US Navy mark anniversary of WWII base

Fleet Master Chief Raymond Kemp poses for a selfie with officers from the USS MASON at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel.
Fleet Master Chief Raymond Kemp poses for a selfie with officers from the USS MASON at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel.

Two hundred sailors from the USS MASON DDG87 have paraded at a Co Londonderry hotel to mark 75 years since the US Navy set up its World War II base in the city.

Led by commanding officer, Commander Chris Gilbertson along with Fleet Master Chief Raymond D Kemp, the naval personnel joined Nobel Peace Laureate John Hume and world renowned singer-song writer Phil Coulter to celebrate the landmark anniversary of Base One Europe. The USS MASON is the first US naval ship to visit Northern Ireland in 17 years.

On parade at Beech Hill Country House Hotel

On parade at Beech Hill Country House Hotel

The anniversary celebration at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel involved a wreath laying ceremony in the hotel grounds, an interfaith service in nearby St Mary’s Church, Ardmore and a Christmas dinner party in the Co Derry hotel. The event took place on Sunday from 1pm until 10pm with the USS MASON crew arriving by bus from Belfast where the ship was anchored.

The commemorative events are being coordinated by author and filmmaker Mary Pat Kelly - - the US representative of the Beech Hill US Navy Marine Corps Friendship Association - Beech Hill Country House Hotel owner Patsy O'Kane, and Nobel Laureate John Hume. The event was hosted in Derry with the support of Derry City and Strabane District Council.

Mary Pat Kelly, who directed the 2004 feature film ‘Proud’ - a movie which chronicles the experiences of the African-American crew of the original USS MASON in Northern Ireland in 1944 – said the city and the Beech Hill played a highly significant role during a pivotal time in US military history."

Beech Hill Country House Hotel owner, Patsy O’Kane, said: “We are delighted to welcome the crew of the USS MASON and help them to mark this important anniversary at the Beech Hill. We are very proud of the Beech Hill’s association with the US Navy and US Marines and will continue to work hard to build on our very strong relationship.”

The resent USS MASON ship is named to honour the crew of the World War II USS MASON DE529 - the only African-American sailors to take a US warship into combat.