When he was 9, Richard Gannon trained for months with his father, a Vietnam veteran, to run in a marathon.
The day of the Heart of San Diego Marathon, Richard Gannon Sr. pulled a hamstring with six miles to go. “He looked at me like I was betraying him,” the elder Gannon said of his son. “This wasn’t what we trained for. This wasn’t in the script.”
The younger Gannon finished the race, ignoring a police officer who tried to persuade him to call it quits.
“That cop tried to stop him, but he just said, ‘You must be so proud of that kid -- he’s running on pure guts,’ ” his father recalled.
Twenty-two years later, his son -- a Marine Corps captain whom fellow Marines called “tougher than a $2 steak” -- demonstrated his ability to lead and inspire inside a spartan concrete structure in Husaybah, Iraq, as Lima Company mourned its fallen members.
Gannon invoked slain Lance Cpl. Christopher Wasser in a speech captured by a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter who followed the company.
“In the end,” Gannon said at the memorial service, “we’re going to win this thing, and Wasser is going to be our guiding light.”
Gannon, 31, of Escondido was one of four Marines killed just days later during a firefight April 17 in Al Anbar province.
As of Saturday, at least 715 American servicemen and women had been killed in Iraq, 575 since major fighting ended May 1. Gannon is one of at least 86 men and women from California who have died.
The skilled horseman and married father of four was a company commander in the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
An excellent student at Escondido High School, Gannon attended Cornell University on a Navy scholarship, graduating with a double major of political science and history. He took advanced leadership training at the Naval Academy, and was commissioned as a Marine officer in 1995.
Although his father, a Marine who survived North Vietnam’s Tet Offensive in 1968, “was not anxious to see any of my children join the military,” he said he was proud when his son became a Marine.
After the invasion of Iraq last year, Gannon told his family that the fighting he saw was not as intense as what his father encountered in Vietnam, but, he said, “I have learned to face my own fear of dying.”
Lima Company’s main goal in Al Anbar province was to provide humanitarian aid. But the Marines quickly encountered resistance from insurgents.
“He told me they were facing some real challenges, that they had sustained several casualties, that this was an entirely different situation” than the initial invasion, said Gannon Sr., 60. “But he always left us with the assurance that he was going to be fine. ‘Don’t worry about me, I’m good.’ He never said, ‘I’ve got to get out of this place.’ ”
His mother, Theresa, 51, said she didn’t “know what he was like as a leader in the military. I only knew him as my son. And as my son, he was affectionate. He was a wonderful son. He just gave me one moment after another to be proud of.”
Gannon also is survived by his wife, Sally; and four children ages 2 to 12 -- Connor, Patrick, Richard III and Maria.
Gannon will be buried with full military honors at Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma, Calif., on a date still to be determined.