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Originally published March 20, 2012 at 5:39 PM | Page modified March 22, 2012 at 2:23 PM

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Obituary: Walter Gallagher, 88, honored memory of fellow vets

Walter Gallagher, a lifelong Seattle resident who died Friday at 88, was an enthusiastic amateur photographer, caring dad, prolific poet and reliable buddy. He was also a proud veteran who, for nearly six decades, was a fixture at a local Memorial Day observance.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Excerpt from a poem titled "Dedication," by Walter Gallagher

"Are the faces in the sky that I see meant for me?

No, they are the faces of our comrades.

That we have lost on land and at sea.

Their lives were not given in vain.

Because it was their duty and courage that keeps us free."

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If you'd ever met Walter Gallagher, he might have told you he was nobody special.

He would have been wrong.

Mr. Gallagher, a lifelong Seattle resident who died Friday (March 16) at 88, was an enthusiastic amateur photographer, caring dad, prolific poet and reliable buddy. He was also a proud veteran who, for nearly six decades, was a fixture at a local Memorial Day observance.

True, his education and résumé were modest: He dropped out of school as a teen, later completing a GED. For most of his career, he delivered bundles of newspapers to racks, stores and newsstands around town.

Last May, when he was being photographed at Veterans' Memorial Cemetery for an article in The Seattle Times, Mr. Gallagher insisted that those who really deserved honor were the ones whose remains lay under the white marble headstones around him.

"They served their country," he said. "That's what matters."

For decades, Mr. Gallagher carried the flag with his American Legion post on Memorial Days at the veterans cemetery at Evergreen Washelli along Aurora Avenue North.

But in later years, due to a bum shoulder, he switched to handing out small flags as people arrived.

His own military service started within weeks of the 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, which occurred five days after his 18th birthday. With the U.S. under attack, he said, the question wasn't whether to enlist — just which branch.

And having toured Navy ships on the Seattle waterfront during the Seafairs of his youth, his choice was clear: "To me, the Navy looked like clean quarters and good food."

Wartime reality was something different: Mr. Gallagher became a bombardier and gunner in a unit of PBY Catalinas, military float planes with machine guns and bombs.

He flew in numerous nighttime South Pacific missions in the "Black Cat Squadron," known for their black-painted aircraft that were difficult for the enemy to see.

After the war, his newspaper work and other delivery jobs helped him meet and make friends all over town.

A son, Frank Gallagher, of Vashon Island, remembers joining his dad on errands. "Since he had spent almost his entire life in Seattle ... every trip was a history lesson."

"I was always so shocked to see how everyone not only knew my dad but were happy to see him," Frank Gallagher said. "I felt like royalty. My dad told me he just treated people the way he wanted to be treated."

In his retirement years, Mr. Gallagher was known and beloved at two local haunts: Morning visits were to the Little Red Hen near Green Lake, and afternoon stops were at the Baranof, in Greenwood.

He honored both establishments — and their regular customers — with poems in a booklet a friend printed for him a couple of years ago.

Baranof waitress Cheryl Plocker said Mr. Gallagher, seldom without his camera, loved to photograph bar workers and customers, "especially the ladies," and would bring in extra prints to post or hand out.

When Mr. Gallagher was getting used to a new panoramic camera, she said, he ended up with some photos of people with their heads cut off. "They'd get posted on the wall with a note saying, 'Name that body.' "

At "the Hen," where a copy of last year's Seattle Times story about Mr. Gallagher hangs on a back wall, day manager "2E" Rose said his friend and longtime patron will be remembered as a "very humble, low-key guy" whose cemetery visits were simple reflections of his patriotism.

"The fact that he would go up there and volunteer every Memorial Day was big," Rose said. "I'm a vet myself, and I was pretty proud to know him."

Mr. Gallagher, who died of a recently diagnosed brain tumor, had been a hockey player in his youth, a bowler in later life and a longtime member of the American Legion and Lake City Elks.

In addition to Frank Gallagher, his survivors include sons Walter Gallagher Jr., of Seattle; Garry Gallagher, of Everett; Michael Gallagher, of Redmond; Douglas Gallagher, of Clallam Bay; a daughter, Pamela Gallagher, of Tacoma, and seven grandchildren. He was preceded in death by two former wives.

A memorial is planned for noon Sunday, April 22, at the Lake City Elks Lodge, 14540 Bothell Way N.E.

Frank Gallagher said he also expects his father's presence to be felt at this year's Memorial Day event at Veterans' Memorial Cemetery.

"As people stand in the rows of marble tombstones ... I hope they will feel his spirit there, because I doubt even death will keep him away."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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