The actions of a Long Island immigrant killed during the Vietnam War could be the kind of heroic story that justifies having a Navy ship named after him, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer told relatives of the slain Marine Friday in Massapequa.
Spencer, on Long Island to visit the site of a former Grumman plant in Bethpage, was referring to Cpl. Patrick Gallagher, who was killed in action in 1967, soon after being awarded the Navy’s highest honor for combat valor.
“We have a [ship-naming] process, but his is a story that fills the kind of process that we look at,” he said.
Spencer made his comments before members of Gallagher’s family and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has urged the Navy secretary to name a destroyer after Gallagher.
Gallagher, who immigrated from Ireland in 1962 but never became a U.S. citizen, is credited with saving the lives of three fellow Marines during a 1966 grenade attack just south of the Demilitarized Zone. He was pinned with the Navy Cross in 1967 by U.S. Vietnam commander Gen. William Westmoreland, just weeks before Gallagher was killed in a separate attack.
President Donald Trump has promised to increase the Navy to 350 ships and submarines, up from 274 today. Although such an increase faces stiff budgetary headwinds, Spencer said the Navy’s current shipbuilding schedule already affords new naming opportunities.
“We’re building destroyers continually,” Spencer said.
That was welcome news to Colleen Walsh-Irwin of East Northport, a Gallagher niece.
“If this were to be done, it would be an amazing tribute to my uncle and all of those immigrants who came from Ireland and other countries to fight for our amazing country,” Walsh-Irwin said. “We would be truly honored if this happened.”
In 2008, then-Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter named a destroyer after Lt. Michael P. Murphy of Patchogue, who was awarded the Medal of Honor after he died in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2005.
Gallagher was credited with using his body to shield other Marines from a grenade that had landed in their foxhole, then flinging it into a nearby river before it could explode.
“In my view, he would have gotten the Medal of Honor,” Schumer said of the young Marine. “But he was not an American citizen; he was an immigrant from Ireland.”
Schumer said naming a destroyer after Gallagher, who came to the United States when he was 18 and enlisted as the Vietnam War was intensifying, would “show respect for the fact that immigrants have fought in our armed forces . . . and given their lives for this great country that they loved so much.”