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Ironic convergence in Seattle of LBJ-focused plays, probable Galloway Vietnam interviews

(This second of two columns deals with an ironic convergence in Seattle as a play depicting Lynden Johnson's failure in Vietnam has its world premiere at the Seattle Rep while a series of special interviews with veterans of that war will likely be conducted in Seattle by the correspondent who made famous the defining battle of the war.)

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As The Great Society, a look at Lyndon B. Johnson's failure in Vietnam, has its world premiere in Seattle, the war correspondent who chronicled the battle that foretold the outcome of that war may well be conducting filmed oral-history interviews with Seattle-area vets for the Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemorative.

The world premiere of Robert Schenkkan's play, a co-commission between the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Seattle Repertory Theater, will open at the Rep on December 5 as a companion to the Tony-award winning All the Way, detailing LBJ's initial successes, which opens at the Rep this week.

That first Schenkkan play ironically opens at the Rep on November 14, the 49th anniversary of the start of the four-day battle of the Ia Drang Valley that Joe Galloway's writings made famous.

That Vietnam outcome is the focus of Schenkkan's The Great Society, which depicts LBJ's fall from grace as his major domestic accomplishments are overshadowed by the failure of his conduct of the Vietnam War.

Joe Galloway, a UPI correspondent who made famous the November, 1965, battle of the Ia Drang Valley and the war's outcome that it presaged, now has a special role in the 50thAnniversary Commemorative project that is intended to bring him to Seattle in January or February.

Joe Galloway at Veterans Day in D.C.
(Stars and Stripes photo)
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Galloway is serving as a special consultant to the 50thCommemorative project run out of the office of the Secretary of Defense, doing filmed oral history interviews with Vietnam veterans.The interviews are what would guide his effort to get to Seattle in January or February.

 

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."    

Galloway had a high-visibility role for this year's Veterans Day celebration at the National World War II Memorial in Washington as keynote speaker and among the hundreds on hand were roughly 20 WWII veterans, who were singled out and thanked repeatedly throughout the ceremony for their service.

 

Galloway noted in his remarks that though the WWII vets' numbers have "dwindled down to a precious few," their contribution to promoting peace and freedom in the world still looms large.  

With an obvious reference to Vietnam, Galloway told the veterans and others in attendance that despite the tremendous cost in lives lost, "There was not a voice raised against that war because it had to be fought and ... it had to be won."

Galloway has completed 65 two-hour filmed interviews for the oral histories, beginning with Gen. (and later Secretary of Defense) Colin Powell, and now is looking to line up a dozen or so Seattle-area interviews. Ideally, the visit for the interviews would be paired with one or more commemorative events in the Seattle area as states and communities are urged to participate in the 50thcommemorative with events to say belated thanks to the Vietnam veterans.

old galloway
Joe Galloway 

Galloway explains that the unedited interviews will be deposited in the Library of Congress Oral History Archives. An edited version (for length and focus) will be transferred to DVD and eventually packaged and sent to every junior and senior high school in the country.

Galloway's "We Were Soldiers Once and Young" and its sequel, as well as his later writings, made the battle of Ia Drang famous for its import in making clear the inevitable Vietnam outcome a decade before politicians finally ended the war.

Galloway was a 25-year-old UPI correspondent who was already battle tested when he found himself, along with the Seventh Cavalry, in the midst of the first major conflict for U.S. troops vs. North Vietnam regulars in a place called the Ia Drang Valley.

In his book and its sequel, "We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields," both co-authored with Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, then a lieutenant colonel commanding a unit of the 7th Cavalry, Galloway focuses on the battle and the soldiers, of both armies, who suffered and died there.

Galloway himself eventually was decorated with the bronze star with valor for his actions to rescue wounded soldiers under fire, the only time the award was made by the army to a civilian for actions in Vietnam.

"In three days and two nights in Landing Zone X-Ray, and another day and night in a landing zone called Albany two miles away, 234 American soldiers were killed and nearly 300 wounded. The North Vietnamese left behind the bodies of somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 dead," Galloway wrote in an article for History magazine. "No one in their right mind stakes a claim to victory in the middle of that kind of carnage. Funny but both sides did just that." 

Galloway was typically Galloway at a news conference following the battle, as he recalled a clash with a general who had just returned from assessing the battle zone. "He toldthe dozens of reporters who had assembled that there was no ambush of the Americans at Albany. 'It was a meeting engagement,' he said, and added 'casualties were light to moderate.' I had just returned from Albany myself, and I stood and told the general, 'That's bullshit, sir, and you know it!' The news conference dissolved in a chorus of angry shouting."

The forever indictment of President Johnson and his brain trust for what happened in Vietnam was sealed because of Ia Drang. Following the battle, LBJ dispatched Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to find out what had happened at Ia Drang and what it meant.

Galloway, in an article four years ago in History.net magazine, explained what took place thereafter at the highest levels.

"After meeting with the ambassador and key military people, including Hal Moore, McNamara penned a top-secret memo to LBJ, saying in essence 'We have come to a decision point and it seems we have only two choices: Either we arrange whatever diplomatic cover we can find and get out of Vietnam, or we give General (William C.) Westmoreland the 200,000 additional U.S. troops he is asking for, in which case by early 1967 we will have 500,000 Americans on the ground and they will be dying at the rate of 1,000 a month (American combat deaths would actually top out at over 3,000 a month in 1968).' McNamara wrote that all this would achieve was a military stalemate at a much higher level of violence."

  

Galloway's article continued: "On December 15, 1965, LBJ's council of 'wise old men,' which in addition to McNamara included the likes of Clark Clifford, Abe Fortas, Averell Harriman, George Ball and Dean Acheson, was assembled at the White House to decide the path ahead in Vietnam. As the president walked into the room, he was holding McNamara's November 30 memo in his hand. Shaking it at the defense secretary, he said, 'You mean to tell me no matter what I do I can't win in Vietnam?' McNamara nodded yes. The wise men talked for two days without seriously considering McNamara's '1'-getting out of Vietnam-and ultimately voted unanimously in favor of further escalation of the war."

The count of the dead would eventually exceed 52,000, including 1,100 from Washington State.

In the columns on military affairs he wrote for McClatchy Newspapers after his retirement, Galloway frequently criticized the political decisionmakers who put his soldiers in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan. He told me once, when I asked about the criticisms he received from high levels, "I wore out the 'delete' key on my keyboard every year. I didn't take it personally. Most who wrote such diatribes calling me nine kinds of a Commie rat were people who had never worn a uniform, would not send their children to fight in the wars they championed and really were so unread in history as to be unqualified to say a damn word."

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