A memorial coin with a photo of Rick Gannon

Remembering the Sacrifice of a Cornellian Lost in War

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Campus event honored Marine Corps Maj. Richard Gannon ’95, who was just 31 when he died in Iraq two decades ago

Editor’s note: This story includes content from a feature in the Cornell Chronicle.

By Beth Saulnier

Cornell’s formal war memorials bear the names of hundreds of alumni who gave their lives in the two World Wars, as well as dozens in Korea and Vietnam.

Only a handful of names—standing poignantly apart—mark losses in subsequent conflicts.

One of those few is Maj. Richard Gannon ’95.

A Marine Corps officer and Navy ROTC alum, Gannon was killed in Iraq in April 2004 while aiding a wounded comrade—and ever since that awful loss, his memory has loomed large on the Hill.

Rick Gannon in dress uniform with his wife, Sally, in a blue gown
With future wife Sally. (Provided)

In addition to being honored with an entry on the Anabel Taylor war memorial, Gannon—who died at age 31, leaving behind a wife and four young children—is remembered in two Barton Hall venues, with a classroom and a gym now each bearing his name.

Maj. Ted Powers, Navy ROTC executive officer and an associate professor of naval science, has called Gannon a “patron saint” of the ROTC program, noting: “He’s the one that we’re aspiring to be more like.”

Rick Gannon and John Daggett as students
At left with pal John Daggett ’95. (Provided)

An annual golf tournament, organized by Phi Sigma Kappa brothers, is held in Gannon’s memory; they also created a fund to assist his widow and children.

As fraternity member Brian Drumm ’96 wrote in a 2004 message when both were established: “Rick’s life was exemplary in every aspect—a life of quiet but significant achievement, willing sacrifice, and unlimited potential.”

A native of Escondido, CA, Gannon double-majored in government and history in Arts & Sciences, completing his studies in three and a half years.

In mid-January 1995—just as his classmates were launching into their senior spring, a semester when many are taking Intro to Wines and celebrating Slope Day—he accepted his military commission.

The following day, he donned his Marine dress blue uniform to marry his high school sweetheart.

Maria Gannon, left, and Maria Wood stand beside the war memorial plaque in the Anabel Taylor Hall rotunda that honors their fathers, Maj. Richard J. Gannon II ’95 and Capt. George A. Wood ’93, two alumni killed during the conflict in Iraq.
Gannon's daughter Maria (left) in 2019, with the plaque bearing his name in Anabel Taylor. With her is the daughter of Capt. George Wood ’93, also killed in Iraq. (Jason Koski / Cornell University)

“He was an exemplary leader,” Gannon’s father, himself a Vietnam veteran, said in a Military Times obituary, adding: “When he was with you, he was present, which is a very rare quality with young people.”

A captain at the time of his death, Gannon was posthumously promoted to major and awarded a Purple Heart, as well as a Silver Star for bravery and gallantry in action.

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On April 17, 2024—the 20th anniversary of his passing—his hometown unveiled a bronze bust of Gannon, a memorial project spearheaded by classmate and fellow Marine veteran Craig Gottlieb ’95.

The previous weekend, Cornell held its own commemoration with a daylong program of events—attended by alumni, students, faculty, staff, Gannon’s family and friends, and veterans who served with him.

The day kicked off with a 5K run, beginning and ending in Barton.

A bronze bust of Rick Gannon
The new tribute in Escondido. (Provided)

The route wound down the Slope and back up again—and some ROTC students and veterans completed it while wearing weighted rucksacks.

Other events included a post-run brunch in Barton, a gathering in a campus auditorium to share remembrances, a Mass in Anabel Taylor Chapel—led by Gannon’s uncle, a Jesuit priest who baptized him—and a dinner at the Statler, whose attendees included Provost Michael Kotlikoff.

Runners in Rick's Run, some wearing rucksacks
Some runners went the extra mile, donning heavy rucksacks. (Sgt. Gerardo Cano)

“The theme of the day was ‘The Enduring Legacy of Major Richard J. Gannon II,’ and by the end, we proved to 18 members of the Gannon family that Rick's influence lives on here at Cornell,” says Powers.

“In fact, his impact has only grown over the years—now inspiring Midshipmen born after his death.”

His impact has only grown over the years—now inspiring Midshipmen born after his death.

Maj. Ted Powers, Navy ROTC executive officer

The dinner’s guest of honor was one of the highest-ranking military alumni in Cornell history: Gen. John "Jay" Paxton ’73, MEng ’74.

Paxton retired in 2016 as assistant commandant (second in command) of the Marine Corps—the capstone of a distinguished 42-year career.

Gen. John Paxton speaking to an audience at a formal dinner
At the dinner, Paxton offered a tribute as Gannon's family looked on. (Danielle Gerritsen)

In his remarks, Paxton—who’d known Gannon personally when serving as his regimental commander—noted that the combination of the day’s events personified the late major's character, and the fundamental principles of the Marine Corps.

“For Rick Gannon, it was ‘mind, body, spirit,’” he said. “And he was all in.”

(Top: A memorial medallion bearing Gannon's image, on display at the Statler dinner. Photo by Danielle Gerritsen.)

Published April 18, 2024


  1. Jerry Miknis, Lt Col, USAF-Ret, Class of 1972

    Saluting Major Gannon!

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