President Roy and bikes

In a couple of months time Fermanagh will mark the historic visit of General Dwight 'Ike' Eisenhower to Enniskillen. The Five-star USA Army Supreme Commander, later to become the 34th President of the U.S.A., came here to review his troops prior to the Normandy landings on D-Day. His visit rubber-stamped Fermanagh as a pivotal stepping-stone on the rocky road to victory over Hitler's cruel tyranny.

Ike will forever be remembered as a famous WWII General and American President, but he was also a proud Rotarian.

With the forthcoming 70th anniversary of his visit to Enniskillen pending on the 18th May 1944, Enniskillen Rotary Club invited journalist Charlie Warmington, and WWII archivists Roger Edmondson and Selwyn Johnston, to their evening meeting last week at the Killyhevlin Hotel to outline the background to the American men's sojourn in Fermanagh.

This was particularly poignant, as General Ike had addressed hundreds of American GIs almost seven decades earlier just down the road, at their Celtic Park army camp. Four-star General Patton also visited the camp earlier in 1944, and Mr. Edmondson and Mr. Johnston outlined a special programme of commemorative events planned for Ike's anniversary.

President Roy with Ivan Kee and bikes

Charlie Warmington shared local people's memories of the US Forces in Fermanagh, when the GI's were enthusiastically welcomed into the community. General Eisenhower's connections with the Rotary movement, along with the anniversary of his Enniskillen visit prior to D-Day almost 70 years ago, were further highlighted by two more historic memorials - 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI and the 75th anniversary of the start of WWII. Roger Edmondson spoke evocatively about his father J.C. (Jimmy) Edmondson who was born in 1924 in North Carolina. Jimmy was only 19 years old when he joined the American Army's 'A' Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment.

He arrived at Celtic Park, Enniskillen, with his Battalion on 16th December 1943 and left the US Army camp on 28th June 1944 bound for Normandy. He survived a heroic campaign in Europe and was awarded the Bronze Star, Silver Star and Oak Leaf Cluster to the Silver Star for gallantry. He also received a battlefield commission to the rank of Lieutenant and was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action.

Enniskillen Rotarians were delighted to be the first members of the public anywhere on the planet to see historic film footage and photographs taken during General Eisenhower's visit to their town on the 18th May 1944, priceless pictures recently discovered in an American Military Archive. Roger provided the commentary throughout the film and explained, while the old black and white images were flickering on the screen, that his father was one of the soldiers being reviewed by Eisenhower.

President Roy and bikes

Selwyn Johnston outlined the commemorative events which will take place on the 19th May to commemorate General Eisenhower's visit to Celtic Park and Portora Royal School's rugby fields.

Gregory Burton, the NI American Consul, will attend a special primary school WWII educational event at Enniskillen's Library and Castle in addition to visiting Portora Royal School and the playing fields on which Ike reviewed over 2,000 American soldiers who were preparing for D-Day and the Normandy Landings.

The historic day will conclude with an American Tea Dance and Big Band at Enniskillen Library which will undoubtedly bring back fond memories for the older members of the community who remember the American soldiers in Fermanagh during WWII.

President Roy with Ivan Kee and bikes

A further event will take place on the 6th June, the 70th anniversary of D-Day. This will include the planting of 20 oak trees and commemorative plaques at former American bases in Fermanagh and an event at Crom Castle hosted by Lord and Lady Erne, also attended by Gregory Burton and other special guests representing all of the 20 former American wartime bases in the county.

After last week's meeting Rotary President Roy Crawford thanked Charlie, Roger and Selwyn for their informative presentation and wished them every success with the forthcoming commemorative events.