Patrick Gallagher was born in Derrintogher, County Mayo Ireland on February 2, 1944. At the age of eighteen, as so many you Irish men and women before him, Patrick immigrated to the United States and the promise of a new life filled with opportunity. He quickly started on the immigrant dream: studying law while working in real estate; even getting involved in local politics as a campaign worker for Senator Robert Kennedy. In 1966, Patrick was drafted for service in Viet Nam. Despite pleas from a heart sick sister living in the states to avoid the horrors of war by simply returning to Ireland, Patrick was committed to his new home in America and instead swore her and other American relatives to secrecy to avoid worrying his family in Ireland. Patrick returned to his native land to visit his family where he told no one that upon his return he would be joining the United States Marines.
Patrick shipped out to Viet Nam as a member of Hotel Company, 2/4 Marines, 3rd Division. On the night of 18 July 1966, while serving in a forward position at Cam Lo with three other Marines who were sleeping, their position came under grenade attack by enemy forces. The first grenade Patrick was able to kick out of their position where it exploded only to be followed by a second grenade that fell between two of his comrades. Without hesitation and in an unselfish act of valor, Lance Corporal Gallagher threw himself on the grenade to personally absorb the full brunt of the explosion and save his comrades. Pinned under Gallagher’s body, the grenade failed to go off. Lance Corporal Gallagher continued to lie on the grenade as his three comrades escaped the position despite the fact that two more enemy grenades were thrown into the position to explode around him. His comrades now in a position of safety and still miraculously unhurt, Gallagher then rolled off the grenade at his squad leaders order and threw the grenade into the nearby river where it immediately exploded upon hitting the water.
For his “extraordinary heroism and inspiring valor” Gallagher was awarded the Navy Cross. It is said that Gallagher was informed at that time that the only reason he had not been awarded our nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor, was only that “the grenade had not exploded and killed him, if it had, he would certainly have been a shoe in.” This account has been verified in by Gallagher’s former Executive Officer who has stated that over his protests the Medal of Honor citation he had written up was downgraded to a Navy Cross before being submitted to higher authority by his battalion. Again the reason given for not recommending Lance Corporal Gallagher for the Medal of Honor was that Lance Corporal Gallagher’s unselfish act of sacrifice and heroism had not been fatal. There is no requirement, nor has there ever been, that a person must die to receive the Medal of Honor, the Medal is awarded for the act of valor performed, not what happened to the individual performing it. Certainly lying on a live grenade under fire so tbat three fellow Marines could escape
Just two months after receiving the Navy Cross and due shortly to return home, Lance Corporal Gallagher was killed while on patrol.
There is currently a petition drive ongoing to have a Navy Destroyer named after Lance Corporal Gallagher, you may find it here . We also encourage you to write or email our representatives in Congress asking them to introduce legislation directing that the Pentagon review the heroic actions of Lance Corporal Gallagher for consideration for the Medal of Honor.