Documentary on One

Finding Private Branch

Dick Tynan turned his back on the family butchery business in Dublin and travelled to America. He joined the army and whilst there he met Howard Branch, a young African American private and they bonded. It was a bond that was to be cruelly broken. (2018)

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Documentary Maker: Mary Elaine Tynan

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Documentary Maker: Donal O'Herlihy

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Finding Private Branch

Dick Tynan was a GI serving in the US army in the 1950’s. But he wasn’t quite your ordinary GI...

Born in 1937 in inner city Dublin, he turned his back on the family butchery business and travelled to Beverley Hills, arriving in the heat in a Donegal jacket and overcoat. He worked the usual waiting jobs  before joining the army and was stationed in a small town in Southern Germany. It was there that he met Howard Branch, a young African American private and they bonded, mainly through their great mutual love…jazz. It was a bond that was to be cruelly broken.

On 27th April 1959 Dick and Howard sat in the back of an army truck during a military exercise. There had been a misunderstanding between them but Dick had made room for Howard to sit opposite him. Minutes later the truck careered off the road and tumbled down a hill. Dick was thrown clear and scrabbled to find his friend. When he did, Howard was dead.

When he returned home, Dick ran a famous furniture shop on Dublin’s Quays but began to suffer from strange symptoms. Lack of concentration, difficulty sleeping and anxiety. Dick had been left with the memories of his friends death. To make it worse he has been privately wracked with guilt;  wondering if he was partly to blame for what happened almost 60 years because of something he had done that fateful day.

Dick’s symptoms were treated for decades but it was only a few years ago that he was finally diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder by the US military’s psychiatrist. However to get the treatment he needed, he was told he had to prove to the military that his condition is related to the accident all those years ago. To make matters worse they say they've no record of Howard’s death. And now they’ve put the onus back on Dick to prove that as well.

He enlists the help of his daughter Mary Elaine who begins to privately wonder whether Howard had died at all or whether his death might be a symptom of her dad’s trauma. 

The battle lines are drawn. It’s 81 year old Dick Tynan versus the US military. His task? Finding Private Branch.

Narrated by Mary Elaine Tynan

Produced by Mary Elaine Tynan and Donal O’Herlihy

First broadcast RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday 29th September 2018 @2pm

Rebroadcast RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday 06th January 2019 @7PM 

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.

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