Remembering a Giant of the Corps
Categories: American Grit Stories, Military, Remembrance
Battalion Commanders are never the same after learning of the loss of any of their Marines, a feeling that literally every single infantry Battalion Commander in the Marine Corps has had to battle since 9/11. But 11 years ago, on June 26th, 2008, it was an entire battalion that learned of the loss of their Battalion Commander, along with two other Marines.
Lt. Col Max Galeai was a giant of the Corps, an impeccable and at times intimidating presence. Originally from Pago Pago, American Samoa, he came into the Marine Corps by way of Navy ROTC at Oregon State University. After graduating The Basic School and the Infantry Officers Course, both at Quantico VA, he was assigned to 1st Bn 8th Marines (1/8) at Camp Lejeune, NC.
I first met Max Galeai when I checked into 1/8 as young “boot” in September of 1990. He was then a 1st Lt. having deployed already once as a rifle platoon commander, he was then the platoon commander of the battalion’s Anti Armor platoon, which was soon to be reorganized as one of two Combined Anti Armor Teams (CAAT).
“Max was the epitome of a Marine officer; Smart, strong, tactically proficient and above all, a genuinely good leader who loved and cared for his Marines.”- Major Mike Ettore (Ret), Galeai’s former Company Commander and Founder of the Fidelis Leadership Group
1st Lt Galeai was one of the two first officers to take a CAAT platoon into combat. During Operation Desert Storm his platoon had one of the highest numbers of enemy tank kills of any unit deployed in theater.
“The valor and presence of mind demonstrated by First Lieutenant Galeai enabled the battalion to continue movement to the objective and hours later destroy a major counterattack force” Stated in Galeai’s Bronze Star citation by then Lt. Gen Keys (Ret) Commanding General II Marine Expeditionary Force
I was reunited with him over a decade later when as a Major, he commanded the Recruiting Station in Orange, CA. Still impeccable and somewhat intimidating, we had a chance to catch up on old times in 1/8. His goal was to ultimately return to Hawaii where he as a Captain, served as a Company Commander. A few years later he got what we wanted and was the Battalion Commander of 2nd Bn 3rd Marines (2/3).
Lt. Col Galeai was well into his second deployment to Iraq by June of 2008. A great deal of the deployment had been focused on helping train the Iraqis as police officers and to ultimately transition control of the town of Karmah in the Anbar province. That strong presence was a daily inspiration to the Marines of 2/3 and made quite the impression on the local Iraqi leaders.
“My last email to him contained this warning: “Max, I know you’re on top of things over there, but please make sure everyone stays vigilant. There are bad people living very close to your unit who stay awake at night thinking of new ways to kill Marines.” Major Mike Ettore (Ret), Galeai’s former Company Commander and Founder of the Fidelis Leadership Group
On June 26th, 2008 just two days from the official handover of control, Lt Col Galeai attended a meeting with local Iraqi leaders in Karmah to discuss the transition as well as the locals taking a stand against the factions of Al-Qaeda. He was accompanied by the commanding officer of Fox Company 2/3 Captain Philip J. Dykeman and Cpl. Marcus W. Preudhomme. During the meeting, a suicide bomber disguised as an Iraqi police officer detonated an explosive belt killing all three Marines. Several Iraqi tribal leaders at the meeting were killed as well as two translators.
The emotional impact of the loss of these three Marines was felt not only among the ranks of 2/3 but quickly made its way to the rest of the community of Marines and their families at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. And in the case of Lt. Col Galeai, it was felt hard throughout the Samoan community in the Corps.
In the years since this horrible day, I have made it a point to tell his story and remember him every anniversary. Along the way I have spoken to Marines that served with him not just in 2/3 or originally 1/8 but throughout his two decades in the Corps.
“I remember being one of his instructors at Officers Candidate School (OCS), he was one of the great ones.” Former Marine Forces Pacific Sgt Major Evans McBride (Ret)
Lt. Col Galeai, Captain Dyckman, and Cpl. Preudhomme were honored on September 19th, 2008 at the home of 3rd Marines in Hawaii.
A giant of the Corps, never forgotten, Lt Col Galeai is buried in his native Pago Pago, American Samoa.