America’s greatest working war reporter closes his notebook after more than four decades on the military beat.
General H. Norman Schwarzkopf called him “the finest combat correspondent of our generation—a soldier’s reporter and a soldier’s friend.” We at Vietnam Magazine have called him “the Ernie Pyle of the Vietnam War.” This past June, Joseph L. Galloway, the legendary war reporter, retired after spending 41 years covering the military beat. Along the way he garnered admiration in most quarters, and grudging respect in others, for his no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is approach to covering wars and the soldiers who fought them.
Joe Galloway was born in the small town of Refugio, Texas, just three weeks short of the attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941. Two of his great-grandfathers fought in the Civil War, each losing a leg. His father and six of his father’s brothers all served in World War II. As Joe remembers it, he spent the first several years of his life living in a household gripped in constant fear of that guy delivering the telegram in the middle of the night. That experience gave him a lifelong empathy with those who stand guard in the night.
As a young boy, Joe was deeply affected by Pyle’s stories of the common American soldier. “If my generation has a war,” he thought to himself, “this is something I want to do.” And so he did, spending four tours in Vietnam and two in Iraq, that last one ending earlier this year.
There is a special bond between Joe and those of us of the Vietnam generation. One of his most lasting contributions is his co-authorship, along with Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, of We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, undoubtedly one of the greatest books about the Vietnam War. That book, of course, told the story of the 1965 fight for landing zones X-Ray and Albany during the Battle of the Ia Drang, which Joe covered for UPI. As a result of his own actions there, Joe Galloway was later awarded the Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device—the only decoration for heroism that the U.S. Army awarded to a civilian during the Vietnam War.
As the war started to fade into memory, Joe became increasingly critical of how it was being portrayed in the popular media. He once noted, “The veterans, the people who were there, can’t see very much in the Vietnam movies that tells them about what they did and what they saw.” That changed drastically, however, when We Were Soldiers was itself finally made into a movie.
Although Joe Galloway has retired from beat reporting, he will continue to write his weekly Knight-Ridder newspaper column, in which he has become increasingly critical of the management of the current war in Iraq, while at the same time he continues to support and tell the true stories of the American GIs who are fighting it. He also has hinted of a number of book projects in the works, including a memoir.
We look forward to reading it, Joe. You’ll always be one of us.