CALGARY – Many called John Robert Gallagher a martyr of humanity – a Canadian soldier who died fighting in Syria.
Gallagher was killed last November fighting with Kurdish forces.
The Ontario native spent some time living in Calgary, and Sunday a special vigil was held.
It was a chance for his family and the friends he met in the city, to say their farewells.
It was in Calgary where Gallagher would spend his spare time, surrounded by the peaceful tranquility of the gardens and it was a fitting backdrop to the Canadian soldier’s final tribute.
“Some days it doesn’t feel real, other days it’s too real and I don’t get out of bed,” said Lily Gallagher, John Robert’s sister.
The 32-year-old retired veteran volunteered with the Kurdish soldiers in Syria. He was steadfast in his commitment to a cause worth fighting for.
In an interview with Maclean’s a few months before he was shot and killed, Gallagher expressed how he felt on the fight against ISIS.
“There’s no compromise with this kind of enemy…there’s no middle ground, these guys aren’t going to quit until they’re dead and it makes it pretty easy to justify fighting against them with everything we got in our arsenal,” said Gallagher.
“He wasn’t ordered to be there. He was there because he believed in it and thought it was right. It’s his morals why he was there. He’s a hero to a lot of people but to me, he’s my dumb big brother,” Lily said.
Those in the Kurdish community are grateful beyond words for Gallagher’s allegiance and bravery.
“It inspires me to do things I might not be rewarded for. He didn’t do it for recognition, he did it for what he believed in,” said Bahar Naqhshbandi, a Kurdish community member.
A Calgary documentarian who shared time with Gallagher in Iraq said he made a lasting impression.
“I’d been in Iraq on the front lines for about a week and you get used to the hard reality of soldier with a grim demeanor about them and then John came around he was kind, gentle and welcoming,” said Gavin John, a freelance photojournalist.
It’s his sacrifices that will never be forgotten.
“I’m proud to talk about John why he fought and I have that responsibility for the rest of my life,’ Gavin John said.
As John’s favorite music echoed throughout the service, on behalf of his mother, John’s Aunt Dianne shared his last letter to his family written in the event he wouldn’t return home. It was only retrieved a few days ago from his damaged laptop.
“He wrote: ‘What can we say to each other now? I hope I’ve been honest, I hope I’ve been brave. I loved my life and I love you all,” said Dianne Gallagher, John Robert’s Aunt.
The vigil was organized by members of the Kurdish and Ukrainian communities of Calgary.