REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- In his personal account reporting from the battlefields of Vietnam and subsequent wars, internationally recognized war journalist Joe Galloway encouraged today's Soldiers and veterans to share their own wartime experiences.
"You pay the price to tell the story. The story is worth telling," the 76-year-old Galloway told Redstone Arsenal Soldiers and civilians who packed the Bob Jones Auditorium for a leader professional development session Nov. 2 with the war journalist. He visited Redstone Arsenal while in Huntsville as part of the Wall That Heals traveling exhibit.
During his 43-year career, Galloway was a war correspondent through four tours in Vietnam, and during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti in 1994, and two tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 1998, Galloway became the only American civilian to receive the Bronze Star Medal with "V" for heroism during the Vietnam War. It recognizes his heroism on Nov. 15, 1965, during the Battle of Ia Drang, the first major battle by U.S. and North Vietnamese troops in Vietnam.
"I consider myself one of you," Galloway told the Soldiers in the audience. "I think I've earned that right. I am honored to still stand with you and beside you."
Fifty-three years ago, at the age of 24, Galloway was a newspaper war correspondent in Vietnam accompanying the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of la Drang, the "biggest battle of Vietnam, the bloodiest battle of Vietnam," Galloway said. He took up arms against the enemy to save himself and other Soldiers, and carried a badly wounded Soldier to safety while under enemy fire.
"I was somebody when I went to Vietnam. I was somebody else when I came out," he said. "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."
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.
Galloway retired from his journalism career following his second tour in Iraq in 2006.
"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."
Galloway co-authored the 1992 book "We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young" with retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore. It was released as a movie in 2002. The co-authors released "We are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam" in 2008. In recent years, Galloway was a consultant on a documentary on the Vietnam War that aired on PBS and narrated "A Flag Between Two Families," a documentary film based on the events of May 9, 1968 in Vietnam by the members of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry.
During the past six years, Galloway has interviewed more than 750 Vietnam veterans as a special consultant for the Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemoration project managed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
"I've interviewed Vietnam veterans from all branches and all ranks. I learn something new from every one of them," he said.
He's interviewed veterans like Sgt. Dennis Thompson of the Special Forces who, in 1968, was taken as a prisoner of war during the Battle of Lang Vei. He was captured by the North Vietnamese and then escaped four times during the 48-hour battle. The North Vietnamese wrapped him in rope and carried him north of the demilitarized zone where he was put in a coffin-sized cell for more than 900 days. He was freed from that dark, confined cell when the North Vietnamese consolidated their prisoners of war in Hanoi.
While in Huntsville, Galloway interviewed several Vietnam veterans.
In introducing Galloway, Maj. Gen. Allan Elliott of the Army Materiel Command said journalists like Galloway are needed to ensure the stories of war are told. During his training as a young Soldier, many of Elliott's instructors were Vietnam veterans.
"They were the best Soldiers I ever knew," he said.
"They taught me as an infantry Soldier how to train, how to lead, how to care for your equipment and your Soldiers. The one thing they didn't do is they didn't tell their stories. That's why Joe Galloway is a national treasure. Soldiers talk to him and we need Joe Galloway to tell their stories. I don't know anyone better to correct the record for our Vietnam Soldiers."