The 45th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and thus the end of the Vietnam War might have passed without note this week regardless of the impact of COVID-19. No gatherings were planned that had to be canceled. No celebrations. No special remembrances.
But the anniversary has been on my mind in the past few months, as I'm sure it has been on the minds of others, like the ones who fought there or whose fathers, sons, brothers or children are among the 58,320 names of the dead on the wall in Washington, D.C.
So why mark the 45th anniversary rather than the 50th? Because it's important to remember now since in another five years, hundreds of the remaining Vietnam veterans who deserve to be celebrated, as anniversaries provide the opportunity to do, won't be here.
For recollections in recognition of the anniversary, I reached out to Joe Galloway, whom readers of this column may recall I've written about half a dozen times over the past few years. He was one of the most prominent correspondents of the Vietnam War, serving four tours with United Press International over the decade from 1965, arriving as a 23-year-old, to 1975.
In addition to sharing his thought in emails we traded, Galloway agreed to do an interview Wednesday with me and a television-personality friend from New England, Danielle (Dani) Rocco, with whom I do interviews. The link is at the bottom of this column.
For Galloway, this was to be the final year of a seven-year odyssey under special assignment with the Defense Department to do interviews with veterans of the war to preserve their memories with "the body of material for future generations who want to know what this war was all about." Two of my columns on him related to his two visits to Seattle for his interviews.
But the impact of the virus has put his travels on hold, as have all DoD travels been put on hold, he told me.
He'll soon be promoting his new book, his third on the war and the soldiers who fought in it. "They Were Soldiers," to be published May 12 by Nelson Books, is a co-authored look at the private lives of those who returned from Vietnam to make "astonishing" contributions in science, medicine, business, and other areas, "changing America for the better."
His first book, "We Were Soldiers Once and Young," was a chronicle of the battle of Ia Drang in November of 1965 that was the first battle between U.S. forces and the army of North Vietnam, and for many historians remembered as the defining battle of the war.
Galloway later described Ia Drang as "the battle that convinced Ho Chi Minh he could win," despite the fact that close to 2,000 North Vietnamese troops died in the four days of fighting.
And in vivid descriptions, writing articles about the battle later, Galloway wrote: "What happened there, in the Ia Drang Valley sounded alarm bells in the Johnson White House and the Pentagon as they tallied the American losses-a stunning butcher's bill of 234 men killed and more than 250 wounded in just four days and nights, November 14-17, in two adjacent clearings dubbed Landing Zones X-ray and Albany. Another 71 Americans had been killed in earlier, smaller skirmishes that led up to the Ia Drang battles."
That book, published in 1992 and co-authored with Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, who as a Lieutenant Colonel was the commanding officer in the battle and who became Galloway's lifelong friend, became a well-received movie, "We Were Soldiers."
Ia Drang was near the end of Galloway's first year covering the war. As we now prepare to mark the 45th anniversary April 30, I asked Galloway in an email to recall his decade in Vietnam that as well as the end of the conflict.
"I was in Bangkok covering the arrival of foreigners expelled from Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge from the French Embassy when Saigon fell.
"For me, it marked the end of 10 years of intimate involvement with the Vietnam War -- from spring of 1965 to spring of 1975. I was deeply saddened by the abandonment of our South Vietnamese allies.
"I made five trips back to Vietnam after the war ended," Galloway said.
"Interviewed North Vietnamese Senior General Vo Nguyen Giap three times for our books. Traveled back to the old Ia Drang battlefields in company with the North Viet Army commanders who had done their damndest to kill us all there.
"Now we found ourselves friends of a sort; blood brothers of a sort. We had shed each other's blood in large quantities but now we would stand together in a circle, our arms over each other's shoulders, and say a prayer for the souls of ALL the brave young men who had died, who had killed each other, on that blood-drenched red dirt."
Other American veterans of Ia Drang were there, too, for the remarkable meetings with their old enemies and for a haunting visit to the place the Vietnamese called "The Forest of the Screaming Souls."
The meetings with their old foes stunned the Americans, who hadn't known what to expect. They were warmly welcomed as they exchanged detailed memories of those horrific days in 1965.
On an impulse, Moore gave his inexpensive wristwatch to General Giap, and recalled for an interviewer: "Giap held the watch in both his hands, looking at it with amazement, as tears gathered in his eyes and mine. Then he turned and clutched me to him in a full embrace. It was my turn to be stunned as this former enemy - arguably one of the greatest military commanders of the twentieth century - held me like a son in his arms for a long moment."
Galloway and Moore wrote of the return to Ia Drang with their former enemies in "We Are Soldiers Still. A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam," published in 2008
Moore died three years ago at the age of 94.
Here is the link to the interview with Galloway
(Tomorrow: Recalling the column I wrote on another former UPI colleague who served as correspondents in Vietnam and introduced Joe around when he first arrived. And about the helicopter pilot, now a resident of Kitsap County, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for the role he played in helping Moore and his troops at Ia Drang.)