Priest Fought Way to Battle, Died ThereThe Washington Post (February 7, 1968)
The slight, 46 year-old priest with owlish eyeglasses really had no business being there. But the infantrymen he loved were being killed before the battlements of Hue's Imperial Citadel and the Reverend Aloysius P. McGonigal wanted to go. The Chaplain died, a bullet in his forehead, with a unit that was not his own in a battle he could have missed. He practically fought his way to the battlefield. Most soldiers die almost anonymously, known only to their close comrades, to the sergeants and to the company officers. Father McGonigal was known all over the 1st Corps area and elsewhere in South Vietnam . He roamed with a fierce devotion to "the men in the field." His 5 foot 6 inches almost disappeared inside a flak jacket.
An army major, his last assignment was the U.S. advisory compound in Hue. He traveled all over the northern provinces and had extended his year-long tour in Vietnam . He took his extension leave in his ancestral homeland of Ireland, which was practically written on his smiling face. They were expecting him to leave his post at Hue and take a desk job at Da Nang. His replacement was actually on the way up the day Father McGonigal headed for the north side of the Perfume River, where the battle for the citadel was raging. "There was no Catholic Priest with the 1st Battalion of the 5th marines who were assaulting the walls, and the father wanted to go," said Dr. Stephen Bernie, a U.S. Army doctor, who had traveled frequently with the priest. Father McGonigal had been angrily walking the advisory compound for three days before he joined the battle despite an order by the compound commander to stay put. The priest finally managed to join the unit with which he never served. "He rarely stayed here more than two days in a row," Bernie said. "He was stuck up north when the compound was hit on Jan. 31 and he came back with a Vietnamese airborne unit and made his own way across the river. Nobody was getting across the river at that time but Father McGonigal managed. He had a way about him. He wanted to be in the field, that was all he wanted," said a sergeant who knew him well. "Conducting Mass two or three times a week in the headquarters wasn't his idea of a job." The Jesuit Father's previous trips had taken him to many hot spots including the Marine fortress at Con Thien. He was killed Sunday, a cold misty day, beside the field soldiers he loved.
Like most who died in that long conflict, Father McGonigal is not celebrated far and wide across the country, but neither is he forgotten. In 1992 the US Marine Corps named a chapel for him in Southern California. Father McGonigal was a Hibernian, and in northwest Philadelphia, Division 17 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians is named for him. And more than that, we can be certain that in Washington, D.C., where his name is carved in stone, surrounded by many of those he comforted, ex-GIs have gazed on his name through blurry eyes and run their fingers across those letters: Father Aloysius P. McGonigal.
EDITOR'S NOTE: AOH Division 17 of Northeast Philadelphia is attempting to obtain the Medal of Honor for Father McGonigal. If you would like to help in anyway, most especially if you knew him or have any information about him, please contact Mike Gallagher at: AOHD17@mail.serve.com.Related Links:
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