After almost a decade of leadership as Post Commander (Chef de Gare) of Voiture 333 of the 40 & 8, Tony Gallagher, who saw the group grow from 15 members to more than 200 under his leadership, is retiring.
However, he said he plans to stay active in the community and help his wife with her travel business.
“I had nine years and we (Gallagher and wife Jean) devoted ourselves 24/7,” Gallagher told the Democrat Friday. “The phone would ring day and night and that was wonderful, but Jean has a travel business and I felt like I neglected that. I want to help her and I would like to have some time to myself. Today, I was able to go to mass and go to a cookout tonight. It’s been 12 years since I’ve been to a cookout on the Fourth of July because I’ve worked.”
He added that the group assists with the biggest parade in the community on Veterans’ Day, works in the cemeteries with other organizations on Memorial Day, assists the Smith-Cotton JROTC, and assists at the Christian youth home by providing computers to graduating students. Gallagher also teaches a class on the Cold War.
“All those things take time. I just want to have that time now to spend with my dear wife,” Gallagher said. “Let her give some orders for a change.”
According to the group, under his leadership Voiture 333 grew from a small post of 15 members to more than 200, with an average of 100 people attending monthly breakfast meetings.
“Me and my wife began working very hard and recruiting every place we went and we slowly grew,” Gallagher said. “We grew to where we are now the fourth largest post in the country. We are very proud of that fact. We had three successful years where we were in the top five. That’s quite an accomplishment to go from the bottom to the fifth.”
In an important milestone in the history of the 40 & 8, women were allowed into the group thanks in part to the work of Gallagher.
“I brought in this couple and the guys about had a heart attack because one of them was a woman and women are not allowed in the 40 & 8,” Gallagher said. “I said what do you mean she’s not allowed in here and they said that’s the rule. I went to the national convention and fought. By one vote, we got it approved that women would be allowed in the 40 & 8.
“I did it for this reason — my philosophy is a veteran is a veteran. If you wore that uniform, by God you are entitled to all the benefits. The first female came from Sedalia and is still with us. She is 94 or 95 years old. She was a nurse in the Navy during World War II and she had every right to be a member.”
The 40 & 8 was formed in 1920 in Philadelphia. The boxcar of the French Railways, so familiar to American ground troops of World War I, was chosen as the symbolic heart of the new organization. The French/Railroad theme was applied to officer titles and organizational functions.
The boxcar is also central to the 40 & 8 because the group takes its name from the “40/8” cargo capacity sign emblazoned on each French boxcar that had carried American doughboys to the front, and also the “French horizon blue” color, became symbols of the new society.
“The 40 & 8 stands for 40 men or eight horses. The boxcars would carry eight horses to the front, come back, and get 40 men,” Gallagher said. “In a lot of cases the men suffocated in those cars because they were never cleaned out and they would be in a 50 pound pack sitting in the corner breathing all the horse manure.”
With the boxcar being central to the organization, the 40 & 8 also maintains the boxcar on the Missouri State Fairgrounds. Gallagher shared some of that car’s unique and interesting history.
“There was a period of time when the French people sent boxcars to every state in the union. Those boxcars were loaded with beautiful gifts,” he said. “Ours came to Jeff City, our legislature was in session. Our legislature got the keys to the boxcar and ripped the people of Missouri off by taking everything out of the boxcar.”
Aside from assisting veterans with housing and other community issues, what makes the 40 & 8 different from other veterans’ organizations?
“We are more civic minded. We are more involved in our community,” Gallagher said. “We have in the past nine years given close to $200,000 worth of scholarships to nursing students nationally. You go downtown and see all the hundreds of flags flying. We did not even have a flag inside of our courthouse until the 40 & 8 put one in there.”
Gallagher said he is grateful for all the support he has received in the community and from fellow members and the community over the years and expressed his thanks. As he moves onto the next chapter of his life, Voiture 333 will continue to serve the community by pursuing the historic and civic minded ideas of the international organization.
The 40 & 8, La Societe des Quarante Hommes at Huit Chevaux, is an independent, by invitation, honor organization of male and female U.S. veterans and is committed to charitable and patriotic aims.
According to the national website, their purpose is to uphold and defend the United States Constitution, to promote the well-being of veterans and their widows and orphans, and to participate in selected charitable endeavors, which include programs that promote child welfare and nurse’s training.