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Politics and Government

Take Note: A Conversation with Joe Galloway, a "Soldier's Reporter and a Soldier's Friend."

Joseph Galloway talked with WPSU during a visit to Penn State on Nov. 19, 2013.
WPSU
Joseph Galloway talked with WPSU during a visit to Penn State on Nov. 19, 2013.
Updated: August 27, 2021 at 9:59 AM EDT
This interview originally aired on Dec. 13, 2013. We're reairing it because of Joseph Galloway's recent death on Aug. 18, 2021 at the age of 79.

General Norman Schwarzkopf called him “the finest combat correspondent of our generation---a soldier’s reporter and a soldier’s friend.”

In his 50-years in journalism, Joe Galloway was assigned to cover Japan, India, and the former USSR, among other places, reporting from numerous combat operations. 

In 1998, he received a Bronze Star Medal with Valor for rescuing wounded soldiers while under fire; the only medal of valor the U.S. Army awarded to a civilian for actions during the Vietnam War.

We’ll talk with him about the battle that changed the war in Vietnam, the book he co-authored with Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, “We Were Soldiers Once...and Young,” and about "sacred debts."  

Galloway_-_BONUS_INTERVIEW.mp3
Hear more of this interview.

Here's the full conversation:

Patty Satalia

Welcome to Take Note on WPSU. I'm Patty Satalia. General Norman Schwarzkopf called him the finest combat correspondent of our generation, a soldiers reporter and a soldier's friend. In his 50 years in journalism, Joseph Galloway was assigned to cover Japan, India and the former USSR, among other places, reporting from numerous combat zones. But he is best known for reporting on the Vietnam War, his best selling book, "We Were Soldiers Once... and Young" was written with Lieutenant General Hal Moore, it's about their experiences at the Battle of Ia Drang, a turning point in the Vietnam War. The book was later made into a movie starring Mel Gibson and Barry Pepper. Joe Galloway, thank you so much for joining us.

Joseph Galloway

My pleasure.

Patty Satalia

You come from a family of soldiers going back all the way to the Civil War. And in fact, you were born just a couple of weeks before Pearl Harbor, and didn't meet your father who was serving in World War II, until the end of 1945. And with that, as your history, I'm wondering if you felt as if you were destined to become a war reporter.

Joseph Galloway

And think it was either that or a soldier. In fact, I was on my way to join the army and my mother reminded me of my love of journalism. And we were passing the daily newspaper, two blocks short of the recruiters office, and I said, "Good call mom, stop." And I went in the newspaper office and asked if they happen to need a reporter. And they happened to need a reporter and hired me on the spot. 35 bucks a week.

Patty Satalia

Did your father come home damaged from World War II?

Joseph Galloway

No, I don't think so. He, like all of them, came home in such a hurry. They'd lost four or five years of their lives. They seemed to me to be driven to get things moving, to build a family to get a house to, you know, get a decent job. There were among them, people who were damaged, and you heard about 'em in the neighborhood. Some came home drinking, self medicating. One of my uncle's didn't make it home. One of 'em came home shot up pretty bad. And some were totally normal. Some of 'em weren't.

Patty Satalia

Back to that reporting job that you landed day one. You immediately began to work on your bosses to send you to Saigon. You got your wish?

Joseph Galloway

Yeah. I was from 1963 onward. I knew we were going to war in Vietnam. I was just dead certain of it. And it was going to become an American war. And it was going to be my generation's war. And I wanted to cover it. I thought it'd be 40 years on, it would be a lot easier to explain why you went, than why you didn't. If you didn't, it's kind of like going to the movie of your generation. And when the crucial moment comes on, you're outside buying a bag of popcorn or something. So I wanted to be there.

Patty Satalia

You prepared yourself to be there. You read about the history of the people. You read about the history of the conflict in Vietnam. And said ones that you wish that our civilian leaders had read as you had?

Joseph Galloway

Yeah. If you weren't reading that stuff, you don't know who you're fighting. You don't know that the Vietnamese had been at war for 1500 years. They had been invaded six times by China. And sometimes China came and took the place, and kept it for 600 years. And then they were driven out. And both of those events are marked by a river of blood on each end. That means these people, they were used to fighting for survival.

Patty Satalia

And they don't give up easily.

Joseph Galloway

And they don't give up at all. And it's always puzzled me that a country with as many smart people as we have, as many historians as we have, don't get it. That our leaders don't read history, don't study it, and go out and pick a fight with the toughest kid on the block. Doesn't makes sense to me.

Patty Satalia

I want to talk a little bit about Jeffrey Record and a study he did about who lost Vietnam. If you listen to lots of popular press on it, it was the media that lost the war in Vietnam. Or it was anti war demonstrators. In your opinion, who lost the war in Vietnam?

Joseph Galloway

Oh, It's an onion and you have to peel all the layers to get to the answer. And the answer is...everybody had a hand in it. But those most responsible were a series of Presidents who lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Some Generals who didn't think as smart as they should have. Did the media have anything to do with it? I don't think so. We don't start wars and we don't stop them. We don't have that kind of power. But a President does. And sometimes the General will. We had four years of William C. Westmoreland as the Supreme Commander in Vietnam. And Westmoreland looked like a General, but he was dumb as a fencepost. His own aide said that General Westmoreland had a strategy of attrition, which is proof you have no strategy whatsoever. You think you're just gonna drown your enemy in blood, and that he will get tired of it? Hey, not one year, not the worst year of fighting that we had in Vietnam, did we ever kill more North Vietnamese than were being born that year. So if you can't beat the birth rate, you can't beat the people.

Patty Satalia

You were 24 year old reporter when you landed at Landing Zone X-Ray for the Battle of la Drang. That became the book "We Were Soldiers Once... And Young", which was written with Hal Moore. Tell us a little bit about the pledge you made back in November of 1976 to write that book.

Joseph Galloway

Well, I think we knew we were going to have to write that book the day we left the la Drang Valley, November 16, 1965. I knew as a UPI wire service reporter, the slogan used to be that the second coming of Christ was worth 1200 words and everything else was worth less. And so I knew that I was going to get maybe 1000 words to tell this story. And that wasn't going to do it. There was too much suffering, there was too much heroism, there was too much bloodshed. And this was a big thing. It was the first major battle of a war that would go on for 10 years.

Patty Satalia

The turning point. And this is because of the the use of helicopters in this battle.

Joseph Galloway

That and we were testing the helicopter, and its power to deliver men to a battlefield, to deliver artillery pieces, and keep them supplied. The enemy was testing its men. Could they stand against this kind of modern technology? This American firepower. We had control of the air. We had artillery pieces. They had rifles, and occasionally a mortar or an RPG. Everything that they had, had to come down the Ho Chi Minh Trail on the back of somebody, or on a bicycle. And it took two or three months to get it down to where the battlefield was. And it gets shot up real quick. And then they got to have another load coming down. So...both sides were testing each other. In my view, nobody won. In such a horrific encounter, with so many dead, and so many wounded. Who can claim victory?

Patty Satalia

44% of American troops died in that three-day battle.

Joseph Galloway

Yeah, the battalion that relieved us at X- Ray was ambushed the next day at a place called Landing Zone Albany. And they lost 155 men killed and 125 wounded in about six hours time. Where they had been a battalion of 450 men. On one day, the next day, half 'em were gone.

Patty Satalia

The book and the movie, both of which were highly acclaimed, did the to some extent, quiet the ghosts of war for you and for the men who fought there?

Joseph Galloway

You know, something as horrific as that, which you have witnessed, participated in, the you don't close the loop on that. Basically, it doesn't get easier. It gets worse. Because at the time, we were all young. And we didn't know about life. We had no grasp of it. And these men who died would never know. And so we...we live life, partly for them and we know how sweet it is. What they gave up.

Patty Satalia

You talk about it as a sacred debt. A debt to live your life to the fullest in honor of the men who didn't come home.

Joseph Galloway

You have to. That's my way of, of keeping the ghosts at bay.

Patty Satalia

You continued to cover wars, at least a half a dozen more after four tours in Vietnam. And I wonder how you did that year after year?

Joseph Galloway

You know... best way to explain it...I guess I went over before the Gulf War During Operation Desert Shield when we were building up our force in Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War. And I went over and I spent time with my old seventh cavalry unit. As it was constituted, now. All the soldiers are 20 years, 30 years younger than I am. And they all crowd around and I wear the right shoulder patch of a veteran. And they figure if that guy can make it, I can make it too. And so you become sort of a good luck piece for the new generation of soldiers. You're there to cover 'em. But they embrace you as a brother and a father. As someone who has been there before.And they crowd around, and the question is, "what's it really like, sir"? "What am I going to face"? "What's going to happen to me"? And that drew me back more than once.

Patty Satalia

You followed really in the footsteps of Ernie Pyle who reported on World War II. And if you look at the way Ernie Pyle has been described, the same exact things have been said of you. You are a soldier's reporter. You were loved by soldiers. And not all reporters in war zones were even liked by soldiers.

Joseph Galloway

You know, I liked soldiers. I loved soldiers. I spent time with them. I didn't want to sit in Saigon and cover the briefings. I came there to cover the war. And Ernie Pyle was my hero. I read his stuff. And I always said that if my war had a generation, I wanted to cover it. And I wanted to cover it like Ernie Pyle covered his war. He wrote beautiful stuff. Very simple. He just brought out so much emotion.

Patty Satalia

They were like personal letters home to 14 million Americans who, who prayed for Ernie Pyle the way they would pray for the safety of their own son. And of course, he died in 1945 in Okinawa.

Joseph Galloway

Almost the end of it. And you know, someone a year ago, sent me a picture of Ernie Pyle after he was shot and killed. Probably there was more peace in his face, then had been in five years of war. He was at peace.

Patty Satalia

And no one wanted to get out of war more than Ernie Pyle. In fact, he took a break at one point and said he could not go back.

Joseph Galloway

He was so tired of it. Yeah, absolutely. You know, and he's totally forgotten. In Indiana, which was his home, they had an Ernie Pyle Museum. That's closed down. His home was a place for visitors. They're closing that too. So all memory of him is pretty much wiped out. Except for a few of us who know what, what Ernie Pyle stood for.

Patty Satalia

If you're just joining us, this is Take Note on WPSU. I'm Patty Satalia. And our guest is Joseph Galloway, author of "We Were Soldiers Once...And Young", which he co-authored with Lieutenant General Hal Moore. The book was later made into a movie titled simply "We Were Soldiers". It starred Mel Gibson, who played Moore and Barry Pepper who played Joe Galloway.

Joseph Galloway

Were you pleased with the outcome of "We Were Soldiers"? You know, they got the spirit of it right. Some of the details, I didn't think they did as good as they should have. I'd say 75% reality, 25% Hollywood. But that's the reverse of normal for those guys. So you kind of have to be happy with it. Although the General and I were both kind of 100% people.

Patty Satalia

It's interesting because the director of that film Randy Wallace, he tried to emulate the kind of leadership that he saw in Lieutenant General Hal Moore.

Joseph Galloway

Hal Moore didn't stop being a leader when he took off an army uniform and retired. Leadership is something that's in you. Hal Moore, 20 years ago, went on one of these Outward Bound kind of things. A group of Americans and a group of Russian veterans of the Afghan war, went mountain climbing in the Soviet Union. And the Russian soldiers were astounded when they camped at night. He saw that everyone else's needs, except his. You know, he saw that everybody was fed that they had a tent up and that they were sheltered. And they came to him and they said, we never saw this from Russian generals. You know, I have spent 48 years as a best friend with Hal Moore. And I can tell you that his leadership, the instances of it, the examples of it, never ceased. Never ceased.

Patty Satalia

First boots on the battlefield, and the last boots off. That epitomizes Hal Moore. Yeah, absolutely it does. He was a West Pointer. And the motto of West Pointers is "I will not lie, cheat, steal, quibble or tolerate it in others". I'm wondering, what's your personal philosophy? How did you approach the work you did?

Joseph Galloway

You know, I can't find anything better than the West Point motto, "Duty, Honor, Country". And the "I won'ts", and "I wills" of West Point. You know, I laugh, and I say, "Well, maybe if if the Buddhists are right, and I come around again, I want to go to that school." Yeah.

Patty Satalia

You covered the Vietnam War, which was the most openly covered war in US history. Compare covering Vietnam to covering Afghanistan, for example,

Joseph Galloway

Vietnam, as you say, was totally open. You got there, you had a letter from some editor saying he'd run your stuff, that we get you a press card. And the press card was everything. That was your ticket to ride. You could ride on any government transport. You could go out in the field with a battalion of troops, and you could stay three hours or three days, or a month. If you want to do it and it seemed worth it to you...It was never that way before. And it was never that way after. The wars now you got to pledge not to do all kinds of things.

Patty Satalia

You said you have to sign a 30 page document...

Joseph Galloway

[cross talk] Sign a 30 page document saying what you [cross talk] won't do and what you have to do. And, and it's not censorship, but it's control. And it's not wide open and free like it was in Vietnam. And I don't know if it ever will be again.

Patty Satalia

This year alone. 43 reporters have been killed covering wars. Since the 1992, over 1014. In Vietnam. 70 reporters, [cross talk] died covering the war.

Joseph Galloway

Yeah. It's a dangerous business. And never more so than today. I don't know what the total was in our Iraq experience, but near 200, I think. People have, you know, no respect for journalists. They're just another target. You know, I was never quite so frightened as I was in downtown Baghdad, trying to spend a couple of days at the Knight Ridder Bureau. And then go out with the troops at Camp victory. Which is, you know, the airport. It's 10 miles away. And the hotel we were in was not inside the green zone. And we had armed guards all around it. And a jail cage at the elevator on our floor of that hotel. And we had a retired British Special Services guy with a machine gun guarding our Bureau. And to get from there, down to the airport, and to camp victory to go out with my embed, it took two cars, the guard with the gun, I've got bulletproof vest on and all that stuff. And you're stuck in traffic. Anybody can step up and kill you. And, and some would like to.

Patty Satalia

You did your last tour in 2006. You were 65 years old. And your last tour was in Mosul.

Joseph Galloway

Yeah

Patty Satalia

...Near Baghdad. What ultimately said to you, "I can't do this anymore. Time to do something else"?

Joseph Galloway

What really did it was I was on patrol in Mosul with Stryker vehicles. There were three of these armored cars. And I was in one of them sticking my head out the back hatch, talking to a Sergeant. And we'd been patrolling for about three hours, and he was saying, "This is the most peaceful patrol we've had in seven months that we've been here. And if you're responsible, you can just stay for the rest of our tour." And he had no more got that out of his mouth, then all hell broke loose. Heavy machine gun fire and everything else. And we had two Kiowa Warrior helicopters flying over us, to protect us if we got ambushed, and one of 'em had just been shot down. And we were immediately vectored to that by his wing man who had the coordinates. And we got out and there was like, somebody dug a foundation, about a half a block, and 20 feet deep. And any hole in the ground, in Iraq, they use it for garbage. And this would become a garbage pit. And the helicopter had crashed into this garbage pit. It had been raining. It was very cold, and we slid down in the mud. Down the side of this garbage pit. And then finally, we saw a little 10 year old smoke. And we ran over there, and pull this wreckage apart, and brought out the pilot, and he was dead. And then we pulled out the copilot, and he was alive, there was a heartbeat. A pulse. And they rushed even, you know, slipping and sliding and up the side of this thing. And got him into a Stryker to go to the helicopter point. He died before he got there. And I was standing there in the rain, with tears on my cheeks. I knew what was going to happen, I knew that two army cars are going to pull up tomorrow at two houses in Florida, where there's two widows, and five little kids under the age of four. And their lives are gonna be destroyed. So what I'm saying is that the last dead men that I saw in war were the same as the first. Nothing had changed. Except that I had seen too much of it. And I said, "that's it". One of those widows would not even talk to the army survivor officer. She would only talk to me. You carry an awful load.

Patty Satalia

Under what circumstances should the US go to war?

Joseph Galloway

For survival of the country...only. Only if it is totally in our national security interest. It's not worth going and starting a war for nothing. For suspicion, for I don't like that guy... None of this is worth it. There's too much dying. There's too much suffering. We send our soldiers and our Marines 5...6...7 combat deployments today. And somehow we expect their wives and their kids to be unaffected. We expect them to come home unaffected. And it doesn't work that way. This country is going to face a butcher bill for Iraq and Afghanistan that will last a lifetime.

Patty Satalia

And it makes me wonder what your thoughts are on today's all voluntary, military.

Joseph Galloway

You know, the thing about soldiers and I've been asked often to compare them, the soldier today is smarter, better educated, better trained, has better weapons, certainly better communications than we had. But all of that is peripheral. What there is about soldiering is heart. It's right here. It's an understanding that you're not doing this for yourself, you're not doing it for glory. You have a heart for service. You're willing to give up your life, if necessary, for the sake of the men around you. And my favorite passage in the Bible, "Greater love hath no man, than he give up his life for the sake of another". And that's what soldiering is really all about. And that doesn't change.

Patty Satalia

And I think it hurts you deeply that the American public doesn't appreciate the sacrifice and the cost of that kind of service and dedication.

Joseph Galloway

Oh, you know, I've been angry and bitter over the public's lack of understanding since the end of Vietnam. Since my brothers came back to not only no welcome and no respect, but absolute disrespect. And a country that actively didn't care whether they lived or died. You know, they're better people than I am because they've forgiven the country for all of that. And I haven't, I'm still angry.

Patty Satalia

There's a very moving video out on YouTube, "God's Own Lunatics", and it's really your homage to these fearless chopper pilots who were brave beyond reason. Who offloaded and onloaded and seemed to be perfectly calm in terrible firestorms. And the message that it seems to me, that you've spent your career post Vietnam doing, is letting them know that those who died, they're at peace. You be at peace.

Joseph Galloway

True, true. You know, the general and I, and a bunch of our vets, went back to Vietnam, and went back to the battlefield. And I know how Moore arranged this with God, because five of us were stranded on the battlefield overnight. The helicopter couldn't come back to get us. And so we had toured the battlefield all day, where we had fought. And as soon as the helicopter had taken the last batch out, the General said, "Joe, tell the boys to drag up some firewood and fill up the canteens down at the creek and put a lot of iodine tablets in 'em". And I said, "Sir". He said, "Don't ask, just tell 'em". So I passed the word and they were all scratching their head, but they'd had enough soldier left in them to carry out the old man's orders. And that chopper never came back. We spent the night out there with all of those ghosts. And as soon as it was dark, that rain came in, and we covered up our wood with my Poncho. And after the rain stopped and the skies cleared, and we built a little fire. And then we settled back with our backs against the trees, and watched the biggest shower of meteors I have ever seen. I mean, it was God's own tracers. They just filled the sky. And I had no doubt from that moment forward that those men were peace on both sides. They knew that we were keeping their memory alive.

Patty Satalia

You've seen more than your share of tombstones, curious to know what you want on yours?

Joseph Galloway

You know, I wish that it could simply say, "He stopped the war." But we don't have that power. If it says "A Soldier's Friend," that's enough.

Patty Satalia

Joe Galloway, thank you so much for talking with us. That was Joseph Galloway, author of "We Were Soldiers Once...And Young". Which he co authored with Lieutenant General Hal Moore. In 1998, he received a Bronze Star Medal with valor for rescuing wounded soldiers while under fire. It's the only Medal of Valor awarded by the US Army to civilian for actions during the Vietnam War. To hear more of this interview, check the links at our website wpsu.org/takenote. I'm Patty Satalia, WPSU

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