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'I'm going to get home!' Retired Reservist receives honors, recalls years spent as prisoner of war.

Memories from more than a half century ago were revisited with stark clarity May 10 during an award presentation for retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Francis Galligan at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.

Chief Galligan was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart Medal for his service during World War II--marked by the further distinction of having survived the Bataan Death March and 3 1/2 years as a prisoner of war at a series of Japanese camps.

"It's been too long a time in coming," said Chief Galligan of the awards.

Standing before his family, many old friends, base leaders and distinguished visitors from the community, Chief Galligan said his breath was taken away.

"When I saw the auditorium all filled up, I was amazed," he said of the more than 150 people in attendance. "I was overwhelmed to get the medals today, and I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who showed up."

Chief Galligan worked at Westover for nearly 25 years before retiring from the 439th Operations Support Squadron in 1998. His story of sacrifice and service came to the attention of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, which resulted in the award ceremony taking place.

On May 6, 1942, 21-year-old Francis Galligan was taken prisoner and led down a path of forced labor, mistreatment, malnutrition and perilous marches that would last until Sept. 12, 1945--the day U.S. Army paratroopers liberated the last group of WW II prisoners, including Chief Galligan.

Over the years, veterans fought to be awarded medals, such as the Purple Heart Chief Galligan received, for atrocities and injuries they suffered during imprisonment by the Japanese.

During the award ceremony, Chief Galligan reflected on the struggles he faced with the precision of memory that only comes from never forgetting.

"I still have dreams--nightmares--about what we went through," he told the room of family, friends and military members, including 439th Airlift Wing Vice Commander Col. Patrick Cloutier and distinguished guests from the community.

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Among those guests was Representative Neal, whose office was instrumental in Chief Galligan receiving the award. Representative Neal said family and friends of Chief Galligan had fought a long and steady fight to ensure that he received the honor.

"My role here today is to call to attention his heroism," the congressman said as he and Chief Galligan stood before an array of service flags and the nation's flag. "There isn't any other place that I would rather be than here this morning."

The 89-year-old retired chief stood tall, dressed in the same Air Force uniform he retired in: the stripes on his arm reflective of the old design for the rank of chief master sergeant, with three on the bottom and two on top.

Among the military members standing with Chief Galligan were current chiefs; the only difference between the uniformed men was sewn on their sleeves as today's chief rank has three stripes on the top instead of two.

With the crowd providing thunderous applause, the humble and soft-spoken retired chief embraced the honor as Representative Neal pinned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star on his uniform.

For the moment, Chief Galligan said he felt transported back to 65 years earlier; he recalled the war, the prison camps and marches, and the friends he left behind. And he said his reason for surviving the more than 60-mile trudge with no food, water or adequate rest was simple: "I had a lot of people to get back home to."

The oldest of nine children, Chief Galligan said his life has always been about service to family and country--and that's what got him home.

"You just have to have fortitude; you just have to say: I'm gonna beat these guys--damnit! I'm going to get home!"

(Mr. Bowser is assigned to the 439 Airlift Wing public affairs office at Westover ARB.)
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Author:Bowser, Andre
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Aug 1, 2010
Words:642
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