PATCHOGUE, N.Y. --
It was another cold and rainy day early May at Recruiting Substation Patchogue, Recruiting Station New York, 1st Marine Corps District. Tony Schiozzi, an Army veteran and a regular visitor of the substation, had a specific purpose for his visit on this particular day.
Schiozzi, who searches cemeteries in the local area for veterans and their history, came across the grave of Lance Cpl. Richard David Kaler during a visit to Cedar Grove Cemetery.
Kaler, a Patchogue, N.Y., native, was a machine gunner with Hotel Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, and was killed in action near Cam Lo, Republic of Vietnam, on July 21, 1966.
Kaler was a recipient of the Navy Cross, the second highest award this country can bestow on a Sailor or a Marine; however, his headstone recognized him simply as a Purple Heart recipient. Schiozzi went on a mission to resolve the error and to restore the rightful recognition of a fallen Marine in the Patchogue community with the help of a local Marine recruiter.
Over two days, Staff Sgt. John Gallagher investigated who Kaler was and what he did to deserve the high decoration.
According to the citation, Kaler’s company was engaged in a search and destroy mission during Operation Hasting when the point man of Kaler's platoon was fired upon and killed by an enemy machine gun. Disregarding his personal safety, Kaler immediately moved forward through the heavy fire and carried the body back. The following day, the platoon attacked the same position. When several machine guns opened fire cutting down several of his comrades and pinning the rest of the platoon, Kaler exposed himself to the intense fire and charged the enemy positions. Receiving a bullet in the thigh, he nevertheless closed with the North Vietnamese, silencing one position before he was struck and mortally wounded by enemy fire.
Gallagher said he was profoundly moved by Kaler’s heroism. “I would without a doubt say that this was a justifiable award,” he said. “It validates what we do as Marine recruiters. The stories we tell our applicants and poolees about esprit de corps, camaraderie and what we do for the mission. The Marine Corps is about selflessness and serving the country—not about the paycheck. Kaler (voluntarily) enlisted during Vietnam. He’s a perfect example of what a Marine is expected to be.”
Despite the endless demands of recruiting duty, Gallagher took matters into his own hands and started to make phone calls and visits to campaign to upgrade Kaler’s tombstone to reflect his awards.
“He (Gallagher) asked me for some information and promised he would get back to me,” said Schiozzi. “To my surprise within three days he secured an appointment with the Trustees of the Cedar Grove Cemetery and had in his hand a government request for a new headstone, this time acknowledging all the awards that Lance Cpl. Kaler was awarded.”
By May 24th Gallagher had received approval and confirmation for Kaler’s Navy Cross annotation on his tombstone. Gallagher’s act of kindness was simply to take care of his fellow Marine.
“Kaler’s tombstone is a part of the Patchogue community’s local history,” he said. “If we don’t care about Kaler, who will? This is why I chose to become a Marine, for the esprit de corps.”
Gallagher refused to take credit for his kind actions and credited Schiozzi instead. “I have to thank Tony and people like him,” he said humbly. “I only used my position to steam roll the situation. But it was because of him we were able to get the ball rolling.”
Schiozzi would disagree with Gallagher. To him Gallagher exemplified the embodiment of a Marine. “Both Kaler and Gallagher typify the meaning of ‘Semper Fidelis,’” he said. “Kaler gave his life to retrieve the body of a fallen Marine. Gallagher went above and beyond to see that heroic actions of his fallen Marine were properly acknowledged. Gallagher in my opinion is an asset to the Marine Corps, the community and to the United States of America. God bless him and all other brave warriors past and present.”