I don’t know Joe Galloway well. We briefly met once or twice, having worked for the same people over a good many years. In the abstract, however, I know him quite well as a representative of the best in American journalism.
Joe proved his standing among elite firsthand historians as a young correspondent for United Press International covering a horrendous fight in 1965 that was the first between American and North Vietnamese forces. It happened in a place called the Ia Drang Valley. Joe was the lone noncombatant in a battle that set the tone for a decade that ultimately saw 58,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lose their lives. Eventually, Joe was forced to pick up a rifle and fight.
I’m writing about Joe because I recently watched for the second time a movie based on his account of Ia Drang. His co-author was Hal Moore, the commander of the undermanned 7th Cavalry Regiment that in that battle ran into a buzz saw of North Vietnamese regulars of division strength. I had read the book, “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” and even seen the movie when it came out in 2002, starring Mel Gibson as Moore and Barry Pepper as Joe. But I had forgotten how intense and graphically dramatic the scenes of carnage and courage were.
The intensity was so relentless that it had to be broken by home front sequences of wives meeting the news of almost unimaginable loss.
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“Why are you watching this?” I was asked. “I know you have seen it.”
I explained to her that it seemed timely given the fact that Moore, then a lieutenant colonel, had just died at age 94. In his distinguished career, he had risen to the rank of lieutenant general.
Galloway is still around. He is in his 70s and still going strong, I believe.
Also, it brought rushing back to me memories of the gallant journalists I’ve known, some of whom I sent into harm’s way.
More importantly, it made me wonder: In this world of internet technology and the continued loss of newspapers, who or what will take the places of the brave men and women who have risked life and limb to bring us the truth about war?
I remembered a misty morning at the national military cemetery above Honolulu, Hawaii, when I had tears streaming down my cheeks while gazing at more than a thousand veterans of World War II who had come to see me lay a wreath on Ernie Pyle’s grave to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death in the Pacific and to hear me recite from his most famous work documenting the life and death of brave men and women.
I thought about Jim Lucas — like Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize winner — who under heavy fire told the free world, “Five minutes ago, we took Tarawa.” He then covered every conflict thereafter, including Vietnam, only to die of cancer. “All those fights and I couldn’t have caught a bullet?” he asked after calling me to drive him to the hospital for his final battle. I couldn’t answer for a moment. Then I replied, “So you could do your job.”
I remembered Hal Boyle of the Associated Press and another UPI correspondent from the so-called Good War (there is no such thing), Walter Cronkite. And Andy Rooney of Yank Magazine and Bill Mauldin, who kept us laughing through the tears. And, of course, the brilliant Homer Bigart of the New York Herald Tribune.
Most of all, my thoughts turned to those I had sent to places like Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq and Iran — young Peter Copeland, Lance Gay, Al Thompson and Joan Lowy — with the same admonition. Keep your head down and your powder dry.
Now I was remembering and wondering about Joe Galloway, who fit the mold of all the best.
As we face the perilous future of a globe that seems to be folding in on itself, I hope someone will step up to tell the personal story of heroism and humanity we need to survive. I can only trust they will.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: firstname.lastname@example.org .