The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 30, 2019 1:00 am

SEAL's friends see good man, not a killer

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

The website lists the military accomplishments of Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who lived in Fort Wayne for more than six years before joining the Navy in 1999.

Combat deployments to Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Missions as a medic, sniper and squad leader. Medals for valor, meritorious service and good conduct.

“After 19 years in the service and eight combat tours, Eddie is among the most elite of warriors who has served quietly and bravely on the front lines to protect his country in nearly every conflict since 9/11,” according to the website, which was started by Gallagher's wife, Andrea, a former Fort Wayne resident.

Others see Gallagher differently. Members of the Navy SEAL platoon Gallagher led in Mosul, Iraq, in 2017 claim he stabbed to death an unarmed, wounded and apprehended teenage fighter for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. They also say Gallagher shot two civilians in Iraq, killing an old man and injuring a young girl.

“I saw Eddie Gallagher shoot someone who didn't deserve to die. I shot more warning shots to save civilians from Eddie than I ever did at ISIS,” Dalton Tolbert testified during Gallagher's court-martial, which began June 17.

Another SEAL team member, Dylan Dillie, testified that Gallagher had said about the dead teenage prisoner, “This was just an ISIS dirtbag.”

Gallagher, 40, is on trial at Naval Base San Diego in California for murder, attempted murder and other alleged crimes. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Gallagher pleaded not guilty. His defense: The men under his command fabricated stories about him because they thought he had been too tough on them.

“This is not about murder, it's about mutiny,” Gallagher's attorney, Tim Parlatore, said in his opening statement at the court-martial, according to media reports. “This is a group of disgruntled sailors that didn't like being told that they were cowards. So, they conspired to take down the chief.”

The case has attracted the attention of some congressional Republicans, who contend that Gallagher is a wrongly prosecuted war hero. President Donald Trump has indicated he might consider pardoning him.

Gallagher's mother, Melissa Gallagher, said last week that Eddie's defense team would present evidence showing that a few members of her son's SEAL Team 7 platoon “were just out to frame him.”

“We think things are going in the right direction and that Eddie will be proven innocent, because he is,” she said in a brief telephone interview while preparing to attend courtroom testimony Thursday in San Diego.

Life in Fort Wayne

The Gallagher family moved to Fort Wayne in 1993. Eddie's father, Joseph Gallagher, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army, had taken a job as a sales executive at defense contractor ITT, now Harris Corp. Melissa became a teaching assistant and then a sixth-grade teacher at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School.

They lived in Fort Wayne until 2005, when Joseph accepted a job in Washington, D.C., according to his page on the LinkedIn social media site. They still reside in the Washington area, as does Eddie's younger brother, Sean.

The Gallaghers arrived in Fort Wayne for what would be Eddie's freshman year at Bishop Dwenger High School.

“Ed was one of those guys where it was easy for him to make friends. He had that personality. We became friends right away,” said Matt Baumgartner, 40, a Dwenger student in the 1990s who today works in sales in Fort Wayne.

Another teenage friend was Jessica Zimmerman, who attended North Side High School. Gallagher's future wife, Andrea Shively, was a student at Northrop High School.

“We just ran around with the same group of friends,” she recalled.

She remembered Gallagher as “always kind of quiet but very chivalrous and very considerate and kind – give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.”

He was “never attention-seeking,” she said. “He wasn't one to stand up and be the comedian or the life of the party. But always kind and helpful.”

Gallagher graduated from Dwenger in 1997. The school's yearbooks from his four years there display his class photos but no sign that he participated in organizations, clubs or athletics.

“I know he enjoyed soccer,” Baumgartner said, adding that Gallagher played in municipal leagues.

Gallagher took some college classes after high school but did not seem to have specific career ambitions before enlisting in the Navy, Baumgartner said.

“It was kind of a shock when he told me he was going to join the Navy, but at the same time it wasn't, considering his family had the history of serving in the military. When he said he was going to do it, I supported him and encouraged him,” Baumgartner said.

Gallagher's father had graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“We all knew he came from a military family, and I know that he always had very high regard for the military,” Zimmerman said. “So we all assumed that he would probably go the military route.”

Gallagher has confirmed that assumption on social media.

“I come from a patriotic family where nearly every male has served. My first four years I was attached to the Marines as a medic. During this time I knew I was called to do more and wanted to be challenged so I decided to become a SEAL,” he wrote on his LinkedIn page.

The Navy's Sea, Air and Land Forces, commonly called SEALs, “are expertly trained to deliver highly specialized, intensely challenging warfare capabilities that are beyond the means of standard military forces,” the Navy states on its website.

“I have been very blessed during my time in the SEAL teams,” Gallagher wrote on LinkedIn. “I have had the honor and privilage (sic) to be able to work among and instruct some of the most intelligent, diverse, loyal and inspiring men and women this country has to offer. I have strived to continuously deploy to as many combat zones as I could to protect this country.”

Friends' defense

Baumgartner said he has stayed in touch with Gallagher.

“I've been out there to visit him a few times in San Diego when he's back” from deployments, Baumgartner said. “They've come back in town here a few times for the holidays and we usually find some time to get together and catch up.”

Zimmerman said that she has had little contact with Gallagher or his wife since high school. Eddie and Andrea married in 2007.

“We would kind of get word through the grapevine that he was on deployment or that they had moved or that he was going to retire,” she said.

Gallagher's LinkedIn page states, “I seek to be able to continue working along side like-minded and talented people after my transition from the military.” Andrea Gallagher told Fox News that Eddie had intended to retire next month.

Gallagher was arrested Sept. 11, 2018 – the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington – at a traumatic brain injury treatment center at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County. Gallagher's lawyer later told the Navy Times that Gallagher suffered from head injuries incurred during combat duty.

Ground had been broken for the treatment center on May 9, 2017, about a week after Gallagher allegedly killed the wounded Islamic State fighter.

Zimmerman organized a local fundraising dinner and auction for Gallagher last fall after learning he had been charged and jailed. She said at least 75 people raised about $15,000.

Zimmerman and Baumgartner are following Eddie Gallagher's trial. Eddie, Andrea and their three children have “been through the wringer,” Zimmerman said.

“We're hoping and praying he's exonerated so he can get back to his family. He most certainly deserves that,” Baumgartner said.

“I have the utmost respect for his family,” he said. “They're great people. What's going on right now is just heartbreaking. It breaks my heart to see all of them going through this right now.”

Gallagher's younger brother, Sean, also a Dwenger graduate, wrote a letter to Eddie in May that was posted on ahead of his trial.

“I do not know what the outcome will be. This path has shown us a darker side of life. That truth doesn't always prevail, and that our systems can fail the best among us,” Sean Gallagher wrote.

“There are so many unknowns. There is so much uncertainty.

“But there are things I know,” Sean wrote. “I know you are innocent. I know you are good. I know you deserve to be free.”

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