Corporal Patrick Gallagher
By Ray O’Hanlon
The USS Patrick Gallagher will sail in defense of America, in defense of Mayo native Patrick Gallagher’s adopted homeland.
The news that a five year campaign had reached a triumphal conclusion was announced Monday by Senator Charles Schumer of New York.
With flags flapping in the March wind and the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid as a dramatic backdrop, Schumer announced that a U.S. Navy destroyer would be named after Corporal Gallagher, a U.S. Marine who won the Navy Cross in Vietnam but who was killed just a couple of days before the end of his tour of duty.
As Schumer was speaking on Pier 84 on Manhattan’s far west side to assembled Gallagher family members from Long Island, veterans, supporters of the campaign, including members of the Mayo Society, and journalists, a simultaneous announcement of the USS Gallagher go-ahead was being delivered in Washington, D.C. by Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer.
Schumer had presented Spencer with the Gallagher story during a meeting on Long Island.
“On this special day we honor and remember one special person, Corporal Patrick Gallagher of the U.S. Marine Corps, America and Ireland,” Schumer said.
In Vietnam, said Schumer, Corporal Gallagher had showed his true colors and, as the citation with the Navy Cross had stated, had displayed valor in the face of almost certain death.
Gallagher, his unit under attack, had kicked one grenade away and had thrown himself on another grenade. The grenade did not explode but did so when Gallagher threw it into nearby water.
For his gallantry he was awarded the Navy Cross, the medal pinned on his chest by General William Westmoreland.
Gallagher, a native of Ballyhaunis, County Mayo, was about to depart Vietnam and the war when his life ended on what would have been his last patrol. But March 30, 1967 would be his last day of life.
His hometown held Patrick Gallagher Memorial Day on March 30 of last year in memory of the Navy Cross and Purple Heart recipient.
That town was celebrating Monday as the Schumer press conference was relayed by phone to journalists in Ireland.
Corporal Gallagher, said Schumer, never returned from Vietnam, had never had a chance to become a U.S. citizen after immigrating to Long Island, but he had nevertheless made the ultimate sacrifice.
He was now being exalted and held up as a shining beacon to all, said Schumer who added that he had to “get on board,” the campaign for a USS Gallagher after learning about the petition started in 2013 by two Irishmen, Martin Durkan and Marius Donnelly.
That petition attracted more than 10,000 signatures and the petition was in turn augmented by the Gallagher family’s own efforts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Schumer paid tribute to Navy Secretary Spencer who had met with Gallagher family members during that visit to Long Island.
“He was very gracious and asked many questions,” said the senator of the secretary.
As a result of the secretary’s decision, said Schumer, “We will remember Patrick Gallagher’s name, we will remember his story. Corporal Gallagher’s ship has come in, and just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.”
That ship will be the last Arleigh Burke class destroyer in the navy’s current list of such ships already built, and to be built.
Only one of the ships, DDG 127, was left without an assigned name. It now has one. Patrick Gallagher’s.
“It’s a great day for America, the Navy, the Marine Corps, immigrants and Ireland and I want to thank Secretary Spencer and a family who never gave up,” Schumer said.
Schumer was followed by family members and veterans leaders who spoke of their joy and gratitude. Irish Consul General in New York, Ciaran Madden, noted that one third of all Congressional Medals of Honor awarded to non-American born winners had gone to the Irish and Corporal Gallagher stood tall in that tradition.