View Full Version : Marine recalled as quiet, loving, full of life

04-28-04, 06:57 AM
Marine recalled as quiet, loving, full of life

By: TANYA RODRIGUES - Staff Writer

ESCONDIDO ---- A loving, joking, protective big brother. A quiet but inquisitive student. An athlete whose determination impressed those around him, and a young man who struggled with finding his path until a friend's decision made it clear.

Someone who made the most of every moment.

Different sides of Marine Capt. Richard J. Gannon II, who was killed April 18 in Iraq, were illustrated Tuesday through interviews with some of his family, friends and teachers.

The 31-year-old father of four will be buried Friday at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, following a 10 a.m. funeral at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Escondido. A viewing will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Greenwood Memorial Park and Mortuary in San Diego.

Gannon and four of his men were killed while helping a wounded Marine, according to an obituary released by the Marine Corps. Gannon had taken part in last year's capture of Baghdad and returned to Iraq in February, his fourth deployment overall.

He had been serving with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force out of Twentynine Palms. The unit is patrolling the dangerous Al Anbar region west of Iraq.

Compared to the usual military leadership image of huge, boisterous behavior ---- guys who could squash melons between their biceps ---- Gannon was a wiry man who won respect with remarkable grit and fortitude, said Air Force Capt. Greg Wood, a good friend of Gannon's since high school.

"He's such a quiet example to everyone else about being humble and about hard work and how things pay off for you as far as doing what you love," Wood said. "I'm sure he must have just inspired amazing commitment in the people in his company."

Nothing halfway

Wood also recalled Gannon's passionate approach to life. "He was just one of those guys that is 100 percent in everything he does," Wood said. "Nothing's halfway."

He was devoted to his wife, Sally Gannon, and their four children, Richard III, 12; Patrick, 6; Connor, 5; and Maria, 2. As his oldest son matured, Gannon looked forward to relating to him and his other children on more adult levels, Wood said.

He recalled that Gannon met his wife, then Sally Wilkins, near the end of his junior year at Escondido High School. One of the couple's first dates was to her senior prom at San Pasqual High.

The couple married at a Camp Pendleton chapel Jan. 14, 1995, a week after Gannon's commission as a second lieutenant.

Many interests

Gannon, who was born in Allentown, Penn., May 30, 1972, and moved with his family to Escondido at age 4, was "a really fun child to raise," recalled his mother, Tess Gannon.

His passions included hiking, national parks, sports and stamp collecting, the latter of which he did from a young age, said Tess Gannon, who once stitched an emblem that 10-year-old Rick designed for a stamp-collecting club he began.

Gannon was a strong student from the start, his mother said Tuesday. Through elementary and middle school in Valley Center, his studies at Escondido High and eventually Cornell University, Gannon had a natural talent for learning and a work ethic that backed it up, said his mother.

Independent thinker

Among the top 3 percent when he graduated from Escondido High in 1991, Gannon stood out, said Brady Clay, who taught history there and coached Gannon in cross country. Gannon also ran track and played soccer for the school.

"He was his own person as a kid, which doesn't happen a lot," Clay said. "Most kids are conformist, but Rick was an individual."

Gannon's Escondido High yearbooks show him smiling and sometimes mugging for the camera in numerous group pictures for the campus's academic organizations. Gannon was a member of the California Scholastic Federation, National Honor Society, and Academic Decathlon team, among other groups.

He was the school's sole representative at Boys State, a simulated leadership-government activity, and was also selected for another leadership activity through a local Rotary Club, his mother said.

Tess Gannon said Rick wanted to play football but agreed not to because she was worried he would be hurt.

She said her son was loving and obedient, but stopped short of being a goody-two-shoes ---- bewildering her on occasion with his love of heavy metal music, his pierced ear, and other streaks of rebellion and independence.

Staci Kail, one of Gannon's two sisters, said Tuesday that her brother relished his slot as the oldest.

She described Gannon as competitive enough to have the cleanest room among the siblings ---- she compared his closet to "a department store rack" ---- and remembered how he would playfully jump over the car seat or stick his foot out to be the first to enter a new state during cross-country driving trips, Kail said.

Yet when they were both attending Cornell, he cared for her tenderly when she was sick. He picked up medicine, brought food, and called their mother to make sure he had covered all the bases, Kail said.

Sister recalls help

When she first got to Escondido High and Cornell, Gannon introduced his sister to his friends, advised her on what classes to take and what to avoid, and took her to dances when his future wife was living in California.

"He was so good to me," Kail recalled.

Gannon had attended Cornell University on a $26,000-a-year Naval Reserve Officer Training Commission scholarship and graduated with a double major in 3 1/2 years.

Although Gannon's father, Richard Gannon Sr., never asked his son to join the Marines, he inspired the decision, Wood said.

In high school the two friends would discuss their futures. Gannon would talk about his father's tour in Vietnam, and how his father was awarded a bronze star, Wood said.

"I think he was probably impressed with what his father had done for the country in a difficult time," Wood said.

The choice of a military career also answered Gannon's yearning for service, said Monsignor Roger Lechner, who founded St. Stephen Catholic Church in Valley Center and was close to Gannon for several years.

Lechner, now the pastor at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in San Diego, said the young man had spoken to him often about struggling to define his future.

"When he looked at you, his blue-gray eyes were intense," Lechner recalled. "Even when he was young, he knew what he was doing ... he knew he would be doing something important."

Wisdom beyond years

Gannon had been active at St. Stephen, as an altar server and a mentor for other youths.

"His leadership ability was such that he could discern a person's problem, help them overcome it and make them happier," Lechner said. "He had wisdom beyond his age."

It suited Gannon's future career, Lechner said.

"I think that is why he got ahead in the Marine Corps," he said. "They recognized his leadership ability, too."

Gannon also led in ways other than even he might have understood.

A classmate and high school friend, Jerid Meek recalled when Gannon narrowly escaped with his life in a car accident at age 17. Gannon had been driving his new Mustang convertible on the narrow roads leading to his home in a rainstorm, when his car skidded off the road and flipped.

After the accident, Meek and some friends visited Gannon. Meek said he was prepared for a somber visit, but Gannon was upbeat.

"I think it gave him a new appreciation for life," said Meek, now a teacher at Escondido High. "It gave all of us a new appreciation for life. I think I learned a lot from his experience, too."

Tess Gannon said her family has reflected on that accident in recent weeks, and recalled her son's reaction.

"He said God spared him for a reason," she said. "He felt it, he knew it ... he knew there was a reason he was around."

Funeral information


5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Greenwood Memorial Park and Mortuary

4300 Imperial Ave., San Diego


10 a.m. Friday, St. Mary's Catholic Church

130 E. 13th Ave., Escondido. Burial at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery


The city will fly flags at half staff Friday.

Escondido police, fire and city officials will attend the funeral to help with crowd control and to pay homage to the fallen soldier and to his mother, Tess Gannon, a city employee.

Mayor Lori Pfeiler and other city leaders will attend the funeral.

"The most important thing we can do is stand by our service people when they are giving the ultimate sacrifice," City Councilwoman Marie Waldron said.



Rest In Peace