The veterans community in Sedalia has lost a leader with the death of Tony Gallagher this week.
Gallagher, who died early Thursday morning at Bothwell Regional Health Center, was known for his leadership within the 40 & 8, Voiture 333 in Sedalia, serving as Post Commander for eight years. He also served as a national officer, handling publicity for the national organization.
“I watched (40 & 8) evolve, I knew it when it was a very tiny organization,” said Latisha Koetting, supervisor of volunteer services at the Missouri Veterans Home in Warrensburg. “… Tony ended up being commander, took it from 12 people and it just started growing. Before you knew it there were 100 people. He would have more people attend his meetings than any other civic group in Sedalia.
“He was very animated, very passionate, he made you want to be there — you didn’t want to miss a meeting because you felt you would miss something. He just beamed that pride and patriotism, love of his community and his country; it was contagious.”
The 40 & 8 was founded in 1920 by American veterans returning from France. Originally an arm of the American Legion, the 40 & 8 became an independent and separately incorporated veterans’ organization in 1960.
The local 40 & 8 is involved in a number of veterans projects in the community, including maintaining the 66 flags that fly along Ohio Avenue in downtown Sedalia and maintaining the original 40 & 8 “Merci” boxcar located on the Missouri State Fairgrounds. The boxcar was one of many that were given as gifts from France to the United States.
Don Barbour took over the position of commander in August 2014 when Gallagher retired.
“One of the big things (Tony) did was the American flags that fly on Ohio Street, that was his project,” Barbour said. “The Veterans Day parade that we have every year was his brain child also. He did a lot of thing — got us started with the Veterans Home in Warrensburg, with the Show-Me Christian Youth Home in La Monte, so many different things he got started that we continue doing today. Flags for first graders, he was instrumental in starting it; that is one of 40 & 8’s big projects that we do nationwide, he was instrumental in getting it implemented here in this area.”
Koetting nominated Gallagher in 2012 for the Veterans Service Award, created by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder in 2012. The award recognizes Missouri veterans who provide exemplary volunteer service to their communities and is a way for the state to honor its veterans and the sacrifices they continue to make for their communities throughout the state.
She said Kinder expected a small crowd for Gallagher’s award presentation, as he had seen at other ceremonies, so he was surprised when more than 100 people filled the Pettis County Courthouse lobby to watch Gallagher receive his award.
Koetting said “there’s no one like him,” and Barbour agreed.
“He’s going to be missed,” Barbour said. “He was a fireball, he had a way of recruiting people that nobody else can handle I’m sure. Since he’s been in ill health, we’ve lost members due to his not being here. It’s a shame, I credit that to his being out and meeting people to be able to make the 40 & 8 what it is today, I really do.”
The organization is also involved in volunteering at the Missouri Veterans Home in Warrensburg and supporting the Smith-Cotton JROTC program, sponsoring the trophies for raider meets and plaque for the Cadet of the Month and Cadet of the Year. Gallagher helped create the annual Veterans Day parade along with Sgt. Maj. Randall Woods with Smith-Cotton JROTC.
Woods said Gallagher made sure 40 & 8 was there to support JROTC from the very beginning.
“These guys here, and Tony was instrumental in getting it started, they wrapped their arms around these kids, came in and talked to these kids about their time in the service. They made the program better with their involvement,” Woods said.
“… I can’t even put into words what it means to these kids, the JROTC community and the school district,” he added. “They’re just so appreciative to have them involved and have Tony involved to help start it. I can’t even express in words what that means to us as instructors, administrators. The best word I can use is we were overwhelmed with their generosity.”
Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Sacred Heart Church. Prayers of the rosary will begin at 9 a.m., followed by Knights of Columbus and 40 & 8 ceremonies with visitation from 10 a.m. until service time at the church. Arrangements are under the direction of McLaughlin Funeral Chapel in Sedalia.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.