Last Friday, one day before he was killed in Iraq, Capt. Richard Gannon II ’95 left his mother a short message on her answering machine.
“He said that he was fine, that he was sorry he missed her, and that he loved her,” said his father, Richard Gannon.
The next day, Gannon was killed during a battle with Iraqi insurgents in Al-Anbar province, near Iraq’s border with Syria, the Department of Defense announced yesterday. The elder Gannon told The San Diego Union-Tribune that his son died from an explosion in the fourth hour of the 18-hour battle.
Gannon was the leader of Lima Company, which has borne the brunt of insurgent attacks in an increasingly hostile region, according to an embedded reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In Saturday’s battle, some insurgents used the tactic of firing at Marines, then hiding behind children, the Post-Dispatch reported.
Five Marines were killed in the battle, which came just four days after Lima Company gathered to mourn two of its fallen soldiers.
Gannon spoke at that memorial service, telling his fellow Marines that “we’re going to win this thing,” and that one of the young fallen soldiers would be “our guiding light.”
Lima Company’s primary charge is to build the area’s schools, improve its physical infrastructure and help train its police force, but Gannon and the company were increasingly fighting small skirmishes, according to the Post-Dispatch.
Gannon and Lima Company served one tour in Iraq, participating in the capture of Baghdad. The company returned early for a second tour in late February.
Gannon is the second Cornellian to be killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Capt. George Wood ’93 was killed in November, 2003, when his vehicle struck an explosive. There have been 709 military casualties since the beginning of the recent campaign in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense.
In a phone interview with The Sun, the elder Gannon spoke of his son’s character.
“He lived a full life, a life that he could be proud of,” Gannon said.
“It’s the last thing in the world that I would want, to lose a son, but the sadness is really more about me and my loss,” he said.
Hearing that his son’s company considered their leader as “tough as a two-dollar steak” provides some comfort to the elder Gannon.
“Having been a Marine, I thought that was about as high a compliment as an enlisted man could pay [to] an officer,” Gannon said.
Gannon said he preferred not to talk about his opinion on the war in Iraq. He offered one observation: “the worst plans, if everyone gets behind them, can be achieved…. the best ones, if picked apart, or micro-managed, can go wrong. A lot of our process here at home, while constructive, can also be counterproductive to the people trying to produce results in Iraq.”
At Cornell, “Rick”, as he was known to classmates, was a member of Marine Option Naval ROTC and graduated in seven semesters, with majors in history and government.
Andy Fox ’95 met Gannon just before their freshman year at Cornell. Both were in ROTC and Phi Sigma Kappa. Fox remembered Gannon as “probably the most mentally tough person I’ve known — he could just go into any situation and come through it without any outward signs of stress.”
The elder Gannon, who served in Vietnam, said military service was not something he encouraged his son to pursue, but nevertheless the younger Gannon followed his father’s footsteps.
“He really revered his father,” said Fox.
Fox said Gannon could have pursued any number of options in the military, but decided to be an infantry officer, like his father.
Fox saw Gannon just before Lima Company returned to Iraq.
“He had a [good] idea of the danger of the mission,” Fox said, “but he was pretty upbeat about it — that’s the way he always was, when he had something difficult to do.”
Cornellians are gathering this weekend in New York City to remember Gannon, Fox said. When Gannon’s remains reach California, his family hopes to inter him in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, The Union-Tribune reported.
Gannon is survived by his wife, Sally, his three sons, Richard, Patrick and Connor, and his daughter, Maria. He and his wife met in high school, marrying a few weeks after he graduated from Cornell, Fox said.
His eldest son had gone by “R.J.” until six months ago, when he decided to go by “Rick”, his father’s name, the elder Gannon said.
Gannon explained: “he really would like to be a man, like his father.”
“He’s twelve,” Gannon began to say, then he paused. “Well, I guess now he is the man in the family.”
Archived article by Dan Galindo
Sun Senior Writer