Posted on Tue, Dec. 25, 2007
Contest win unites Marine family for holiday
The Wichita Eagle

Rhonda Gallagher was upstairs in her west Wichita home Thursday when she heard a knock on the door and some unexpected commotion.

"Mom, get down here," voices yelled.

At the bottom of the stairway stood a sight she hadn't seen in six years: all four of her sons and their families.

"I remember seeing them all and wondering if it they were really here," Rhonda Gallagher said.

John and Rhonda Gallagher's four sons are U.S. Marines. Three of them recently have been, or soon will be, deployed to Iraq.

Three of them planned on making it home for Christmas.

But the second-oldest, Staff Sgt. Tim Gallagher, had been saving to take his wife and three children to a sister-in-law's wedding in April. A 28-year-old drill sergeant at the training center for recruits in San Diego, Tim told the family he couldn't save for the wedding and Christmas trips.

Cpl. Joe Gallagher, serving with his younger brother, Patrick, at nearby Camp Pendleton, entered a contest sponsored by a local radio station requesting special Christmas wishes.

Joe, 23, had just returned from his second tour of duty and had spent as much time in Iraq as he'd been a Marine. Patrick Gallagher, 20, deploys to Iraq next month.

Joey, as his brothers call him, is known for being the quiet one. So it surprised everyone that he took the initiative to write to KIOZ, a San Diego rock radio station, about how he wished all of his brothers could be in Wichita for Christmas with their parents and sister.

"After we beat him up all those years, he still decided he wanted to be with us for Christmas," said the oldest brother, Capt. John Gallagher IV, 30, who came to Wichita from , Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he is stationed.

The radio station gave Tim $1,000 to drive to Wichita with his family.

Joe and Patrick kept the secret from the rest of the family.

"When we answered the door, there was quiet for several moments," said John IV. "We just couldn't believe he was standing in the doorway."

The family hadn't been together at Christmas for six years. The oldest of John and Rhonda Gallagher's five grandchildren is 5. The youngest turns a year old on New Year's Eve.

"This is the first time we've had grandchildren at Christmastime," Rhonda said.

It may be fitting that Tim was the last to arrive -- and the Christmas surprise -- since he was the first to enter the Marines.

The sons' father, John Gallagher III, worked 32 years as an engineer for the Kansas Department of Transportation before retiring. He'd never served in the military.

But when the others saw Tim graduate from the San Diego training center, they ended up Marines, too.

John went to officers training school after graduating from the University of Kansas. Joe is in his second year as a corporal.

"I'm very, very proud of them," Rhonda Gallagher said.

Will 15-year-old Mary be the next Marine?

"Not if we can help it," John IV said.

Of course, they tried to talk Patrick out of enlisting, too.

Patrick just got promoted to corporal.
Reach Ron Sylvester at 316-268-6514 or