The story of Patrick Gallagher is something that is truly heroic and is more likely to be seen on a silver screen, rather than coming from a west of Ireland town.
In 1965 Patrick Gallagher, then aged 17, left Derrintogher, Ballyhaunis, to travel to the United States. Like many others from around the area he wanted to advance himself and to seek out new opportunities. On arrival in the United States he wished to study law and also expressed an interest in politics. As most Irish, he leaned towards the Democratic party and within a short time found himself working on the senate campaign of Robert Kennedy. Throughout this time he was immersing himself in American culture, but was keeping close contact with his siblings and his mother.
He enlisted in the US army and this was not known initially to the family, but fulfilled his desire for new challenges. This all occurred at the tender age of 17 years. At the time the United States was engaged in the theatre of war in Vietnam. This was a difficult war for the United States battling the communist Viet Con.
Patrick Gallagher quickly found himself on a plane to Vietnam where he held the position of a corporal. To those who survived him his bravery was always identified as a hallmark. On his first tour of duty he obtained the Navy Cross, this was presented to him by General Westgate who at the time was the officer in charge of the combat for the United States army.
He returned home to the US as unassuming as he had left and very few people around Ballyhaunis were aware of his heroic achievements. At the age of 19 and unknown to his family he returned to Vietnam for a second tour. The tour was concluding when on March 30 1967 his platoon came under a hand grenade attack. He managed to fend off the first barrage of ammunitions. He was mortally wounded when he consciously fell on a hand grenade, in the process saving other members of his platoon.
His death came as a shock to his family, some of whom were in England at the time and only learned of the news through the newspapers. He was flown home to Ballyhaunis where he was afforded full military honours for his funeral. March 30 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Patrick Gallagher. In conjunction with his family members the town of Ballyhaunis is honouring the achievements of Patrick Gallagher and celebrating the short, but heroic, life that he lived.
Members of the United States armed forces will be travelling to Ballyhaunis next March and a full series of events will be organised around the commemoration.