Montana lost a strong voice for Veterans with the death of Dan Gallagher in Missoula on Monday.
Gallagher grew up on a family farm outside Charlo, Montana the youngest of thirteen children born to Irish immigrants. His father fought for Sinn Fein in Ireland before fleeing to the U.S., and eventually served in World War II. Every male member of his family served in either World War II or the Korean War.
Here’s a clip of Gallagher talking to students at Missoula’s Big Sky High school in 2011:
"I grew up in the '60s, and John Kennedy was a great influence on my life, and believing in service to country was something that I grew up with. So when the time came and Vietnam was happening, I volunteered for service, it was part of my culture."
As a soldier, Gallagher was a Combat Engineer, detonating fortifications and bridges and dismantling booby traps and mines, sometimes probing open fields with the tip of his bayonet.
"And I was proud to have served, but when you go to combat, you go to war, it is such an incredibly different experience than anything you might have had in life ... I was 19 years old. And when you see what happens in war, it changes you. When you see your friends dying, when you see the damage, the destruction, when you see little kids who are starving, when you see all that sort of thing, it changes you forever," Gallagher said.
Dan Gallagher came home from Vietnam in 1969 to a different America. He was conflicted and tortured by what he’d witnessed there and was haunted by the protesters here at home. He floundered for years after his service, working odd jobs and suffering from anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks. He eventually entered the University of Montana, earning a degree in History and Political Science in 1980, and a law degree in 1994, becoming a lawyer and a teacher here in Missoula.
Gallagher had a lifelong commitment to helping other veterans. Later in life, he made friends with Betsy Mulligan-Dague, director of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center in Missoula.
"He had his own demons from the war, and (it) troubled him for many years, and if he had only stopped there, he would just be another Vietnam veteran, but he took his pain and what his lessons were and he turned that out to see where he could help other people," says Mulligan-Dague
Gallagher mentored struggling vets and became a leading member of Missoula’s American Legion Post 101.
He also reached out to people with opposing views, like Betsy Muligan-Dague, working to find the common ground between veterans and peace activists. He famously invited Mulligan-Dague to speak at Veterans Day ceremonies in 2011. She called that a historic moment, and in 2012 the Peace Center gave Gallagher their Peacemaker award. Their new relationship between vets and peace activists became the subject of an award-winning documentary called Beyond The Divide in 2014.
Mulligan-Dague became close friends with Gallagher, and remembers her friend for his unwavering commitment to finding the common threads between us:
"He never let go of seeing other people’s humanity and what their needs were, and finding ways to connect with them with compassion," says Mulligan-Dague.
Dan Gallagher’s son Brian said that he hopes his father is remembered for the kindness and caring he showed, and that he truly did make the world a better place, not just for veterans, but for everyone.
Dan Gallagher died of heart failure Monday at age 69. He’s survived by five children and nine grandchildren. Services will be held at Christ The King Church next week in Missoula.
Our audio clips of Dan Gallagher came from the website for the 2014 documentary film called "Beyond the Divide."