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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Cornelius Ryan, Irish American Journalist & Author

Cornelius Ryan, Irish American journalist and author mainly known for his writings on popular military history, dies in Manhattan on November 23, 1974. He is especially known for his World War II books The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day (1959), The Last Battle (1966), and A Bridge Too Far (1974).

Ryan is born in Dublin on June 5, 1920. He is educated at Synge Street CBS, Portobello, Dublin. He is an altar boy at St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street and studies the violin at the Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. He is a boy scout in the 52nd Troop of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and travels on their pilgrimage to Rome on the liner RMS Lancastria in 1934. He moves to London in 1940 and becomes a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph in 1941.

Ryan initially covers the air war in Europe, flying along on fourteen bombing missions with the Eighth and Ninth United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). He then joins General George S. Patton‘s Third Army and covers its actions until the end of the European war. He transfers to the Pacific theater in 1945 and then to Jerusalem in 1946.

Ryan emigrates to the United States in 1947 to work for Time, where he reports on the postwar tests of atomic weapons carried out by the United States in the Pacific. He then reports for Time on the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. This is followed by work for other magazines, including Collier’s Weekly and Reader’s Digest.

Ryan marries Kathryn Morgan, a novelist, and becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1951.

On a trip to Normandy in 1949 Ryan becomes interested in telling a more complete story of Operation Overlord than has been produced to date. He begins compiling information and conducting over 1,000 interviews as he gathers stories from both the Allies and the Germans, as well as the French civilians.

In 1956 Ryan begins to write down his World War II notes for The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day, which tells the story of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, published three years later in 1959. It is an instant success, and he assists in the writing of the screenplay for the 1962 film of the same name. Darryl F. Zanuck pays the author U.S.$175,000 for the screen rights to the book.

Ryan’s 1957 book One Minute to Ditch! is about the successful ocean ditching of a Pan American Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. He had written an article about the ditching for Collier’s in their December 21, 1956, issue and then expanded it into the book.

Ryan’s next work is The Last Battle (1966), about the Battle of Berlin. The book contains detailed accounts from all perspectives: civilian, American, British, Russian and German. It deals with the fraught military and political situation in the spring of 1945, when the forces of the western allies and the Soviet Union contend for the chance to liberate Berlin and to carve up the remains of Germany.

This work was followed by A Bridge Too Far (1974), which tells the story of Operation Market Garden, the ill-fated assault by allied airborne forces on the Netherlands culminating in the Battle of Arnhem. It is made into a major 1977 film of the same name.

Ryan is awarded the French Legion of Honour and an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Ohio University, where the Cornelius Ryan Collection is housed in the Alden Library. He is diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1970 and struggles to finish A Bridge Too Far during his illness. He dies in Manhattan on November 23, 1974, while on tour promoting the book, only two months after publication. He is buried in the Ridgebury Cemetery in northern Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Four years after his death, Ryan’s struggle with prostate cancer is detailed in A Private Battle, written by his widow, from notes he had secretly left behind for that purpose.


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Birth of Astronaut & Test Pilot Michael Collins

Michael Collins, Irish American former astronaut and test pilot who is part of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions, is born in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 1930. The Apollo 11 mission includes the first lunar landing in history. His Irish roots can be traced to the town of Dunmanway in County Cork, from which his grandfather, Jeremiah Collins, emigrates in the 1860s.

Collins is born in Rome where his father, United States Army Major General James Lawton Collins, is stationed at the time. After the United States enters World War II, the family moves to Washington, D.C., where Collins attends St. Albans School. During this time, he applies and is accepted to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and decides to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services.

In 1952, Collins graduates from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joins the United States Air Force that same year, and completes flight training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. His performance earns him a position on the advanced day fighter training team at Nellis Air Force Base, flying the F-86 Sabres. This is followed by an assignment to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at the George Air Force Base, where he learns how to deliver nuclear weapons. He also serves as an experimental flight test officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California, testing jet fighters.

Collins makes the decision to become an astronaut after watching John Glenn‘s Mercury-Atlas 6 flight. He applies for the second group of astronauts that same year, but is not accepted. Disappointed, but undaunted, Collins enters the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School as the Air Force begins to research space. That year, NASA once again calls for astronaut applications, and Collins is more prepared than ever. In 1963 he is chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts.

Collins makes two spaceflights. The first, on July 18, 1966, is the Gemini 10 mission, where Collins performs a spacewalk. The second is the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing in history. Collins, accompanied by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, remains in the Command Module while his partners walk on the moon’s surface. Collins continues circling the moon until July 21, when Armstrong and Aldrin rejoin him. The next day, he and his fellow astronauts leave lunar orbit. They land in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin are all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon. However, Aldrin and Armstrong end up receiving a majority of the public credit for the historic event, although Collins is also on the flight.

Collins leaves NASA in January 1970, and one year later, he joins the administrative staff of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he enters the private sector, working as an aerospace consultant. In his spare time, Collins says he stays active, and spends his days “worrying about the stock market” and “searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars.”

Collins and his wife, Patricia Finnegan, have three children. The couple lived in both Marco Island, Florida, and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.