- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2003

In 1950, Michael Fitzpatrick, a 22-year-old Irish immigrant settling in Indiana, was drafted into the U.S. Army and shipped to Korea where he made the “ultimate sacrifice” before ever becoming an American.

His sister Mary, who had followed Mr. Fitzpatrick from County Mayo, Ireland, to the United States before the Korean War, was made an American citizen five years later. But Mr. Fitzpatrick, killed in action in Korea in 1951, never got the chance — until last week.

On Thursday, the Homeland Security Department’s Citizenship and Immigration Services granted posthumous citizenship to 28 Irish soldiers who died serving as U.S. soldiers in the Korean War. Michael Fitzpatrick, who would have turned 75 this year, was among them.

“He’s waited 52 years,” said Mary Doody, Mr. Fitzpatrick’s sister, who, with South Korean and U.S. dignitaries, along with family members and friends, attended the posthumous naturalization and wreath-laying ceremonies for the soldiers.

The government has had authority to grant citizenship to non-citizens killed during a military conflict since the passage of the Posthumous Citizenship Restoration Act of 2002.

The perks of such belated naturalization involve little more than the presentation to the soldiers’ families of a framed certificate of citizenship. That, and a certain sense of closure for families whose loved ones have been finally thanked for giving their lives for the United States.

“People always ask first, ‘What’s in this for you? What are you getting out of this?’” Mrs. Doody said. “I’m not getting anything out of this. I know that it’s what my brother would have wanted and I think it will make my family aware that there was a price paid for freedom.”

Through a brief bout with tears on Friday, Mrs. Doody, 78, said she still keeps all the letters her brother wrote her from South Korea. She remembered how he’d left Ireland as a young man, crossing the Atlantic to live with an aunt in Hammond, Ind., taking a job at a steel mill.

Pursuing a better life in America, he was proud to be working hard and making money. “He bought himself an accordion,” Mrs. Doody said. “He bought himself a watch, a camera and a radio.”

And then he was drafted. On Dec. 15, 1950, Mr. Fitzpatrick entered the Army for basic training as a medic with the 23rd Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division. As a private first class, he was shipped to Korea in May 1951, celebrating his 23rd birthday on his troop ship.

He had lived in the United States for two and a half years and had declared his intentions to the government that he wanted to be a citizen. In South Korea, he wrote often to his sister, who had settled outside of Chicago.

“In the last letter, on Aug. 16, he’d just got the first package from me. He wrote that he wanted stamps and paper to write more letters,” Mrs. Doody said.

Eduardo Aguierre, who oversaw this week’s naturalization ceremony as director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, said that “there is no more fitting way for a grateful nation to pay homage to these fine soldiers.”

Although the process of posthumous naturalization is not common, there are some who have criticized the government’s use of the distinction as giving too little, too late to soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for the United States.

During the recent war in Iraq, Janice Hahn, a Los Angeles City Council member and Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, called on President Bush to grant immediate citizenship to all men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“It isn’t right for these people to have to die in order to receive citizenship from a country that they are clearly devoted to and love,” Mrs. Hahn said in support of a letter on the subject that Cardinal Mahony wrote to Mr. Bush.

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