On April 11, 2004, Maj. Richard J. Gannon II '95 addressed Marines under his command during a memorial service for Lance Cpl. Christopher B. Wasser of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, at Camp Husaybah, Iraq, near the Syrian border. Gannon was killed days later while trying to help a wounded Marine. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

5K run, remembrances to honor fallen Cornell war hero

In Barton Hall, a classroom used by Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps midshipmen and a gym used by the joint ROTC services are named in memory of Maj. Richard J. Gannon II ’95, a Marine killed in Iraq in 2004.

On April 13, nearly 20 years to the day after Gannon’s death in Anbar Province while trying to aid a wounded member of the company he led, the Navy ROTC will host a 5K run and program of events designed to celebrate Gannon’s legacy and to extend awareness about his life and service beyond Barton’s walls.

The Big Red and local community are invited to participate in the run – or, like some of the ROTC trainees and veterans, a “ruck” carrying a heavy backpack. The program will also include remembrances bringing together members of Gannon’s family; ROTC midshipmen, cadets and graduates; fraternity brothers; and Marines who served with and under him. Sign up here for the 5K starting at 8:30 a.m. at Barton Hall – free to all, including a T-shirt and breakfast, through support from NROTC alumni.

U.S. Marine Maj. Richard J. Gannon II ’95's medals of honor are displayed in the Gannon Room in Barton Hall. Gannon was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star, which recognized him for “bold leadership, wise judgment and complete dedication to duty.”

“I remember going to Barton Hall when Rick was accepted and earned the ROTC scholarship, and how exciting that was,” said Sally Gannon, his widow, who began dating Rick when he was a high school senior in Escondido, California. “He was very excited about Cornell and getting into an Ivy League school. He was very proud of that.

“And now,” she said, “it’s come full circle.”

Maj. Ted Powers, Navy ROTC executive officer and associate professor of naval science, who led planning for the tribute, called Gannon a “patron saint” of the program.

“He’s the one that we’re aspiring to be more like,” Powers said. “We want everyone to understand that this is the legacy that a Cornellian has left. And we want to introduce them to those who have really made the ultimate sacrifice, which is his family that he left behind.”

Gannon was posthumously promoted to the rank of major and awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star, which recognized him for acting “with complete disregard for his own safety” and for “bold leadership, wise judgment and complete dedication to duty.”

Jason Haims ’25, a Marine Option midshipman and co-coordinator with Ryan Shelley ’26 of “Rick’s Run: Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of a Cornell Hero's Life,” said Gannon is an inspirational figure – and a reminder of what’s potentially at stake for military officers.

“Having someone like that who was in our shoes to look at and think, this is the legacy that we have to uphold is just something that’s super-important to us,” said Haims, who this summer will attend Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia, as Gannon did 30 years ago. “It helps instill that warrior ethos, that this isn’t like being on a team or in a club where we’re just working out and playing military. No, this is real. This is something that any of us could be facing one day in the pretty near future.”

The Gannon Room in Barton Hall is dedicated to the memory of U.S. Marine Maj. Richard J. Gannon II '95, who was killed in Iraq in 2004. The original photo by Andrew Cutraro shows Gannon addressing his Marines days before his death.

Planning for the Navy ROTC’s tribute began last fall at an annual memorial golf tournament in Trumansburg, New York, organized by Gannon’s brothers in Phi Sigma Kappa, who established the Brother Rick Gannon Memorial Fund to help Sally and their four children, who were ages 2 to 12 when he died at age 31.

“Rick’s life was exemplary in every aspect – a life of quiet but significant achievement, willing sacrifice and unlimited potential,” Brian Drumm ’96 wrote in a 2004 message establishing the fund and golf tournament. “His death, though untimely and unfathomable, was nothing less than heroic, personifying the values of leadership and brotherhood that he shared with us as a brother in Phi Sig.”

Many of Gannon’s friends now bring their children to the event, and sometimes friends who add to a growing community whose members never knew Gannon but are moved by his legacy.

In a 2019 ceremony, Cornell added Gannon’s name to a war memorial plaque in Anabel Taylor Hall, along with that of Army Capt. George A. Wood ’93, who completed ROTC through the State University of New York after graduating from Cornell, and was killed in Iraq in 2003. Cornellians previously paid tribute to Gannon in 2014 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia.

In a ceremony on Nov. 9, 2019, the names of Marine Maj. Richard J. Gannon II ’95 and Army Capt. George A. Wood ’93, alumni killed during the conflict in Iraq, were added to the war memorial plaque in Anabel Taylor Hall that honors 49 other Cornellians lost during the Korean and Vietnam wars and other hostile conflicts since World War II.

On April 13, the 5K will be followed by brunch in Barton Hall and, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. remembrances by friends and family in a campus auditorium. At 2 p.m. in Anabel Taylor Chapel, near the war memorial, guests can celebrate Mass led by Gannon’s uncle, a Jesuit priest who baptized him. Gannon’s former regimental commander, Gen. John M. “Jay” Paxton ’73, M.Eng. ’74, who retired as assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, will be the guest of honor at a sold-out dinner at the Statler Hotel. Other guests are expected to include Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff and Katherine McComas, vice provost for engagement and land-grant affairs, whose office supports ROTC.

Those attending look forward to not only honoring Gannon’s service and sacrifice – on a day that claimed the lives of three other Marines in Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines – but to celebrate him as a friend and loved one. They remember him as a Southern Californian to the core who frequently said “dude” and wore Stüssy surf clothes – but was strong-willed, organized and precise; whose freshman dorm room posters in Mary Donlon Hall featured the Marines and Metallica; who completed his first of a dozen or so marathons at age 9, and later was a smiling source of encouragement to fellow NROTC midshipmen struggling through workouts; and a natural leader whose Marines called him “tougher than a $2 steak.” Gannon knew from a young age that he would follow in the footsteps of his father, a Marine veteran who served in Vietnam, and was married in his Marine dress blue uniform the day after earning his commission in January 1995, months before walking with classmates at Commencement. He prized family and fraternity above all.

At a 2019 ceremony, Maria Gannon, left, and Maria Wood stand beside the war memorial plaque in the Anabel Taylor Hall rotunda that honors their fathers, Marine Maj. Richard J. Gannon II ’95 and Army Capt. George A. Wood ’93.

“I’m feeling a lot of emotion,” said John Daggett ’95, a roommate of Gannon’s and Navy ROTC classmate who will offer remarks during the event. “I was just looking through my photo album, digging out film pictures from 30 years ago, seeing my buddy who’s not here anymore. A lot of emotion. A lot of people, they know Rick’s story from a citation, but they might not know him. I want to say the right words that give people the right impression of my friend. The flip side is, I’m sure Rick would be able to laugh at some silly photos of himself and would encourage others to do the same.”

Andy Fox ’95, another former roommate and Navy ROTC graduate, remembers talking for hours about politics, religion and other worldly topics with Gannon, a government and history double-major who graduated early from the College of Arts and Sciences. He described Gannon as scholarly, opinionated and smart, but also warm and loving to friends and family.

“He always knew he was going to serve, and he was going to be a family guy,” Fox said. “We were fortunate to get to spend those best college years with him. People at Cornell now should think about the friends they have and how they can make an incredible impact on their life and just cherish that experience. It goes by really quick, of course, and it’s hard to believe that it was so long ago, but it was still incredibly meaningful.”

Memories of Rick’s death soon after Easter during his second combat tour in Iraq remain painful for Sally Gannon, but she said opportunities to gather with others who cared about Rick are uplifting. They’ve helped their grown children – the younger ones having few memories of their father – to learn more about him.

“I’m blown away, because of course, he was my husband, so he’s very dear to me,” she said. “But how he has influenced so many people that I don’t even know…I’m amazed at how many people are making the trip to honor Rick and to share his story.”

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