FOR years it was regarded as a stain on the Army’s reputation, but a recent call by a local councillor to see the five soldiers from Kildare who fought so valiantly in Jadotville in the Congo in 1961 belatedly get the medals they were promised by a Taoiseach, has been supported by the son of the commanding officer at the battle.
Leo Quinlan (75) himself a former Commandant in the Irish Army and member of the honour guard at President John F. Kennedy’s funeral, has rowed in behind Cllr Michael Coleman’s recent motion requesting Kildare Co Council write to the present Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Leo Varadkar TD “asking these long overdue medals…be awarded”.
In 2017 at an unveiling of a monument in Kerry to his father Commandant Pat Quinlan – OC A Coy 35 Inf Bat – the then Taoiseach told Leo Quinlan and the gathered crowd that the valiant veterans of Jadotville should receive the medals they had been recommended, 28 for the Distinguished Service Medal, and five for the Military Medal for Gallantry.
“The biggest stumbling block is the Department of Defence,” said Leo.
“They hand them [DSMs] out like crisps and sweets on retirement to senior staff, but for a private soldier they must have done something extraordinary and be recommended by their platoon commander, and approved by my father,” he continued.
“Of the 28 who were recommended for the DSM at Jadotville, only two of them knew about it,” he went on.
“There were five recommended for the Military Medal for Gallantry – our highest award – one of those is still alive,” he explained.
At the most recent council meeting, Cllr Coleman commented on “the shameful treatment of our heroes, because that’s what they were”, and Leo Quinlan agreed.
He explained that the corporal in charge of one of the mortar crews during the battle was just 18 years old, whilst two of the crew in another mortar team were just 16.
The average age of the 155 members of ‘A’ Company during the battle was just 18 and a half years.
They held off 3,500 mercenary-led Katanganese rebels for four days, suffering only five wounded, before surrendering after running out of both ammunition and water in equatorial Africa.
Originally shamed by the military establishment for their surrender, the change in attitude began in 2004, and the entire platoon received a unit citation in 2017, but on two occasions the Department of Defence has cited the two-year statute of limitations rule to deny them any further decorations.
“I’m carrying on the campaign for medals for those 33 men, but I’m only pushing, not shoving. It’d be good for the nation, good for the Army, and good for the men and their families,’ said Cmdt. Quinlan.
Of the 155 veterans of the 58-year-old battle, 65 are still alive, however none of these are the five from Kildare.