(Photo:A parade through Ballyhaunis, County Mayo, in March of this year, in honor of fallen Marine
Corporal Patrick Gallagher. Photo courtesy of The Mayo News,www.mayonews.ie.)
Patrick Gallagher was 22 years old when he joined the Marine Corps in 1966. At a time when many draft age Americans were fleeing to Canada or falsifying medical problems, this Irish citizen, who was not being drafted, and was a student in the New Jersey area, decided to join the Marines and serve our country. Patrick had emigrated stateside in 1962 and was living with his aunt and uncle in Long Beach when he enlisted.
He became a machine gunner, and was sent to Vietnam where he served with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. Back home, in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo, his parents and siblings were unaware he was in Vietnam as he did not want them to know he was in combat. He had told them about joining the Marines but had said he was to be stationed in San Diego for the next 12 months.
Meanwhile, Patrick was engaged in combat on almost a daily basis. Constant patrolling and nightly ambushes in miserable jungle conditions were his daily life. One night, an enemy grenade was thrown into the foxhole he was sharing with several others, and Patrick threw himself on the grenade to shield his fellow Marines. Miraculously, the grenade did not explode, and he was able to pull it out from under him and throw it into a river where it promptly exploded. At least two more grenades were thrown into his position, and he was also able to throw them away before they exploded. Heavy fighting was meanwhile going on around his position.
For his actions that night, Patrick Gallagher was awarded the Navy Cross, the 2nd highest award for valor our country can bestow. Only the Congressional Medal of Honor ranks higher. He was actually awarded the Navy Cross by General Westmoreland, the highest ranking American in Vietnam. The citation read in part: “another enemy grenade followed and landed in the position between two of his comrades. Without hesitation, in a valiant act of self sacrifice, Corporal Gallagher threw himself upon the deadly grenade in order to absorb the explosion and save the lives of his comrades.”
Now Patrick was in a quandary, as he was told the story about his bravery and the award would be covered by the press in Ireland and America. He quickly wrote to his parents admitting where he was but downplaying the award, his exploits and the war he was fighting. His letters home almost made it sound like he was in some vacation paradise instead of the mosquito infested, leech sucking, heat of the Vietnam war!
Some months later, just before he was to rotate home and visit with his family, he was killed in an ambush by the enemy. Since he was going home in a few days, and he knew a celebration was awaiting his return to Ballyhaunis, he did not have to go out with his unit the day he was killed. But machine gunners were in short supply, and he volunteered to go with his fellow Marines. The celebration at home in Ireland was abruptly cancelled when the devastating news was brought to his parents via the parish priest.
This past March, 50 years after Patrick’s death, a ‘Celebration of his Life’ was held in Ballyhaunis. The event was wholly planned by citizens of Ballyhaunis and his family. A mass was held in the morning with over 500 people in attendance. Ireland’s Minister of Defense was present along with second highest General in the Irish Army. Noted Irish singer, Seán Keane, sang a song he wrote about Patrick. A parade followed through the streets of Ballyhaunis to the cemetery where Patrick was buried. The sidewalks were packed with people and children lined the street waving American and Irish flags as the parade passed by. An Irish flag and an American flag led the parade, followed by two Dublin Embassy Marines flanking a retired Marine Brigadier General who was also a Navy Cross recipient. A ceremony was held at Patrick’s grave site, and Irish soldiers served as an honor guard. A monument was also dedicated to Patrick in the cemetery and to all the other Irishmen who died fighting in the Vietnam war. At least 30 Irishmen died fighting in Vietnam, and probably more, an astounding statistic. A luncheon was then held in the town with mementos of Patrick’s life on display, including his letters home, his citation and a letter from his company commander to Patrick’s parents after his death.
In 2013 a petition to have a Navy ship named after Patrick was started by Marius Donnelly and Martin Durkan. Both are Irish natives living in the Dallas area. Durkan said that should the USS Patrick Gallagher sail that it would sail for all the Irish who died in the Vietnam war and for the other Marines who died with Patrick on March 30, 1967.
The effort to have a Navy war ship named after Patrick is still ongoing. There is an online petition with over 11,000 signatures on it, and Democrats and Republicans in congress are supporting this effort. Senator Schumer, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, recently met with Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer to urge that a ship be named after Patrick. Former Senator and Governor of California, Pete Wilson, has also supported this effort. In addition to signing the petition on line, if any reader wishes to support this ship naming effort, letters can be sent to the following: Secretary of the Navy, 1000 Navy Pentagon, Room 4E686, Washington, DC 20350-1000.