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Bath Iron Works is building a ship to honor an Irish immigrant who became a US war hero

U.S. Sen. Susan M. Collins makes the initial cut of steel for the future USS Patrick Gallagher (DDG 127) at Bath Iron Works. The ship is named for Lance Cpl. Patrick Gallagher, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Navy Cross recipient. (U.S. Navy/Released)
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Just more than 50 years after his death in Vietnam, the family of an Irish immigrant who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was awarded the Navy Cross for heroic actions is on “the journey of a lifetime” as they await construction of a destroyer named for “an ordinary Irish man who went on to do extraordinary things.”

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Patrick Gallagher was just 23 when he was killed in action in DaLoc near Da Nang, Vietnam, just one day before his tour of duty was due to end.

In 2013, following an energetic campaign by family, friends — and 10,000 others who signed an online petition — the U.S. Navy announced that the DDG 127 would be named for Gallagher. Construction of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer began in November at Bath Iron Works.

Gallagher was born Feb. 1, 1944, near Ballyhaunis in County Mayo in western Ireland. He immigrated to the United States in 1962. He lived with an aunt on Long Island, New York, and worked and attended law school, Gallagher’s brother said in a 2016 interview on Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Ireland’s National Public Service Broadcaster.

In February 1966, he unexpectedly returned to Ballyhaunis for a visit and told his family, including 3-year-old sister Pauline Gallagher, that he had joined the U.S. Marine Corps.

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Although he had his orders, Gallagher did not tell his family that he would leave for Vietnam just two months later.

“He was coming home … not to tell us, but in his own mind to see us all one more time before he went to Vietnam just in case something happened,” Pauline Gallagher told Raidió Teilifís Éireann.

Gallagher went to Vietnam in April 1966 with the Second Battalion, Fourth Marines — a machine gun team nicknamed “The Magnificent Bastards.”

Navy Cross

On July 18, 1966, Gallagher was with two fellow Marines when Viet Cong soldiers threw a hand grenade into their foxhole, according to the citation for his Navy Cross.

“Lance Corporal Gallagher, awake and displaying keen presence of mind, immediately kicked the grenade out of the position where it exploded at a safe distance,” the citation reads. “Another enemy grenade followed and landed in the position between two of his comrades. Without hesitation, in a valiant act of self-sacrifice, Lance Corporal Gallagher threw himself upon the deadly grenade in order to absorb the explosion and save the lives of his comrades.

“The other three Marines moved to safety while two other grenades landed in the position and exploded, miraculously injuring no one. Lance Corporal Gallagher’s squad leader then ordered him to throw the grenade into the nearby river where it exploded upon hitting the water.”

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Gallagher had kept his Vietnam tour a secret from his family back in Ireland, routing his letters home through the United States. But at the end of January 1967, his family received a letter telling them that for nine months, Gallagher had been in Vietnam.

“I hope you won’t be too mad at me with the news I’ve got to tell you,” Pauline Gallagher read from that letter in the Raidió Teilifís Éireann interview. “When I was home last year I had my orders for Vietnam … I have been in Vietnam since April ‘66. I will be leaving here in about 60 days. Now don’t get worried, everything is going just fine here. I am enjoying it very much. I had planned not to tell you until I got back to the US.”

On March 1, 1967, the official Marine Corps publication “Sea Tiger,” reported that Gen. William Westmoreland had presented Gallagher with the Navy Cross, noting that Gallagher’s “combination of raw courage and ‘luck of the Irish’ was too much for the odds-makers as not only was no one killed — there were no injuries resulting from the Viet Cong grenade attack.”

Gallagher was killed in the line of duty shortly afterward.

Groundswell

In the late 1990s, Martin Durkan, who grew up in the same small village as Gallagher and knew of his story, visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., with his mother, who wanted to find Gallagher’s name.

“That’s where my interest really started,” Durkan said. Then in 2013, while visiting a friend and Irish pub keeper in Dallas, the group of friends decided, “This is the kind of person they should name a ship after,” Durkan said.

Durkan launched an online petition that quickly gained 10,000 signatures. When Sen. Chuck Schumer added his name to a “powerful and growing chorus of supporters from Ballyhaunis to Brooklyn” seeking the honor for Gallagher, Schumer wrote, “The courage and bravery of our fallen soldiers, including those immigrants who have made the ultimate sacrifice even before they have received citizenship, is the American dream manifest.

“Corporal Gallagher’s breathtaking bravery and courage deserves to be memorialized and naming a Navy ship after the Corporal Gallagher would be the perfect tribute to recognize this Irish-American hero on behalf of a people who have contributed so mightily to the greatness of our nation,” Schumer continued. “It would also duly recognize the deep love so many immigrants from every corner of the world have for America, and serve as an appropriate memorial for the countless newcomers to this nation who love America so much they are willing to serve this nation in our Armed Forces – and even to die for it.”

On March 30, 2017, a remembrance day commemorating the 50th anniversary of Gallagher’s death was held in Ballyhaunis.

Pauline and her remaining siblings, along with other members of the community, hope to visit Bath to attend the keel-laying ceremony of the future USS Patrick Gallagher, which Durkan said is tentatively scheduled for February 2021, and the launch, by December 2021.

Pauline Gallagher said the future USS Patrick Gallagher honors not only her brother, but also all those who served and died in service to the United States and other countries they adopted.

“Ireland has a proud and noble history,” she said. “When they immigrated to other countries, regardless of where they went — the U.S., Britain, Spain — the Irish were not found wanting when other countries needed support. They stepped forward to adopt allegiance to the country that they then called home.”

Pauline and her two surviving sisters are the official sponsors of the ship, and she said that family members, friends and others in the community of Ballyhaunis hope to attend.

“This is one of our own who has received this honor, and we will most definitely not forget him,” she said.

She encouraged “the people of Maine” and, in particular, of Bath, to join her in celebrating the ship.

“We’re delighted to hear that ‘Bath built is best built,’” she said. “We are dearly looking forward to going to see the progress of the ship. We’re on a breathtaking journey.”

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© 2019 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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