Northern Ireland

Eisenhower remembered in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh

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Media captionGeneral Eisenhower inspecting the soldiers stationed in County Fermanagh

Playing fields at an Enniskillen school have been renamed in honour of the US general who led the D-Day landings during World War 2.

Several events have been held to mark General Dwight Eisenhower's visit to County Fermanagh 70 years ago.

Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WW2, went to Enniskillen on 18 May 1944.

He inspected 2,000 soldiers who were in Fermanagh preparing for the invasion of Normandy.

Image caption US consul Gregory Burton unveiled a tree and plaque at Model Primary School to commemorate the anniversary of General Eisenhower's troop inspection

On Monday, US consul for Northern Ireland, Gregory Burton, attended ceremonies at two schools where Eisenhower inspected troops.

The main inspection took place in Portora Royal School's playing fields, which have been renamed Eisenhower playing fields.

Some troops were also based at Celtic Park, which is now adjacent to Model Primary School. On Monday the US Consul helped children plant an oak tree and unveil a commemorative plinth.

The tree was planted to mark the events of 70 years ago, when a quarter of Fermanagh's population was made up of American military personnel.

The US consul was joined by men in American army uniforms from a historical re-enactment group.

Excited

Rachel Coulson, acting principal of the Model School, said the event brought history to life for the children.

"The consul visited last year for another commemoration, so they do know a bit about it," she said.

"The P4 pupils are doing World War 2 as their project so they were super excited."

Another guest at the event was Teddy Dixon, a veteran of the US Army's 42 Rainbow Division.

Mr Dixon was born in the US, but his parents took him back to Northern Ireland when he was young and he joined the US Army in Belfast.

He fought in the second Battle of the Bulge and was part of the first unit at Dachau concentration camp during its liberation.

He also helped retrieve priceless art looted by the Nazi's, echoing the plot of recently released Hollywood film Monuments Men.

He said seeing the military uniforms 70 years later "brings back a lot of memories".

The US Consul also attended an event for 130 schoolchildren outlining what it was like to live in Fermanagh during WW2, the background to US forces stationed in Fermanagh and the significance of General Eisenhower's visit.

The consul then attended the official renaming ceremony of playing fields at Portora Royal School.

Leading the ceremony, Mr Burton said it was "incredibly crucial to remember such events".

"I'm very honoured to be here with local dignitaries, but most importantly with two veterans of WW2, Bill Eames and Teddy Dixon," he said.

Image caption Playing fields at Portora Royal School were offically renamed after General Eisenhower as part of the day's events

Neill Morton, Portora school principal, said that 70 years ago the then headmaster had been refused entry to the playing fields to meet Eisenhower.

He joked that he hoped his hospitality and largesse in allowing the consul access would be appreciated.

Crash commemoration

Later, a ceremony was held at the Graan Monastery to remember seven American airman killed when their B17 Flying Fortress crashed in an adjacent field in December 1943.

The pilot had been trying to reach St Angelo airfield, which was built by the US military.

The pilot's last words on the radio were: "I can see you, I don't think I can make it."

Robin Houston attended the ceremony. His farm was close to the crash scene and he remembers that tragic day.

"I remember the noise of the engine weakened. It wasn't normal," he said. "I heard the crash. It was like timber being broken.

"My mother had been shopping. She arrived home and said there's been an air crash and there must be a lot killed or injured because she'd never seen the like of the number of ambulances."

While seven crew members died, five were saved mainly due to the actions of the Passionist monks who pulled them from the wreckage.

The US military paid for a shrine to the victims at the monastery.

Remembrance

Father Brian D'Arcy said he had lived with one of the monks who had been there and remembered vividly when the plane, called the Galley Uncle, crashed

He said it was important not just to remember those killed in the crash, but also all the other soldiers who died in the war.

As well as the US flag, the flag of the EU was also at the shrine.

Fr D'Arcy said this was to remember that without the American contribution to the war there would be no EU.

Eisenhower led the massive invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe that began on D-Day, 6 June 1944.

More than 80,000 British and Canadian troops took part in the invasion and about 3,000 Allied troops lost their lives.

Eisenhower was the 34th president of the United States from 1953 until 1961.

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