Valor Friday

| August 20, 2021

Joe Galloway

Today’s subject is once again brought to us by a sort of request from KoB. He forwarded to us the bad, unfortunate news that journalist Joe Galloway died Wednesday morning after having been in hospital near his home in Concord, North Carolina.

Joe Galloway is a name many of you will remember. If not for his reporting from the front lines during the Vietnam War, you will probably recognize his name from the true story of the 1965 Battle of La Drang chronicled in the book We Were Soldiers Once…And Young. He co-wrote this book with the legendary Lieutenant General Hal Moore (commander of the Americans during the battle). In 2002 it was adapted into the movie We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson as Moore and Barry Pepper as Galloway.

Born in 1941 in Refugio, Texas, Galloway briefly attended community college before dropping out to join the Army in 1959. Upon his return from service, his mother encouraged him to pursue journalism.

Galloway started his journalism career with The Victoria Advocate in Victoria, Texas. Soon enough he was working for United Press International (UPI). Originally in Topeka, Kansas, his UPI job took him to places such as Tokyo, Vietnam, Jakarta, New Delhi, Singapore, Moscow, and Los Angeles. He often worked as a bureau chief or regional manager when posted to one of these exotic locales.

Among his most memorable and significant assignments came during the early part of the Vietnam War, where he did four tours of the theater reporting for UPI. Galloway was known for being honest, forthright, and earned the respect of the men he covered.

Clark Hoyt, former Washington editor for Knight Ridder (where Galloway would work later in life), said it was a privilege to work with Galloway, who he called one of the great war correspondents of all time.

“He earned the trust and respect of those he was covering but never lost his ear for false notes, as shown by his contributions to Knight Ridder’s skeptical reporting on the run up to the Iraq war,” Hoyt said.

On the topic of the Iraq War, Galloway’s critical reporting on the subject led to him being portrayed again on the big screen. In the 2017 film Shock and Awe, Galloway was played by Tommy Lee Jones.

It was the Battle of La Drang though in 1965 that solidified Galloway’s street cred with the foot soldier. Galloway was with the 7th Cavalry (previously best known for being George Armstrong Custer’s last command as he made his final stand during the Indian Wars). He was specifically with the 1st Battalion, commanded by then-Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore.

Moore attended West Point during World War II, graduating in June 1945 and earning a commission in the infantry. Entering active service too late to see action during that war, his first tastes of combat came in the Korean War. He steadily rose the ranks and filled the appropriate staff assignments to ascend to battalion command on the verge of the intensifying US involvement in Vietnam.

Moore’s 7th Cavalry, part of the 1st Cavalry Division, was experimenting with the Army’s use of the helicopter and its role in troop movement. The first helicopters had entered service during World War II, albeit in very limited numbers. They saw more widespread use during the Korean War, where they were used to rescue downed aviators, evacuate and transport wounded personnel, and similar roles.

By the early 1960s, helicopters had matured enough that they could be used to carry more than just a handful of people. The UH-1 Huey could carry up to 14 people or nearly 4,000 pounds. This capability meant that for the first time the Army could bring troops into a location with pinpoint accuracy. They could also exfiltrate those same troops. These troops could even be behind enemy lines. Resupply could also be by helicopter.

This concept became known as “airmobile”, a designation the 1st Cavalry Division received provisionally. This is still the term used today for the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). The first test of the concept in battle would fall to Moore in 1965. Galloway was along for the ride, to document what was expected to be an easy American victory as well as the novel use of the helicopter as the steed upon which a new breed of infantryman would ride into battle.

First Boots on the Ground
(Artist William S. Phillips)

The Battle of La Drang was the first large-scale US battle of the war. Previous fights had only involved small elements of American forces. The battle would be described by Galloway as “the battle that convinced Ho Chi Minh he could win”.

At the end of the bloody five-day battle, 500 Americans would be dead or wounded (out of 1,000 men involved) and the North Vietnamese suffered between 1,000 and 1,700 casualties out of their 2,500 men.

On the first day of the battle, the Americans were attacked from multiple sides, with one platoon totally encircled and cut off, but were able to dig in and hold a 360 degree perimeter into the night.

On day 2, the North Vietnamese attacked in a three-pronged front. Moore ordered his Air Force liaison officer to call a “Broken Arrow.” This is the last call any commander wants to make, any forward controller wants to send, and any aircrew wants to hear. It’s the code that the American position is about to be overrun and so air and artillery support should begin firing at danger close distances. That is to say, the friendly bombs, rockets, and shells would be landing at the Americans’ feet.

Unfortunately one of these airstrikes landed within the American lines, killing several soldiers. Galloway, having refused repeated attempts to have him evacuated with the wounded, was present and helped to carry the wounded and dead to the “secure” Landing Zone X-Ray. He recounted, “[a]t LZ XRay 80 men died and 124 were wounded, many of them terribly.”

Galloway would remain with the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry until the end. Reporting on the events at the time, he remained connected to those who he’d shared the field of battle with, among them General Moore. The two men co-wrote the book which focused on Moore’s 1st Battalion/7th Cavalry Regiment. Though the movie adaptation stuck largely to the book, and was praised by Moore as the first film to get Vietnam combat “right”, it took some creative license. However, the movie does portray Galloway’s role in the battle accurately. Though he could have left at any time, he remained with the men of the 7th Cavalry and helped tend to the wounded.

“I was somebody when I went to Vietnam,” Galloway would later say. “I was somebody else when I came out. Eighty young American Soldiers laid down their lives so I could survive to tell their story. I have felt an incredible obligation and weight to tell their stories. I have done my best to live up to that obligation every day since then.”

Bronze Star Medal w/ “V” for Valor

For their parts, Moore received the country’s second highest award for valor in action, the Distinguished Service Cross, while Galloway would receive the Bronze Star Medal w/ “V” for Valor. It took more than three decades to get Galloway the recognition he deserved. He was the only civilian to receive that honor during the Vietnam War (1963-1975).

During another front line reporting endeavor in Vietnam, Galloway would encounter another legendary US Army officer. He told a group of soldiers at the Redstone Arsenal in 2018 about it. Army.mil reported;

Armed with an M16 that he personally took to Vietnam, Galloway described the fear of being in battle as Soldiers were killed all around him, and the determination, desperation and the will to live that he saw in the faces of wounded Soldiers. He recounted one such story of Maj. Charlie Beckwith, who was severely wounded by a .50-caliber machine gun round. An Army doctor had decided to give him up for dead, when Beckwith signaled to him with a finger. The doctor leaned over the wounded Special Forces Soldier to hear his request. Beckwith grabbed him by the throat, demanding medical care. Beckwith survived and went on to establish the Army’s Delta Force.

Over a 54-year career, Galloway would serve his four tours in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War, Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti in 1994, and two tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom with a Stryker brigade.

It was that final tour in Iraq in 2006 that the 65-year old Galloway finally had seen one too many dead Americans in battle. From the speech at the Redstone Arsenal;

“I was with a Stryker brigade in Mosul for a routine three-hour patrol. We had two Kiowa helicopters with us,” Galloway recalled. “The sergeant I was with said to me, ‘I’ve been here seven months, and this is the quietest and most peaceful patrol I’ve been on.’ Then the radio burst came in. Chopper down.”

One of the Kiowa helicopters had been shot down and crashed into an area that had been excavated for a building, but was filled with garbage.

“We couldn’t find the helicopter. It was January and raining,” Galloway said. “We skidded down the banks and into the garbage pile. Someone spotted smoke and we found the helicopter. We pulled it apart by hand and pulled out the pilot. He was dead. We pulled out the co-pilot. He had a pulse. But he died before we could get him to help.

“I stood there in the rain and I knew what was going to happen next. Sedans were going to pull up to the homes of two young wives and four young kids, and they were going to wreck their lives. I left there determined that was my last combat patrol. It reminded me so much of my first tour in Vietnam. I started (my career) looking into the dead faces of American Soldiers and ended it the same way.”

After writing about the two Soldiers, Galloway did walk away from his career. But it wasn’t quite ready to let him go. He soon received a called from an Army casualty assistance officer who said Galloway was the only person one of the widows would talk to. Galloway did talk to the widow, convincing her to work with the casualty assistance officer.

“I quit right then, right there,” he said. “I was not only not going to war anymore, I packed up everything and left D.C. determined to never go back. But I did. I have to keep on going, keep on Soldiering. I wouldn’t do it any other way. You guys deserve it.”

Among Galloway’s other awards was the Department of the Army Public Service Commendation Medal. He received numerous awards for his journalism, including a National Magazine Award for a U.S. News cover article on the Ia Drang battles in Vietnam, the New Media Award of the National VFW for his coverage of the Persian Gulf War for U.S. News, and the Vietnam Veterans of America Excellence in the Arts Award, along with Gen. Hal Moore, for his journalism and for We Were Soldiers Once and Young.

John Walcott, Galloway’s longtime editor and friend, said he was an exemplar of what journalism should be. From the People’s Army of Vietnam to Rumsfeld, no one ever intimidated Galloway other than his wife Gracie, Walcott said.

“He never went to college, but he was one of, if not the, most gifted writers in our profession, in which his death will leave an enormous hole at a time when our country desperately needs more like him,” Walcott said. “He never sought fame nor tried to make himself the star of his stories. As sources, he valued sergeants more than brand-name generals and political appointees.”

Our KoB commented on Galloway, “ I followed his reports from VN as a teenager. His reports on the action of the Gun Bunnies of the 1/21st FA [Field Artillery] helped push me in that direction when I enlisted in ’71. We got a fuzzy picture from the Columbus TV during that fight and a neighbor got the Columbus paper. Soaked up every article and newscast. I was honored to meet Joe on several occasions throughout the years. A very down to earth, humble man and one of the last of the true journalists. Wonder if his heart attack might have been brought on by the stress of what he was seeing going on in A’stan.”

Galloway was preceded in death by his first wife Theresa. He is survived by his wife (his third) Grace, two sons, and a step daughter.

Category: Army, Bronze Star, Guest Link, Historical, Real Soldiers, Valor, Vietnam, We Remember

Comments (16)

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  1. 26Limabeans says:

    Rest in true peace Joe.

  2. 5JC says:

    Damn, he was the journalist I ever even heard of. I did meet him about 20 years ago, seemed a nice guy.

  3. Fyrfighter says:

    RIP Joe, may you enjoy your time in Heaven, cause you’ve sure seen your share of Hell.

  4. Jay says:

    Take comfort in this rest, Joe. You served in some of the foulest shitholes on this planet for 50 years. May you finally have peace.

    I remember watching a documentary about the making of “We Were Soldiers.” Apparently Barry Pepper got so in depth/method when it came to portraying Galloway, he wound up smoking the same cigarettes and carrying the same heavy ass gear he carried.

  5. AW1Ed says:

    Fair winds and following seas.

    Thanks again, Mason.

  6. Jim says:

    Was it LA Drang or IA Drang, met him and he signed my copy. Fought in the valley, 25th Inf May 66. RIP Joe and at the last day rise in glory.

  7. Sparks says:

    Rest in peace Joe Galloway. God ve with your family. The thread intro spoke correctly. We do so desperately need more journalist-statemen such as you were.

  8. KoB says:

    Godspeed and Fare Well Joe. See you again on the Highest Ground. Last of the Breed, will never be another.

    Thanks Mason, you done Joe proud.

  9. KoB says:

    A follow up article from the other day from the Columbus GA paper. Has a real good video of Joe talking about his relationship with Hal Moore and original footage of the IA Drang Lz-XRay fight. You can tell it’s old film cause it gets real dusty while watching it. Well worth the 5 minutes.

    https://www.ledger-enquirer.com/news/nation-world/national/article253574254.html

  10. timactual says:

    Ernie Pyle and Joe Galloway. Let the rest of the pack boast about their courageous search for truth and “speaking truth to power”; those two don’t need to boast, their actions speak for them.

  11. UpNorth says:

    Rest In Peace, Joe. And thank you, for what you did over the years.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Rest in peace.

  13. Steve says:

    Thanks for this article.

    Honestly, I don’t really feel like reading anything right now, especially news. But I’m glad I read this.

    “I packed up everything and left, determined to never go back. But I did. I have to keep on going, keep on Soldiering. I wouldn’t do it any other way. You guys deserve it.”

    RIP Mr Galloway. Thank you

  14. inbredredneck says:

    He’s as much my brother in arms as any who wore baggy green skin.
    RIP