Fairhaven Police Officer Recalls Grandfather’s Service in WWII
As the World War II generation, dubbed the "Greatest Generation," slips into the annals of history, we must keep alive the memories of those who served the cause of world freedom and their families who sacrificed so much for America and humanity.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, 167,284 were still alive in 2022. The men and women who fought in the Second World War are now in their 90s or older.
Veteran Fairhaven Police Officer Lt. Kevin Kobza, a former Special Agent with the U.S. Customs Service, wants the world to know about his grandfather, William Gallagher, who enlisted in the US Army on November 12, 1942, less than a year after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He was 31.
Gallagher was born on November 24, 1911, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the youngest of 13 children. He graduated from Fairhaven High School in 1930 during the Great Depression.
Kobza said his grandfather "rose to the rank of sergeant and served in the 75th Infantry Division in major campaigns throughout Europe."
The 75th Infantry crossed the English Channel from South Wales and landed in France in December 1944. Kobza said his grandfather arrived in France "at the same time the Germans launched a major offensive into Belgium which began the infamous Battle of the Bulge."
The Army transported Gallagher's division to the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, where they broke through German lines.
Next, the 75th Infantry Division defended against a German offensive in Alsace Lorraine.
"They battled the cold as much as the Germans as frostbite and trench foot were as much an adversary as the enemy soldiers committed to destroying them," Kobza said.
Kobza said his grandfather's division was "credited with winning two major campaigns in seven weeks."
But that wasn't the end for William Gallagher and the 75th Infantry. Kobza said the division shipped to Holland in February 1945, "where they were tasked with preventing the Germans from crossing the Maas River."
Kobza says the following month, "they laid down artillery fire to allow the 30th and 79th Infantry Divisions to cross the Rhine River into Germany," freeing thousands of slave laborers and POWs. By early March, the 75th had surrounded the city of Dortmund.
Two months later, the Germans surrendered.
Gallagher was decorated for his service. He received the Bronze Star, a Good Conduct Medal, Croix de Guerre with Palm & Fourragere Order 1286, the European African Middle Eastern Theater Campaign Ribbon, and the American Theater Campaign Ribbon.
William Gallagher was honorably discharged by the Army on January 6, 1945. He married his sweetheart Cecile Lebeau on August 5, 1943. The couple had a daughter, Carol Anne (Gallagher) Kobza, Lt. Kobza's mom.
Anne Kobza said her father was "the most honest and kindest man who taught me to never talk bad about anyone, and he absolutely lived by that."
Lt. Kobza said after the war, his grandfather, who died January 21, 1991, "traded in his rucksack for a mail sack and went to work for the U.S. Postal Service as a letter carrier until his retirement in 1971."
Kobza said William Gallagher "lived a peaceful life, raising his family and helped to build the greatest of nations" as part of the Greatest Generation.