Although this site is dedicated to the Irish and Irish emigration in the period of the American Civil War, I wanted to take a moment to share some new research I thought may be of interest to readers in light of the major 80th anniversary commemorations of D-Day and the Normandy Landings. As some of you may be aware I (Damian) also enjoy exploring some of the lesser known stories of Irish-born men who served in North American forces during World War Two. I have been gathering together research on some of these men for quite some years (you can find a link to a podcast discussing some aspects of the American Irish and Canadian Irish experience in Normandy at the bottom of this post). Over the last few evenings, I have found myself on the trail of a young Co. Donegal emigrant whose story is not widely known in Ireland. His name was Thomas John McQuade, who came from the area of Ballyshannon. Thomas went to Normandy as part of the famed U.S. Airborne forces; sadly, he never left. What is even more poignant, moving and unusual about his story is that his fate was photographically recorded shortly after it occurred. Since 7th June 1944, that image has become widely used in histories of the Normandy Campaign to illustrate the sacrifices made by U.S. airborne troops, though few in Ireland realise the island’s link to that awful image. It was captured eighty years ago to this very day. (*Please note that towards the end this post contains images of fallen American troops that some readers may find disturbing).

Thomas John McQuade was born in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal on 3rd December 1922, just a year after the formation of the Irish Free State. He was the youngest son of Francis and Sarah Anne McQuade, who had married in Ballyshannon in 1912 and who made their home in the townland of Cool More. In October 1930, when Thomas was just seven-years-old, he joined his mother and older siblings Robert, Redmond and Bernard aboard the SS Cameronia, bound from Derry for New York. They were travelling to join Francis, who had left Ireland from Moville in 1927 to pave the way for his family’s new life in the United States.

Cool More townland near Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, where the McQuades came from, indicated by a red marker. (Google Maps, click here to explore the map).
The SS Cameronia, which brought 7-year-old Thomas McQuade from his Irish home to a new life in the United States. It had also brought his father to America three-years before (World Naval Ships)

The McQuade’s made their new home in America at 452 Palisade Avenue in Jersey City, New Jersey. The reunited family were recorded there in the 1940 Federal Census, which listed 48-year-old Francis as a rail-road laborer, together with 52-year-old Sarah, 24-year-old Robert (a seaman), 21-year-old Redmond (a rail-guard), 19-year-old telephone-pole climber Bernard (a telephone-pole climber), and 17-year-old Thomas, who was still at school. The family had settled well into their new life; they were members of the congregation at St. Nicholas’s Parish Church, where Thomas was an altar-boy, and the young Donegal native turned American had also attended St. Nicholas’s School. He later moved on to Dickinson High School, where he became best known for his sporting prowess on the baseball and soccer teams. After three-years at Dickinson ,Thomas joined the workforce. He took a position at the American Terry-Derrick Company in South Kearny, New Jersey. It was while there that his details were first recorded with a view to potential military service. At the time, the Cool More emigrant was described as 5 feet 8 inches tall and 150 pounds weight, with blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion.

452 Pallisade Avenue in New Jersey, where Thomas McQuade grew up, and where the family lived when he went to war (Google Maps- click here to explore the map)
Dickinson High School in Jersey City, which Thomas attended. It is still in operation today (King of Hearts via Wikipedia)

World War Two did not pass the McQuade family by. After the United States entered the conflict Thomas’s older brother had continued his profession as a seaman, serving in the vital merchant marine; Redmond had served in the Army, and Bernard in the Navy. Thomas’s turn came on 16th June 1943— the day he became a U.S. Army selectee. He was transformed into Private Thomas J. McQuade, Army Serial No. 32928036. The unit Thomas went to serve with was Company A, 1st Battalion, 325th Glider Regiment, part of the 82nd “All American” Airborne Division. After basic training in the United States, Thomas was sent to England, to prepare for his role in the upcoming Normandy landings. The task he and the 325th were assigned was to land by glider on D-Day plus 1– 7th June– to reinforce their comrades in the bridgehead.

An aerial photograph of Ramsbury Airfield, Wiltshire, taken in May 1944. In the image are the C-47s and Horsa gliders of 437th Troop Carrier Group, which would carry Thomas and his comrades to Normandy (British Government)

In the early morning hours of 7th June 1944, Thomas, 28 of his comrades from Company A, and two-glider pilots clambered aboard their Horsa Glider LJ-135 at Ramsbury Airfield in Wiltshire, England. Thanks to some fantastic research by Neil Jones, who runs the “Honouring IX Troop Carrier Command” Page (check it out on Facebook here), we know that Thomas’s Horsa took off for France at 04.39 that morning. Towed into the air by their C-47, their Horsa was the lead glider in a group of 49 departing for the combat zone. Their original intended landing point had been altered prior to take off due to enemy fire; now they were slated to join the fight via Landing Zone “E,” a little to the west of Ste. Marie de Mont. By 06.55 Thomas’s glider had crossed the channel and was over the landing zone. They were just 2-300 feet off the ground when they were released by their C-47, leaving the glider pilots with just seconds to select an appropriate spot to set down. Fortune did not favour them. LJ-135 struck the earth hard, flipping over on it’s back and breaking it apart as it skidded through a field. Inside, Fourteen of those inside were dead– among them 21-year-old Donegal emigrant Thomas McQuade.

In the aftermath of the awful event, medics rushed to the scene to aid those on the stricken craft, including those injured who had survived. In the minutes and hours that followed, a series of photographs of the crashed Horsa and its victims were taken, capturing for history the tragedy which had ended so many young men’s lives before they had barely begun (you can read more about the sequence of photographs by exploring Neil’s detailed account of the entire event here).

This image of men who died in the crash of Horsa LJ-135 was taken by a U.S. Signal Corps Photographer in Normandy shortly after the incident. Eight of the men who lost their lives are in this image; it is not known if Thomas is among them (Image UPL 2037 via the American Air Museum in Britain- for the original see here).
Another image of the aftermath of the crash of Horsa LJ-135 which occurred near the site of the Holdy Battery outside Ste. Marie de Mont. This image shows all the fallen soldiers laid out, one of whom is Thomas McQuade of Cool More, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal and New Jersey (Image reproduced with kind permission of “Honouring IX Troop Carrier Command” see the original album on their page here).

After Thomas’s death, a telegram was sent to his parent’s Francis and Sarah to inform them of the loss of their youngest son. A local paper, The Jersey Journal, carried a heartbreaking, smiling image of the young Donegal man in uniform, over an article captioned “McQuade Dies in Action.” It told of his Irish origins, his local Church, his time at School, and the service of his siblings. Today his remains rest at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, where he is interred in Plot F, Row 16, Grave 15. His story, and his final resting place, are just one reminder among many of the sacrifice Irish Americans and Irish Canadians made in the service of their new nations during the D-Day Landings and the Battle for Normandy, 80 years ago.

The image of Thomas McQuade reproduced in The Jersey Journal following his death in 1944 (Jersey Journal).
Thomas’s grave in Normandy (Image: Ann Cipriani via Find A Grave)

The dedicated research that many have undertaken on the events surrounding the fate of LJ-135 and its men have made this post possible. Special thanks to Neil at Honouring IX Troop Carrier Command for his work on the incident, and permission to reproduce the second image of the crashed glider. Readers who would like to learn more about the glider and its men can also find details of it at the Airborne in Normandy page here and here, the France-Crashes 39-45 page here, the American Air Museum in Britain page here, and the National World War II Glider Pilot’s Association Page here.

For more on the Irish experience in U.S. and Canadian forces on D-Day and during the Normandy Campaign you can listen to this podcast I recorded here.

References

Honouring IX Troop Carrier Command.

U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records.

U.S. 1940 Federal Census.

U.S. American Battle Monuments Commission.

U.S. World War II Young Men’s Draft Cards.

Find A Grave.

Irish Civil Registration Births Index.

New Jersey U.S. Naturalization Records.

New York U.S. Arriving Passenger Lists.

The Jersey Journal 11 August 1944.

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