It's been five years this coming Memorial Day since the formal launch of the 50th Anniversary Vietnam War Commemoration to honor those who fought in that war but were never thanked when they returned to a divided nation. And for four of those years, Joseph L. (Joe) Galloway, one of the best-known correspondents of that war, has been on the road doing interviews with veterans of that conflict to preserve their memories.
Galloway's travels to do the interviews, mostly about two hours in length and which he told me last week now number about 350, embody his commitment to produce the "the body of material for future generations who want to know what this war was all about."
Galloway, a UPI reporter decorated for battlefield heroism at the battle of Ia Drang 50 years ago last November, spent a week doing interviews in Seattle two years ago. Now he is returning to the Seattle area next month to do another round of interviews with Vietnam veterans.
I've written several columns on Galloway and his role in the 50th Anniversary Commemoration, partly because we were UPI colleagues (he in war zones and I as a political writer and later a Pacific Coast executive for the company). But more important in a broader sense because of a fascination with his perspectives on the war in articles and speeches, and the import of the battle in the Ia Drang Valley that Galloway and the late Gen. Hal Moore, then a lieutenant colonel in command of the U.S. army forces in that battle, made famous in their book and a subsequent movie.
Ia Drang was the first clash of American troops with North Vietnamese regular army and involved heavy fighting in two main engagements that claimed casualties in the hundreds on the U.S. side and several thousand on the North Vietnam side.
Galloway later described it as "The battle that convinced North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minhhe could win," a conclusion that it turns out was shared by then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara after he assessed details and the import of the Ia Drang battle. But McNamara's conclusion, shared with President Lyndon Johnson, never saw the light of day until years later.
The battle became the subject of Galloway's and Moore's book, "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young," and the resulting movie, "We Were Soldiers," as well as a second book, "We are Still Soldiers... A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam" when the two returned to the battlefield years later.
Galloway continued his correspondent role on into war in Iraq and Afghanistan and those who admired his work included the late General Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who referred to him as "the finest combat correspondent of our generation -- a Soldier's reporter and a Soldier's friend."
And of his time on the battlefield, particularly at Ia Drang, Galloway said: "The men I met and the time we spent together fighting for one another was a life-changing experience that transcends the bonds of friendship and brotherhood."
One of my first columns on Galloway dealt with my urging him to come to Seattle after I first learned, in October of 2014, about the commemoration and his role in it.
He told me he'd need a place to do the interviews so KCPQ-13 offered its studios for the week and Galloway became briefly a high-visibility figure in the area, including an interview at Seattle Rotary, as he helped the group of veterans who each spent an hour or more with him have the opportunity to share their memories. And also to accept the belated thank you that the attention represented.
Galloway's comments during his stay here and with the interviews themselves have also been Galloway's revisiting of his own memories of Vietnam.
During one of our interviews, Galloway said of the veterans: "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."
He's also shared his own emotions that accompanied other activities related to this trail through the commemoration events.
He told me of one occasion a couple of years ago where he and the governor of Kentucky shared the podium at an event for Vietnam veterans that was at the state capital at the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which he described as "one of the most spectacular in our country."
"It is in the form of a giant sundial," he said. "Incredible work was done so that when the tip of the shadow from the sundial pointer hits the memorial floor it points to that day's list of Kentucky soldiers who were killed in action on that date in Vietnam."
"It brought tears to my eyes to see the pointer land on those KIA in the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965," he said.
The recent retirement of Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza as commanding officer of Joint Base Lewis McChord was a reminder of Galloway's last visit, and the coming one, since a commemoration Lanza put on as only the second such event at one of the nation's military bases preceded the Galloway visit by four months.
That high-visibility JBLM event in early October of 2014 was a Commemoration tribute that attracted more than 2,500 Vietnam veterans from around the Northwest onto the parade field for a salute ceremony, massing of the colors and Keynote speech by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey.
Lanza had said he noticed that Vietnam Era veterans were among those enthusiastically welcoming soldiers home from deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he realized of the Vietnam veterans: "they had never had that" welcome-home reception so he helped create a thank you opportunity.
Galloway's visit May 22-25 for interviews with the veterans will include a Vietnam War panel discussion at Shoreline College with Bruce Crandall, the helicopter pilot and Medal of Honor recipient from the Ia Drang battle whose exploits were detailed in the book and the movie, and former POW Joe Crecca, along with Galloway himself.
My most recent column on Galloway was in mid-February, the outgrowth of an email from him about the "hard duty" he had of delivering a eulogy for General Moore, the Ia Drang commander and his friend of 50 years, who had died that week two days before his 95th birthday.
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