Falmouth Pays Tribute To Matthew Gallagher
By: Brent Runyon
Hundreds of people joined a candlelight vigil on Old Silver Beach Wednesday night for Army Corporal Matthew Ryan Gallagher, who was killed on Sunday while on his second tour of duty in Iraq.
Under a giant American flag suspended from the Falmouth Fire Department’s ladder truck, family, friends, and supporters gathered on the beach as waves crashed at their feet and the sun set over Buzzards Bay. Throughout the hourlong event, many in the crowd broke down in tears and could be heard sobbing over the breaking waves.
United States Army Corporal Curtis W. Frye addressed the crowd with the assistance of a public address system. “I didn’t know Matthew, but he was my brother,” he said.
Falmouth Military Support Group organized the event, and collected money to purchase benches in Matthew’s memory. “Our biggest fear has always been to have to support a family whose loved one gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said Carole L. Kenney of the support group.
The most emotional moments of the evening came when Matthew’s mother, Cheryl A. Ruggiero of Quaker Road, addressed the crowd.
“I lost a son. I lost my baby,” she said, her voice quiet and thin, overwhelmed with emotion, as she looked down on hundreds of people on the beach below. As she began to break down, her family, Matthew’s wife, Kathryn C. (Hall) Gallagher and her family, came to either side of her and stood shoulder to shoulder.
“A mother is not supposed to outlive her children,” Ms. Ruggiero said. “That is the hardest thing.” She thanked everyone for supporting her family during such a difficult time.
Ms. Ruggiero, Ms. Gallagher, and his stepsister, Mia Ruggiero, 14, all wore matching shirts with the American flag printed on them.
Old Silver Beach was just a short walk from his home on Quaker Road. It was a special place to Matthew, his stepfather, James M. Ruggiero, said in an interview.
His father-in-law, J. Buckner Hall of Winslow Road, North Falmouth, said at the vigil that his daughter and Matthew met six years ago. “These two had such a love affair,” he said. “Our hearts are so heavy. We can’t get our heads around what happened.”
Like many fathers, he said, he did not initially get along well with his daughter’s boyfriend, but over the years they grew closer. Matthew changed after he enlisted in the Army, Mr. Hall said. “He did a ton of growing up. He found himself in the Army,” he said. “He loved it.”
This past winter, Matthew went with the Hall family to a reunion in the Adirondacks. “He just thrived in the family atmosphere,” Mr. Hall said. Matthew went snowboarding, loved being with the family and could not wait to go back.
Mr. Hall said he spoke to Matthew occasionally in Iraq, when his daughter had him on the phone.
Matthew’s father, Peter Gallagher of Weymouth, and brother, Daniel Gallagher, 21, stood alongside the representatives from the Army on the stone wall during the vigil. Mr. Gallagher did not speak publicly.
Matthew’s sister-in-law, Abbey E. Hall, said Matthew was a warm and loving person. “He loved my sister more than words,” she said. “He had all these plans, and to have them all taken away, it’s unbelievable.”
She said she spoke to Matthew on Saturday through the Internet and loved him like he was her older brother.
“He’s a friend and a hero. He died a hero. God bless him,” she said.
Chairman of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen Mary (Pat) Flynn said that Matthew did not live for very long, but she understood from talking to his family that he was an extraordinarily giving person.
“In the end, giving was his greatest gift,” she said.
Falmouth Veterans Council member Adrian C.J. Dufresne said he had an enormous amount of sympathy for the family, and that the community would rally around Matthew’s family to support them in the tremendous ordeal that is the loss of life.
Barnstable County Sheriff James M. Cummings said he worked with Matthew’s father as a police officer on the South Shore. “He got his eyes from his beautiful mother,” he said.
Sam Jonsson, assistant to United States Senator Scott Brown, also addressed the crowd. He said the community should embrace the Gallagher and Ruggiero families as their own.
Robert M. Deutschmann of Hatchville played taps to end the vigil.
Ms. Kenney said the Falmouth Military Support Group raised $1,235 at the vigil for the Matthew Ryan Gallagher Memorial Fund. The family would like benches to be placed somewhere in the North Falmouth area in his honor, she said. The beaches would be their first choice, and then the bike path. A third possibility would be benches at the Old Silver Association Beach. Ms. Kenney said she did not know about the price of the benches.
Ms. Kenney said that she is in contact with the family and funeral arrangements have not been finalized. Matthew’s body is scheduled to be flown to Hanscomb Air Force Base in Lexington on Tuesday, and then will be brought to the Cape in a motorcade. There will be a viewing at Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home in West Falmouth. The funeral will be at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in North Falmouth, and then he will be buried at Massachusetts National Cemetery.
Ms. Kenney said the family has requested his body be brought to Massachusetts Military Reservation, but that would likely not happen until Wednesday. If that is the case the services may take place on Thursday.
Matthew would have celebrated his 23rd birthday on Tuesday. He was born in Weymouth on July 5, 1988, and moved to North Falmouth when he was in 9th grade.
He enlisted in the Army in October 2008, and conducted his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He originally joined with the hopes he could parlay his military service, following in the footsteps of his mother who was an Army combat medic in the mid-1970s, into a career as a police officer, following in the footsteps of his father, Peter Gallagher of Weymouth.
He was serving in the 6th Squadron of the 9th Cavalry Regiment of the Third Brigade Combat Team of the First Cavalry Division based out of Fort Hood, Texas. Mr. Gallagher shipped out with his unit for his second tour of duty, which was based in the Wasit province of Iraq, in January.
The United States Department of Defense announced Wednesday that Cpl. Gallagher died Sunday of injuries suffered from a non-combat related incident, supporting Operation New Dawn. The circumstances surrounding the incident are under investigation.
Mr. Ruggiero said on Monday that Matthew was doing a sweep through a building and shots were fired. Another soldier called a medic, but Matthew was dead by the time he got to the hospital.
He is the second soldier with Falmouth ties to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. In 2007, Army Sergeant Zachary D. Tellier was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan. Mr. Tellier was the son of Pamela D. Morse of Falmouth.