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American Soldiers from D-Day Leave Their Mark in Castle Messages

During World War II, the arrival of American troops in the British Isles marked a significant shift in the Allied forces’ strength against Nazi Germany. In Northern Ireland alone, approximately 300,000 American military personnel were deployed by the war’s end. Among these troops were 600 stationed at Killymoon Castle, many belonging to an elite parachute unit crucial to the conflict.

These American soldiers left an indelible mark on the rural landscape of County Tyrone, particularly at Killymoon Castle. Local historian Clarke Hill has been instrumental in preserving and sharing the story of the American GIs’ time at the castle. Visitors to the castle today can still uncover artifacts from that era, including handbooks used by the soldiers and captivating photographs capturing moments like troops playing baseball on the castle’s front lawn.

While officers and senior personnel enjoyed the castle’s warmth, the majority of troops resided in makeshift huts erected on the castle grounds, some remnants of which still stand today. The castle’s cellars, once host to a prison cell, mess room, and armory, remain largely untouched, bearing witness to the handwritten messages left behind by US troops over eight decades ago. These messages, comprising names, birthdates, regiment details, and even caricatures, provide a poignant glimpse into the lives of those who called Killymoon Castle home during this tumultuous period.

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One such name, Tony J. Vickery, stands out among the countless scrawls. Vickery, affectionately dubbed “the milk bar commando” for his fondness for milkshakes, was a member of the parachute regiment in the 82nd Airborne Division. Tragically, at the tender age of 18, Vickery lost his life just days after parachuting into Normandy on D-Day. Despite the passage of time, his memory lives on through the efforts of local World War II enthusiast Andy Glenfield, who painstakingly pieced together Vickery’s story and paid homage to him at his final resting place in Normandy.

For Vickery’s niece, Nancy McKendree, learning about her uncle’s legacy has been both emotional and pride-inducing. Despite being an infant at the time of his death, McKendree carries the weight of her family’s grief and pride for Vickery’s courageous actions during the war. Killymoon Castle continues to honor the memory of soldiers like Vickery, opening its doors to the public and local schools to commemorate D-Day with exhibitions and displays of original World War II memorabilia connected to the site.

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