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Belfast to celebrate anniversary of US troops' arrival in city in 1942

By Rebecca Black

The 75th anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Northern Ireland is set to be marked by Belfast City Council.

More than 300,000 GIs were stationed here during the Second World War as they prepared to be deployed to battlefield across Europe and Africa.

The first of the American soldiers arrived at Belfast docks on January 26, 1942.

Private Milburn Henke is reputed to have been the first GI on Ulster soil.

The council is considering hosting an event at the dockside next January as part of its Decade of Centenaries schedule of events, and Lord Mayor Brian Kingston is to send a letter to the family of Private Henke.

Minutes from the council's Diversity Working Group revealed that officials had held discussions with the US Consulate in Belfast regarding the matter.

These indicated the consulate does not have any plans for specific events for the anniversary.

"Bearing in mind that this is a 75th anniversary and not a centenary, the date could be marked in a modest way," the council minutes stated.

Councillors were presented with a proposal for a small-scale event at the dockside that would need to take place in consultation with the Harbour Commissioners.

It is understood that the Northern Ireland War Memorial museum has been in contact with the American Consulate regarding ways in which anniversaries might be marked in terms of US-Northern Ireland relations.

By mid-1942, more than 40,000 American servicemen were stationed here.

They brought with them aspects of US culture, from candy and bubblegum to baseball and American football.

Kingspan Stadium - the home of Ulster Rugby - also played host to a number of baseball and gridiron games.

Several US soldiers who lost their lives in Northern Ireland during their stay were subsequently laid to rest at the City Cemetery in Belfast, and in 1943 a US military cemetery was opened at Lisnabreeny in the Castlereagh hills.

In May 1944, the greatest gathering of US ships ever seen in a British port assembled in Belfast Lough and sailed for the Normandy landings, which took on June 6, 1944, after an inspection by General Eisenhower.

A commemorative stone sculpted by Belfast stonemasons Purdy and Millard, and bearing the crests of US Army, Marines and Navy, alongside a portion of the Belfast coat of arms, remains in the grounds of City Hall to mark the stay of the GIs.

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