By Annalee Grant, Belvoir EagleJune 19, 2014
Fort Belvoir, Va. (June 19, 2014) - Acclaimed author Joe Galloway offered up his time to speak with Soldiers from Headquarters Battalion, U. S. Army Garrison, Fort Belvoir, June 12, ahead of his speech at the Army Birthday Celebration June 13.
It was at times a somber discussion, as Galloway touched on his experience with post-traumatic stress disorder, but he also had the Soldiers laughing; regaling them with tales from his days reporting on Vietnam's front lines under the wing of retired Lt. Gen. Harold "Hal" Moore, with whom he co-wrote We Were Soldiers Once … and Young.
Galloway has covered military actions in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War, Haiti and Iraq. He retired in 2006, and is the only civilian from the Vietnam War to earn a Bronze Star for helping to remove wounded Soldiers out of the line of fire. While technology has changed both the news and American Soldiers, Galloway said there has always been one constant in his coverage.
"The one thing that doesn't change: the Soldiers. Soldiering is all about what's in your heart. Soldiers today compared to the Vietnam-era Soldiers are better trained -- certainly better equipped -- but the thing that never changes is the Solders' heart; the willingness to sacrifice," he said.
One Soldier asked Galloway how he overcame PTSD upon his return from Vietnam.
"You don't go to war and come back the same man you were going in," Galloway said. "That's the truth. It changes all of us. If you see combat, there are some switches thrown in your head, and I'll be honest with you, you don't ever quit seeing those things. They're with you. I have my own nightmares that last a life time, and its how you deal with it. It's how severe it is.
"If you've ever had to lie down and sleep beside a pile of 30 dead Americans, wrapped in their ponchos with their boots sticking out the end -- you don't forget that. You can't."
Galloway said he threw himself into his work to recover from the dark memories he collected while in Vietnam, and encouraged the other Soldiers to find something positive to work on.
"I think I came to a realization that the only way I could keep all that at bay was to work every day trying to make this world a better place," he said. "If you're busy giving, it takes your mind off of your own problems. "
Galloway, who was considered a non-combant, found himself in many situations where the war forced him to become a Soldier.
"It was my job, and I wanted to do it better than anyone else," he said.
He remembered catching a ride to the front lines, when air space was closed. He was met by a very angry Maj. Charles Beckwith (retired as Colonel Beckwith).
"I'm standing there, (and a) Special Forces master sergeant comes running up. He said, 'Sir, I don't know who you are, but Major Beckwith wants to talk to you right away.' I said, 'Which one is he?' He said, 'He's that big guy over there jumping up and down on his hat.' That's not a good sign," Galloway said, to laughs from the gathered Soldiers.
After the lukewarm welcome, Beckwith explained that they were low on supplies, and had no need for a reporter.
"He said, 'Son, I have news for you. I have no vacancy for a reporter, but I desperately need a machine gunner, and you're it.' And I said, 'Yes sir,'" Galloway remembered. Following a swift introduction, Galloway found himself working the machine gun for three days until relief showed up.
Moore, who has been a life-long friend of Galloway since their time in Vietnam, was supportive of Galloway being embedded with his Soldiers.
"He believed that the American public had a right to know how the Army was taking care of their sons and now their daughters," Galloway said. "He told his troops, 'You're going to see reporters around, and if they ask you any questions, answer honestly, but answer questions at your pay grade.'"
The retired reporter is critical of movies and media that have painted many of the officers and leaders of the Vietnam War as war criminals.
"I know I did four tours in Vietnam and, except for the last one, I spent it with Soldiers and Marines. I was all over the country and I was virtually in every unit that was there. I never saw one incident that I considered a war crime," Galloway said.
With that being said, Galloway admitted that there were many incidents of friendly fire -- sometimes even against himself.
"I personally have been bombed, rocketed, strafed and napalmed by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marines, Army Aviation, and I am not exactly any considerable target," he said.
Galloway remembered waiting for a helicopter with a Vietnamese civilian in a rice paddy, when the aircraft suddenly dropped its nose in an attack position.
"They said 'Wait out there, it's coming for you.' Well they were, but not exactly as we figured," he said. "When he dropped the nose, I hollered, 'Get Down!'"
The Headquarters Battalion Soldiers asked Galloway what his thoughts were on present-day war coverage.
"We're almost to the point where the next war won't be covered at all. Within a year of us going into Iraq, the reporters all disappeared," he said. "There's a reason for that -- it's really costly. We figured it out. It costs $35,000 a month to keep one reporter in Iraq."
Each reporter has to have security and armored cars to protect them while doing their jobs. More newsrooms now rely on coverage from the Associated Press instead of sending their own reporters. Galloway said it's a sad decline to see newsrooms closing across the world.
"Most of the good coverage, and our knowledge of the world, came from newspapers," he said.
He saw the decline in Vietnam, too, where many reporters opted to stick to official briefings instead of putting themselves at risk.
"At any given moment there were 500 reporters, photographers, TV crews, accredited to cover the war, and I saw the same 15 guys at every fight … from the north, all the way to the south.
We considered ourselves field reporters," he said. "I didn't come to Vietnam to cover politics and a 5 o'clock briefing every day."
Galloway decided early on that he wanted to cover the war, and was willing to accept the risks.
"When (things get difficult) and everybody goes to ground and finds (cover), there's two individuals that have to get up to do their job. That's the doc, and the photographer," he said.
After risking life and limb to get his story, Galloway said he was changed, and it began a life-long mission to share what he saw.
"It changed everything. I walked out of there and I knew something. I knew that 80 young Americans had laid down their lives so that I could live," he said. "I walked out of there knowing that I had a crushing obligation to tell the story of what went on there. I felt an obligation, and it's carried me through telling those stories to this day. It's an obligation of a lifetime."
U.S. Army Garrison Fort Belvoir Commander Col. Gregory D. Gadson, who met Galloway three months after his 2007 wounding in Iraq, said his work has been an inspiration to him.
"What I hear in your voice is you felt like you had an obligation to share that sacrifice. You understand our freedom and the value of our freedom deeper than most Americans. To me, that's a great blessing. It is so profoundly deep. It's a gift," Gadson said.
Galloway thanked Gadson for his service and said he considered the burden of what he witnessed to be a gift.
"This might be one of the most profound days in your military career, being around this man and what he's got to share," Gadson said, addressing the Soldiers.
The 2002 movie, "We Were Soldiers," was based on Galloway and Moore's book. Galloway claims the movie was 60 percent real, 40 percent Hollywood. His biggest beef with the remake was the ending in which Moore is depicted sending his Soldiers, Civil War-style, charging towards the enemy.
"What he actually did was far more in keeping with the story," Galloway said. "On that final day, he ordered everyone to turn around, get down on their hands and knees and crawl back to the original position. What we were doing was looking for the two missing American bodies, because Hal Moore was not going to leave there without them."