By Harry Keaney
United States Army chaplain Col. Peter Gilhawley, who died last September, has been posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit Award for his 27 years of service as a military chaplain. His parents came from County Sligo.
The award, one of the highest conferred by the U.S. Army, is usually given, on retirement, to top colonels and generals who have shown outstanding achievement.
The award was presented during a special ceremony at the West Point Military Academy to Gilhawley’s wife, Janet, by Colonel Chaplain Allan Buckner, from the chief of chaplains office in the Pentagon, who was a close friend of Gilhawley’s. She said she was touched by the 150 people who attended the ceremony.
"It was extremely emotional because Peter was the one who should have been collecting the medal and he wasn’t there," she told the Echo.
In August last year, Gilhawley suffered a blood clot. Three weeks later, on Sept. 6, he died. He was buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y., with full military honors.
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
Gilhawley, who was 50 when he died, was the son of the late Anne Gilhawley, nee Colliery, and the late Peter Gilhawley, from Skreen and Dromard, Co. Sligo, respectively.
Colonel Gilhawley himself was a native of Thiells, N.Y. He entered the army in 1972 and served as chaplain in the 104th Engineer Battalion, the 50th Armored Division and the 42nd Infantry Division.
On Dec. 7, 1974, he was ordained a Catholic priest and his parishes included St. Gregory Barbarigo Church in Garnerville in Rockland County, as well as Holy Rosary Church, Our Lady of Mercy Church and St. Barnabas Church in the Bronx. His service included years as division chaplain for the National Guard in New Jersey and New York. He also served as part of the Ministry for the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese of New York. He was twice the recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal, one of the U.S.’s highest peacetime awards.
Most recently, he served in the Office of the Chief of Chaplains in Washington, D.C.
He left active ministry in 1987 and married in 1990. After having been transferred to the Pentagon in March 1999, he was assigned to work in Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he developed a special program under which he would have liaised with the army, the FBI and other federal agencies in the event of a bombing or major accident.
Gilhawley was a member of the Sligo Association of New York and, in 1981, was named by the association as its Sligo Man of the Year. He also helped raise funds for the North West Hospice in Sligo and among those in attendance at the awards ceremony in West Point was Enniscrone man John Foody, chief organizer of the annual hospice fundraising golf tournament in New York.
"A representative from the chief of chaplains office came up from Washington, D.C., and presented the award to Peter’s wife, Janet. It was a very emotional occasion," Foody said afterward.