WWII Veteran Dick Gallagher will never forget WWII Memorial visitPosted June 11, 2012 at 10:18 AM, Filed Under: Community News, Front Page, Village Mill
By Wendy Parker
“It was a wonderful, wonderful trip, one I will never forget,” says Gleneagles resident Dick Gallagher of his visit last month to Washington, D.C. At age 83, Gallagher was the youngest of 41 fellow World War II veterans, who ventured to the capital to visit the WWII Memorial to honor the 16 million who served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II, and the more than 400,000 who died.
Local veterans were invited by volunteers of the Honor Flight program whose goal is to ensure that all WWII veterans receive an all-expense paid trip to the memorial. In this case, because of the proximity to D.C., the veterans travelled non-stop from Mechanicsville, Va. by bus instead of by plane, and they received an escort the entire route by local, state and National Park police.
As they disembarked from the buses at the memorial, the veterans were greeted by an honor guard along with throngs of applauding people, including Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and their parents.
“The thing that got me the most besides the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” says Gallagher, “is when they change the guard and blow taps, it’s silent, it’s awesome—that was the most stirring.”
Gallagher says that the veterans he travelled with were special—one had participated in the D-Day invasion—and those who greeted them “appreciated everything the veterans had done, they honored them perfectly.” On the trip, each veteran was accompanied by a companion. “That was a special honor to have my grandson Will Heatley as my ‘perfect guardian.’” Will is 17 years old, the exact age that his grandfather was when in 1946 the day after he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Infantry at Ft. Dix, N.J.
Following basic training at Ft. McClellan, Ala. and simulation training at Camp Stoneman, Calif., PFC Gallagher headed overseas, where he served at the 1190th Engineer Base Depot in
Yokohama, Japan. According to Gallagher, his base provided “anything that was needed in the way of construction” for Japan after the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasakii. The troops at the thousand-acre base provided support for the 1st Calvary, 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions and the 11th Airborne. And, he says, “We were the front-runners for the Korean conflict.” During the 13 months of his duty in Japan following the Japanese surrender, Gallagher and his fellow troops were not permitted to fraternize with the Japanese, eat in their restaurants, date, or attend theatre. However, they were permitted to play baseball, and being a talented catcher in high school and in basic training, Gallagher was recruited to catch for the 8th Army Baseball Team, whose purpose was to provide entertainment for U.S. troops. The 8th Army Baseball Team played 24th and 25th Infantry Division teams and flew in Major General Eichelberger’s C46 to play against the 11th Airborne Division team stationed in Korea.
Following his 18-month enlistment, Gallagher returned home and played pro baseball with the New York Giants farm team in Souix City, Iowa. In 1951, he was in the back seat of a vehicle when it struck a telephone pole. He sustained a broken nose, collarbone and his right wrist, and Gallagher says, “I voluntarily retired from baseball.” The next year, he reconnected with a childhood friend, Margie Kreger, “the prettiest girl I’d ever seen.” They married in 1952.
Gallagher worked full-time in New Jersey, and on the GI bill, attended St. Peter’s College in New Jersey, commuting two hours both ways. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in economics and a minor in psychology. Eventually, he launched a longtime career in the paper industry and moved to Virginia in the 1980s and to Brandermill in 1999. In 1983, he was the first bseball player inducted into the St. Peters College Athletic Hall of Fame.
The Gallaghers raised three children: Patricia Heatley of Richmond; Richard, Jr, of Boston; and John of Montpelier, and they have four grandchildren. The couple will celebrate their 60th anniversary in October.
Editor’s note: The entire community is invited to come out for the Fourth of July parade and festivities, especially to honor Brandermill veterans and active duty service men and women. Gallagher plans to participate in the parade and ceremony in Sunday Park. It will be a special way to say thank you to “Our Own Super Heroes.” Military personnel, present and past, are encouraged to call Jennifer Strader at 744-1035x104.