The Navy’s next destroyer warship will be named after Lance Cpl. Patrick Gallagher, an Irish immigrant from Lynbrook, who volunteered to serve in the Marines during the Vietnam War, was awarded the Navy’s highest medal after risking his life to save his comrades, and later was killed in a firefight in 1967 just days before he was to have returned home.
Sen. Chuck Schumer announced the prestigious honor Monday at a news conference overlooking the USS Intrepid, on Manhattan’s West Side.
“He was not a citizen, but like so many, he made the ultimate sacrifice,” Schumer said. “This kind of dedication had to be honored.”
Schumer (D-N.Y.) was joined by several of Gallagher’s relatives, including Patrick Walsh, 46, of Massapequa, who was named after Gallagher. Several individuals who grew up in the same 3,000-resident Irish village where Gallagher is still revered also attended.
Walsh, whose mother Margaret, Gallagher’s sister, died in 2015, said she would have been proud.
“He was very close to my mom, and my mom took his death very hard,” said Walsh, a retired New York City firefighter who lives in Massapequa. “We’re so proud his legacy will be carried forward.”
Gallagher, a native of Ballyhaunis, County Mayo who immigrated in 1962, is credited with saving the lives of two fellow Marines four years later, when their foxhole was attacked just south of the Demilitarized Zone.
Assaulted by bomb-throwing Viet Cong, Gallagher is credited with having kicked one grenade away, where it exploded harmlessly, according to a Marine Corps account. When another grenade landed between two of his fellow Marines, Gallagher scooped it to his chest before tossing it into a nearby river, where it exploded without injuring anyone.
A photo shows that Gallagher, of “H” Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, was pinned with the Navy Cross in 1967 by U.S. Vietnam commander Gen. William Westmoreland. His medal citation credited him with “valor in the face of almost certain death.”
But within a month of his face-to-face meeting with Westmoreland, Gallagher was dead. He perished on March 30, 1967, during another enemy attack near Da Nang. His Vietnam tour of duty was scheduled to end only days later. He was 23.
“If you think about it, he gave his life twice in Vietnam,” said Patrick Nealon, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2307, in Lynbrook, who was among about two dozen people in attendance.
Several attendees said Gallagher, who the Navy says is one of only 30 known Irish citizens to have died in the Vietnam conflict, remains a revered figure in the farming village where he grew up. Last year, Ballyhaunis’ residents held a parade to mark the 50th anniversary of his death.
George Delaney, of Bayonne, New Jersey, whose parents owned a Ballyhaunis pub where the Gallaghers would stop in for pints, said he was 2 years old when Gallagher was killed.
“His was a well-known story in our town,” said Delaney, who said he came to America in 1990 to escape a bad Irish economy. “His grave was a place everyone visited.”
Soon, one of the Navy’s most technologically advanced warships — an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer — will carry Gallagher’s story across the world’s oceans.
The USS Gallagher, which will be designated DDG-127, will be 509 feet long and capable of operating at speeds in excess of 30 knots, according to a release from Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. It will be built at Bath Iron Works, in Bath, Maine.
“His exemplary service in defense of our nation and his strength and sacrifice leaves an example for all servicemen and women to emulate,” Spencer said. “His legacy will live on in the future USS Gallagher and his heroic actions will continue to inspire future Sailors and Marines.”
With William Murphy