Sen. Chuck Schumer has written the Pentagon in support of a push to name a warship after an Irish immigrant who settled on Long Island, earned the Navy’s highest medal for valor during the Vietnam War, and perished in 1967 on what was to have been among his last days in combat in Southeast Asia.
The immigrant, Marine Cpl. Patrick Gallagher, was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during a 1966 enemy grenade attack that nearly killed three of his comrades in a foxhole near Cam Lo, in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
Gallagher, who was an ammunition carrier for his machine gun team, kicked away one grenade, then cradled another to his belly before flinging it into a nearby river. His Navy Cross citation lauded Gallagher for displaying “valor in the face of almost certain death.”
A March 1, 1967 photo in the Marine Corps newspaper “Sea Tiger” showed Gallagher — of H Company, Second Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division — being pinned with the Navy Cross by the U.S. Vietnam commander Gen. William Westmoreland.
But within a month, Gallagher was dead. Only 23, and just days from going home, he was killed in another enemy attack. He had never gained his U.S. citizenship.
In a Sept. 13 letter to Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, Schumer, the New York Democrat and minority leader, asked that the service’s next destroyer be named for Gallagher, noting that his sacrifice demonstrates the devotion to America displayed by noncitizen immigrants who have died in combat while in the U.S. armed forces.
“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,” Schumer said in a statement.
The push to honor Gallagher comes as the Trump Administration has sent conflicting signals regarding how noncitizen recruits will be treated by the U.S. military. This week, The Washington Post reported that U.S. Army recruiters abruptly canceled enlistment contracts for hundreds of foreign-born military recruits this month, potentially exposing some immigrant volunteers to deportation.
Gallagher, the second eldest of nine children, came to America in 1962 from Ballyhaunis, a farming village in County Mayo. He followed his eldest sister, who had come in 1959 to live with an aunt in Lynbrook.
Gallagher worked in a real estate office in Commack, and canvassed for the senatorial campaign of Robert Kennedy, before enlisting in 1966.
Schumer said that honoring Gallagher would “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.”
The effort to get a warship named after Gallagher dates to 2013, when a pair of Irish immigrants living in Dallas learned of his story, and began a petition drive. That petition now has more than 10,000 signatures.
Support expanded across the Atlantic to Ireland. Two years ago, the Dublin Airport commemorated Gallagher’s exploits in a series of billboards displayed in its departures area for flights to the United States. His home village in Ireland commemorated the 50th anniversary of his death earlier this year.
The effort gained momentum locally this year, when the VFW Post in Lynbrook made Gallagher its honorary grand marshal for the village Memorial Day parade. The post’s commander, Patrick Nealon persuaded Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice to write to Secretary Spencer earlier this summer.
“It would be a huge honor, not just for his family, but for all immigrants who have come to the United States and fought for this country,” said Colleen Walsh-Irwin, of East Northport, a niece who is one of four relatives of Gallagher still living on Long Island.
The Secretary of the Navy has the power to name navy ships, and usually does so under a convention that names submarines after states, carriers after presidents and destroyers after Navy and Marine Corps heroes.
In 2008, then-Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter named an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer after Patchogue’s Lt. Michael P. Murphy, who was awarded the Medal of Honor after he perished in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2005.
Spencer spokesman Capt. Patrick McNally said the Navy secretary would consider the request during future naming opportunities.
“Secretary Spencer greatly appreciates ship naming recommendations,” McNally said, “and Corporal Gallagher’s heroic service to the country is certainly worthy of consideration at the next opportunity to name a Navy destroyer.”