Memorial Day is supposed to be when Americans from all walks of life commemorate the courageous men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the United States military. Among those who deserve recognition are the Irish Americans, whose contributions and sacrifices have left an indelible mark on our nation’s history. From the battlefields of the Civil War to the conflicts of the present day, Irish Americans have displayed unwavering commitment and valor in defending American ideals.
Throughout our nation’s history, Irish Americans have played a significant role in the U.S. military, serving with distinction and valor in various conflicts. The legendary Fighting 69th Regiment and the Irish Brigade, composed of Irish immigrants and Irish Americans, won acclaim and admiration from friend and foe alike for their courage. At the battle of Antietam, eight men were shot down as one after another picked up the American flag when the previous color-bearer fell; this at a time when it was claimed that Irish Catholics could not be loyal Americans. The 69th went om to fight in World War I, World War II, Korea, and the ongoing Global War on Terror. Today, the staff of the 69th‘s regimental colors are authorized to be one foot longer than regulation to accommodate all the campaign ribbons that the regiment has participated in.
Among the countless Irish Americans who have made profound sacrifices is Corporal Patrick Gallagher. Gallagher was a recently arrived immigrant from Mayo, Ireland when he was drafted for the Vietnam War. Despite his sister’s pleas to simply return home to Ireland, Gallagher joined the United States Marines. On the night of 18 July 1966, while serving in a forward position at Cam Lo with three other Marines, their position came under grenade attack. A grenade fell between Gallagher and two of his comrades. Without hesitation, Gallagher threw himself on the grenade, expecting to personally absorb the full brunt of the explosion and save his comrades. However, Gallagher’s decision to sacrifice himself for his comrades was so quick that he pinned the arming lever,’ the spoon,’ preventing the grenade from going off. He lay on the grenade under enemy fire until all his fellow marines reached safety; he successfully rolled off and tossed it whereupon it exploded. For his “extraordinary heroism and inspiring valor,” Gallagher was awarded the Navy Cross. Gallagher would later be killed in action just before he was scheduled to return home.
Gallagher’s name is inscribed on the Viet Nam War Memorial, ‘The Wall’, along with 21 other Irish immigrants, including Army Lieutenant Pamela Donovan.
Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, a Navy SEAL, exemplified the true meaning of sacrifice during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Despite sustaining severe injuries and knowing it would mean his death, Murphy courageously exposed himself to enemy fire to make a call for assistance, sacrificing his life to save his teammates. He posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
This Memorial Day, let us not forget the tremendous sacrifices made by Americans in service to our nation. As Irish Americans, let us specifically remember the thousands of Irish Americans who came here for a new life, but now, as the Columnist Walter Winchell observed, “where their green on their graves in service to America” and are buried on foreign shores, maybe before they had a chance to establish themselves here and are perhaps forgotten. Let us make it a duty to remember them.
Note: the service and sacrifice of both Lt. Michael P, Murphy, and Cpl. Gallagher has been recognized in the naming of two Navy Destroyers for them.