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.
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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