BY JEANNETTE DEFORGE/REPUBLICAN STAFF
CHICOPEE – Francis A. Galligan spent more than three years as a prisoner of war in Japan during World War II, witnessing countless atrocities and enduring beatings and other torture.
At 89, the memories still linger, and, occasionally, the nightmares come.
“It is a horror I would hate for anyone to go through. It doesn’t disappear,” Galligan, of Longmeadow, says.
It took 66 years, but on Monday, a grateful nation bestowed medals, including a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, for his service all those years ago upon Galligan.
It was thanks to efforts by a friend in California and work by the office of U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, that the ceremony at Westover Air Reserve Base, where Galligan served after his wartime duty, occurred.
The honors came nearly seven decades after close to 15,000 American and Filipino troops – Galligan among them – were forced to surrender the island of Corregidor to the Japanese in May 1942 in the early days of the war. The U.S. and Filipino soldiers had fought for some 28 days after the fall of Bataan to keep control of Corregidor, located near the entrance to Manila Bay and considered a strategic location as the war unfolded after Pearl Harbor.
While those captured at Corregidor knew nothing of the infamous Bataan Death March in April, they would soon endure their own hardships at the hands of their captors. Thousands, who were captured, died in ships and boxcars that transported the prisoners to slave labor camps. Galligan and others were not freed until September 1945.
“You lose your freedom, your liberty. You can’t sit down when you want, you can’t stand when you want. You can’t speak when you want,” he said, recalling his time as a prisoner.
Prisoners were beaten with ax handles, guns and anything else which their captors had at hand. They were forced into buildings meant for half the number of people, left outside in the sun for days with little water and starved, Galligan recalled. A group of about 150 was burned alive, he said.
Galligan told the audience at Monday’s ceremony about being in work crews in the Philippines, clearing the jungle to create air strips for the enemy and being shipped to Japan to work in lead and zinc mines.
Being moved was even worse than staying in the prisons, Galligan said. Airmen called them “death ships” because many who were transported died from disease, dehydration or starvation, while some of the ships were sunk by the U.S. because they were not marked as carrying prisoners of war, he said.
After the war, Galligan continued his service in what would become the Air Force. He rose to the rank of chief master sergeant, and, in 1971, he was hired as a civilian to work in Westover’s 439th Operations Support Squadron, retiring in 1998.
Relatives of Galligan’s unsuccessfully applied for him to receive the Purple Heart after the Department of Defense agreed in 2007 to make prisoners of war eligible for the medal. Galligan was ready to give up, but a longtime friend, Alfred N. Domenech, decided to give it another try.
He called Neal’s office, and assistants asked him to send the paperwork and told him it would take six or eight weeks. In eight weeks he called back and was told more documentation would be needed, which he did not have.
But one of Neal’s staff members fought for the medal, and in December called Domenech to say they had a Purple Heart as well as a Bronze Star, which Galligan had also earned but never knew about.
Domenech traveled from California to attend the ceremony at which Neal officially awarded the medals to Galligan.