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For Galloway, interviews with Vietnam veterans are revisiting that war's memories, emotions

 

 It was 50 years ago this month that Joseph L. (Joe) Galloway arrived in Vietnam as a 23-year-old reporter for United Press International and stayed to become perhaps the best-known war correspondent of his time with his book and the movie it spawned detailing his involvement in what may have been the defining battle of that war.

Joe Galloway 

Now Joe Galloway is revisiting that war in memory and emotion as he travels the country interviewing veterans of that conflict as part of a 50-year Vietnam Commemoration, not celebrating the war but those who fought there.

Galloway has been in Seattle this week conducting a series of interviews at Q13 Fox, which made its facilities available for the interviews, 60- to 90-minute videos that Galloway hopes will be "the body of material for future generations who want to know what this war was all about."

Speaking of the more than 100 interviews he has done around the country, beginning with a video interview with Colin Powell, Galloway says he thinks the veterans are sharing their memories and feelings "because we are 50 years down the road and if they are going to tell their stories, they had better tell them now."

"Since we are in the twilight of our lives, they want to leave the truth of their experience," he added.

"They are not bitter but I am bitter in their behalf. It make me angry that those who came to hate the war came to hate the warriors who were their sons and daughters."

Galloway is a fan of soldiers, and even some generals, but can't find a politician he can muster regard, or even respect, for. Certainly not Lyndon Johnson and his defense secretary Robert McNamara nor those who guided the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars for whom "the lessons of Vietnam were lost, forgotten or never learned."

He refers to McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld, defense secretary for George W. Bush as "the evil twins of the 20th Century," but adds "the deepest part of hell is reserved for Henry Kissinger. He convinced (President Richard) Nixon to bomb Cambodia for no good reason and eventually millions of Cambodians died because of what the U.S. put in play there."

 

It was in early November of 1965, six months after his arrival, that Galloway found himself covering, and participating in, the first battle of the war between U.S. Army and North Vietnamese regulars at a place called the Ia Drang Valley, a battle that Galloway later wrote "changed the war suddenly and dramatically."

It was during the Ia Drang battle that Galloway rescued two wounded soldiers and later was decorated for his heroism. And after coverage of subsequent wars, he was praised by the late Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf as "the soldiers' reporter" because of his caring and regard for those whose battles he covered.

The Vietnam War Commemoration, of which Galloway's interviews are a part, is aimed at spurring events and activities in states, cities and towns around the country to recognize Vietnam Veterans and their families for service and sacrifice.

 

 Specifically, the mission of the United States of American Vietnam War Commemoration  is to "assist a grateful Nation in thanking and honoring its Vietnam War Veterans and their families, the fallen, the wounded, those who were held as Prisoners of War, and those still listed as 'unaccounted for."   

 

Referring to the growing number of interviewees he has taped, Galloway said "almost every one of them gets emotional and I get emotional with them."

Galloway's first interviewee of this week, Seattle attorney Karl Ege, touched on the emotional aspect when he told me later "It's the loss of so many men (and eight women) who never had a chance to live full, complete lives - for no reason whatsoever - that is the true tragedy of Vietnam. And that's what brings Galloway and me (and so many other Vietnam veterans) to tears."

Ege told Galloway during the interview that "the dishonor of that war for me came when the objective turned to 'how many did we kill?' rather than some strategic or political objective."

He recalled a battle in September 1966 in Quang Tri Province near the DMZ when his outnumbered Marine battalion repelled a larger unit of North Vietnamese with relatively few Marine casualties.

He recalled for Galloway: "A Colonel from a rear echelon unit arrived after the fighting ended and asked 'you fired a lot of artillery Lieutenant; how many did you kill?' I was stunned by the question. Told him I had no idea, and we were not going into the jungle to see how many casualties we could find.  'Don't get smart with me, Lieutenant. I need a number,' the Colonel pressed. I said 'what would you say if I told you 325 as a made up number?' 'Don't get smart with me, Lieutenant,' he said as he walked away."

"Shortly thereafter Stars and Stripes reported that the Marines killed 325 North Vietnamese in an encounter near the DMZ," Ege said.

"Vietnam strikes a raw nerve with most veterans, mainly because of the loss of so many (58,220 dead, 150,000 physically wounded, 2-plus million who served and have internal scars) for what was at the end of the day, a 'fool's errand,'" Ege emailed me after his interview.

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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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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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