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updated 2:54 PM CDT, Jul 28, 2018

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Seattle may have role in Galloway's Vietnam 50th commemorative interviews with Viet vets

Editor's Note:
This is the first of two columns related to the Vietnam War 50thAnniversary Commemorative project, the interviews with Viet vets being conducted by prominent war correspondent Joe Galloway and the effort to make Seattle-area vets part of those Commemorative oral-history interviews. The second column next week will deal with the battle that Galloway's book and subsequent movie made famous and, as President Lynden Johnson's life is being featured in a pair of plays by Seattle dramatist Robert Schenkkan, the role that battle played in LBJ's tragically avoidable decisions about Vietnam.)

 

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Joe Galloway, a self-described country boy from Texas who became the only decorated correspondent of the Vietnam war and earned praise from those whose battles he covered as "the soldiers' reporter," saves special profanity for both the politicians who sent soldiers to die and the protesters who refused to welcome them home.

Galloway's book, "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young" and the movie made from it served to make famous the November, 1965, battle of Ia Drang Valley, which history proved to be the defining battle of Vietnam a decade before politicians finally ended the war.

And while his war-correspondent role continued in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was the battle of Ia Drang that forever marked him as more than a correspondent. It was there in that first major conflict between U.S. troops and North Vietnam regulars that he repeatedly disregarded his own safety to rescue wounded soldiers under fire.

Joe Galloway

He eventually was decorated with the bronze star with V (for valor), the only time the award was made by the army to a civilian for actions in Vietnam.

Now Galloway has a key role in the Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemorative project, serving as a special consultant to the project run out of the office of the Secretary of Defense, doing oral history interviews with Vietnam veterans.

"I have 65 two-hour interviews in the can now, beginning with Colin Powell and working outward," he told me.

It may be that the Seattle area and interviews with veterans from this state, as well as helping mark one or more commemorative local events, will be on Galloway's early 2015 schedule.

With Galloway's permission and that of retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude M. "Mick" Kicklighter, who is charged with overseeing all aspects of the Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemoration, several of us are cooperating in an effort to line up the Vietnam vet interviews and ideally one or more Commemorative events.

 

I've written a couple of Flynn's Harp columns on Galloway, a one-time colleague at United Press International, the wire service for which he covered the Vietnam War, and he's now among those who receive this column and we exchange emails occasionally.

The email exchange that led to the effort on behalf of a Seattle visit early next year began when I emailed Galloway to ask about his views of the controversy starting to emerge in reaction to the 50th commemorative project.

 

Noted Vietnam protestor Tom Hayden and others have gathered petitions objecting to the Defense Department website relating to the 50th anniversary commemorative, describing it as a "whitewash."

"I suppose it is only natural and normal that the (expletive) protesters crawl out of the woodwork to p--- on something decent one last time," Galloway replied, noting "I am not speaking for the Commemoration. That isn't my job. But surely these (expletive) can't argue with letting Vietnam veterans tell their own stories in their own words."

Galloway explained that the anniversary commemoration "is really about saying thanks to those who served and urging all the cities and towns across this country to hold their own events honoring those veterans, giving them the welcome that was denied to them half a century ago.

 

Joint Base-Lewis-McChord (JBLM) last month had an event to recognize the 50thanniversary commemoration where about 2,500 veterans and their families showed up at the largest military base on the West Coast for the ceremony, apparently the first at any military base.

Although not related directly to the 50th, the State of Washington, on Memorial Day of 2012, marked the 25thanniversary of completion of the state's Vietnam wall to honor the 1,116 state residents killed or missing in Vietnam.

This area has a particular attraction for Galloway because among the interviewees here would be Bruce Crandall, the helicopter pilot who was a hero of both Galloway's book and the movie for the heroism demonstrated in repeat trips to the Ia Drang battlefield to deliver supplies and evacuate wounded.

Crandall, an Olympia native who attended University of Washington before being drafted, and his wing man, Ed "Too Tall" Freeman, who died a year ago, were both awarded the Medal of Honor for their bravery at Ia Drang. Together they flew nearly two dozen missions during both daylight and darkness into the landing zone, bringing essential ammunition and supplies and carrying out 70 wounded, after a med evac unit had decided it was too deadly to fly into the battle zone.

Dick Merchant 

Other interviewees will likely include Richard Merchant, the retired lieutenant colonel who was awarded a Bronze Star with V, a purple heart and other awards, who was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Memorial Day event at the wall in Olympia.

It was during Merchant's first of two tours in Vietnam that he found himself in the battle of the Ia Drang Valley.

In his keynote, Merchant made reference to "those who hated the war but weren't able to differentiate between the war and those who were sent to fight it."

"The soldier above all people prays for peace because he has suffered the deepest wounds of war," he added.

Others I have touched base with on this project thus far include Perkins Coie attorney Karl Ege, who for more than a decade served as chief legal officer for Russell Investments Group, and was a forward observer for a U.S. Marines artillery unit in 1966 and 1967. He has returned to Vietnam on several occasions.

"What is astonishing to me is the high regard the people of Vietnam have for the United States, we are welcomed there with open arms," Ege emailed me.  "The average age of the Vietnamese is less than 30 and the 'American War' (as it is known there) is unknown to the young. It is their 'grandparents war'"

For Galloway, the oral-history interviews with Vietnam veterans bring back memories, and many are not easy ones.

 

In Kentucky, where he was speaker along with the Kentucky governor, himself a Vietnam vet, Galloway recalled for me wandering around the sundial-based memorial. "I stopped at November 1965 and, sure enough, there were the names of two Kentuckians killed in the Ia Drang Valley. I was stopped in my tracks and quietly wept for those boys and all the boys who died in that war."

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