Goodbye Dan Gallagher, a True Hero and Friend!

Dear friends,Dan Gallagher

On Monday, Missoula, Montana and the world lost a true hero. I honor my friend Dan Gallagher with some of the words I said as he was being given the 2012 Peacemaker award. In 1975, the war in Vietnam officially ended and Dan Gallagher returned home to the family waiting for him in his beloved purple mountain majesty of Charlo. He believed the words of President Kennedy and looked for what he could do to serve his country. Going to Vietnam was the first answer. However, he returned to face anti-war protesters who called him and his fellow veterans names and flashed angry signs full of hate at them. The hate on the faces of the protesters confused Dan, who believed that if anyone wanted peace, it must surely be the veterans who put their lives on that line. These are words from one of his poems — “What’s real is the price of war, and soldiers pay that price. But veterans live to pay still more; They can’t recover what they’ve lost.”

Dan had the courage to seek help in 1975 when he was diagnosed with PTSD. And he has spent his life making sure that returning veterans would have the support they need to recover what was lost in their lives and be no longer forgotten. This is the second way he chose to serve his country. But if he had stopped there, he would not be receiving this award.

Peace is not gained by taking the easy way or talking to the choir. Our lives have meaning because we make conscious choices to learn and grow – to recognize the encounters and events that take us out of our comfort zone into the unfamiliar, calling us to grow wiser. Dan’s father taught him that there is something bigger than your own existence. I think he said “you’re human, but that’s ok”.  And so Dan stepped outside the choir, outside his comfort zone into that something bigger – to make sure that veterans were not hated as he had been. In doing so, he realized that meant he had to step outside his own hate and discomfort.

It is easy to see the logic of stepping outside the choir to make peace, but it is infinitely difficult to do.  Some of you are probably uncomfortable being here today at a peace event.  And there are others of you that have never gone to Missoula’s veteran events.  Dan has crossed the bridge that divides veterans and the peace community many times.  He has attended and even spoken at peace events, and he has invited many people from the peace community, including me, to speak at the Veterans Day event he organizes.  Because of Dan, I can look out at this gathering and almost believe there’s no bridge at all.  I invite you to look around and see that vision.  And the term “full circle” comes to mind.  Because today, Dan Gallagher stands among the very group who protested him in 1975 – honored today for this, the third way he has served his country — by creating understanding and appreciation where none had been. You can learn more about Dan through the movie Beyond the Divide by Jan Selby paying on PBS or available in our store and library.

One of the quotes Dan was fond of saying was Abraham Lincoln’s “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Those better angels have claimed you, Dan, and we who are left would do well to heed your words and follow your example as we look to the future. I will miss you Dan and treasure our time together, Betsy