceremony at Collins Barracks, Dublin Photo: Fergal Phillips
Salute to bravery: Survivors of the 1961 siege are honoured at a ceremony at Collins Barracks, Dublin Photo: Fergal Phillips

Twenty-one doves flew into the autumn sky, a symbol of peace during a special ceremony to recognise Irish peacekeeping heroes from the Siege of Jadotville.

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The soldiers were ambushed by mercenaries during the Congo's brutal civil war 55 years ago, and fought off 5,000 guerrillas before running out of supplies.

Poignant symbol: Thomas Gunn (78), one of the survivors of the Siege of Jadotville in the Congo, with one of the 21 doves that were released into the sky yesterday in tribute to the Irish peacekeepers Photo: Fergal Phillips
Poignant symbol: Thomas Gunn (78), one of the survivors of the Siege of Jadotville in the Congo, with one of the 21 doves that were released into the sky yesterday in tribute to the Irish peacekeepers Photo: Fergal Phillips

Family members and survivors from the 35th Battalion 'A' company gathered in Collins Barracks in Dublin yesterday.

They were there to recall one of the seminal events in Irish Defence Forces' involvement with the UN.

Only 45 out of 155 soldiers involved in the Jadotville siege in 1961 are still alive.

But some are still haunted by the moments of fear and terror that stalked the Irish contingent who were surrounded by enemy forces.

Thomas Gunn was just 22 at the time of the confrontation, as various factions fought for supremacy in the strife-torn Congo.

He and some of his comrades said they had to wait a long time for full recognition by the national authorities for the role they played as UN peacekeepers.

"We've waited 55 years for this day. We had to wait, grovelling for our due recognition," the 78-year-old told the Sunday Independent.

"It's an emotional day. What we want is to be allowed fade away like old soldiers.

"We all fought bravely and honourably. We ate Australian jack rabbit and dog biscuits.

"We were young men, 5,000 miles from home and isolated out in the jungle. But fear is a good thing because when you're afraid your adrenaline is running and you do everything automatically.

"You're on your guard. Fear kept us sharp. We were particularly afraid at night because it was pitch dark. If a mouse moved you thought somebody was coming out of the bush to attack.

"The disappointing thing is that when we came back we were shoved into the pages of history."

Another member of 'A' company, Paul Malone from Waterford, was 18 at the time of the siege. He said many of the surviving soldiers were now fighting old age.

"Some are as old as 93, and there's no one younger than 75. I would like to see some form of recognition for every man who served out there," he said.

"We stuck together and a great sense of camaraderie got us through."

Independent senator Gerard Craughwell said a ceremony would be held annually to remember the "heroes" of Jadotville.

"The turnout of the veterans was incredible. As a former soldier, I can understand the level of bitterness at the way their colleagues were treated," he added.

Sunday Independent

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