Wednesday 21 February 2018

Peacekeepers marching in their fathers' footsteps

Eoghan MacConnell.

THE sons of two soldiers, killed in action 20 years ago in Lebanon, are the latest peace-keepers to take a mission in the Middle Eastern country.

Private Martin Ward was just six when his father, Peter, was killed when an Irish checkpoint came under fire from Hizbollah gunmen.

His uncle Pte William O'Brien had been killed in Lebanon six years prior to that.

"My father was killed in 1992 and my uncle was killed in 1986," he explained. "It's emotional enough, I'm actually looking forward to going over to see where my father was killed," Pte Ward said.

"I remember actually saying goodbye to my father and I never thought my son would be doing the same."

Pte Ward's four-year-old, Kailum, will not see his father again until he gets some leave in January.

"It's emotional but I looked up to my father so much; I want to follow in his footsteps."

While Pte Ward's aunt, Rose Egan, is proud of her nephew, she said: "It brings back a lot of memories of Peter being killed. It's hard to find the words."

His sister, Kim, is proud of him and took comfort knowing two of his cousins were on the same mission.

"It's great to know that he has family there to help him through it," she said.

Pte Owen McLoughlin's father, Corporal Dermot McLoughlin, was also killed in Lebanon, in 1987, by an Israeli tank.

"I always wanted to join the Army to find out what he died for and what he was serving for. I suppose this mission here will give me the ideal opportunity to see. It will be emotional but I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I'll see the places where he was and see the people that he saw, it's pretty much the same place -- even though it has carried on for so long."

Pte McLoughlin said his mother was supportive, "she knows the risks, it can flare up at any moment." The pair are among 332 soldiers who are members of the IrishFinn 107 battalion.

One of Ireland's first female Defence Forces members, Veronica Foley, will mark another historical moment when her son, Conor, travels to Lebanon. His departure represents the first time an Irish mother and son have served in the same theatre of operations.

Overseas

"We know he wants to go and both myself and my husband have served overseas so we are happy enough to see him go," Ms Foley said.

Mr Foley is relishing his chance to put his training into practice: "I'm finally getting to go out there and do a few things I learnt in my training," he said.

Father and son team Pte Mark Cox and Gunner Philip Cox are one of four sets of fathers and sons who will serve together in Lebanon.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Pte Cox, "he can experience it for himself now because it's kind of hard to explain to them when you come home."

Family ties and army tradition remains very strong in the 107 Infantry Battalion.

Paul Keogh, Minister of State for Defence, accompanied by the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Sean McCann, reviewed the troops.

The battalion will be made up of 332 Irish soldiers and 176 soldiers from Finland.

Irish Independent

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