By L.A. ShivelyOctober 2, 2009
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- A consummate storyteller, Joe Galloway began his speech during the U.S. Army Medical Leadership Call, Blesse Auditorium Sept. 17 with an anecdote. "There are two MOSs that have got to stand up when the (bullets) start to fly and everybody else hits the ground; that's medics and photographers," he said.
But Galloway's coverage of the first major battle of Vietnam as a nascent war correspondent at Landing Zone Xray in the Ia Drang Valley began with his face in the dirt.
"A hail of bullets cracked and snapped all around us. I was flat on my belly, wishing I had spent the night digging a hole in that rock-hard ground. Wishing I could get even lower. About then I felt a thump in my ribs and carefully turned my head to see what it was," he wrote in part four of his reporter's journal on The Digital Journalist.
That thump was from a boot belonging to Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley, a veteran's veteran working on his third war and third Combat Infantryman's Badge. A bear of a man wrote Galloway and it was Plumley who told the reporter, "You can't take no pictures laying down there on the ground, Sonny."
Galloway got up and followed Plumley into the barrage of bullets and burning flesh to chronicle the work of Soldiers and medics in combat during that first 16-month tour where he often put down his camera and pen to help wounded Soldiers.
The Army decorated Galloway with a Bronze Star with combat "V" device for rescuing a horrifically burned Soldier under heavy fire during the fighting at LZ Xray. He is the only recipient of a medal of valor given to a civilian during the Vietnam War.
"When we need you, we need you bad," Galloway said to his audience of medical professionals, when his microphone suddenly went dead. After restoring the sound, Galloway asked where he was in the speech and someone answered, "You love us!"
"I have a soft spot in my heart for medics. I know first hand what its like to suddenly be confronted with Soldiers terribly wounded, in my case burning in the fire of Napalm. Things just happen and the next thing you know, the guy is in your arms."
Galloway described how the intense battle in Ia Drang affected him and guided his work throughout his life. His messages for the audience were that medics are the quintessential examples of courage, sacrifice and leadership and that one must not quit no matter the barriers.
After sharing his experiences in Vietnam, Galloway spent the second half of the Leadership Call answering questions that spanned from the current situation in the Middle East, to photography and dealing with the aftermath of war. The author said he keeps busy to ward off the gruesome memories of the conflicts he has covered.
Galloway co-authored three books, "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young" with Lt. Gen. (ret.) Hal Moore, the book on which the film "We Were Soldiers" with Mel Gibson was based, "Triumph Without Victory: The History of the Persian Gulf War," and "We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam," his second with Moore.
He is currently finishing a book on the Bataan Death March and said it's important to remember the lessons war teaches.
"If we are totally uninformed as to our history, we're doomed to repeat the worst parts of it. We need to study culture, history and languages of those people we are likely to have trouble with," Galloway said.
"We got up to our chinny-chin-chins in Vietnam with the baddest guys on the block. They'd been fighting the Chinese for a thousand years. It was like picking on a whole nation of Texans and Tennessians and you don't want to do that."