Joe Galloway is a journalist, author, friend.
Joe Galloway is also a veteran of wars. Several of them, including the ones still ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, yes, I know the war in Iraq is reportedly “over.”
Try telling that to ISIS.
The first war zone Galloway served in was never a declared war: Vietnam. Congress, it would seem, has been waffling on wars for as long as the US has been waging them.
This Veterans Day Galloway will be in DC speaking to the crowds gathered at the World War II Memorial. Later he will head over to the Vietnam Memorial Wall to be with the crowds there.
Galloway lost a good many friends in Vietnam. He chronicled those lost in his New York Times bestselling book, We Were Soldiers Once … and Young. Perhaps you have seen the movie? If not, you should read Galloway’s book then watch the movie.
Galloway didn’t go to war as a soldier. He went to war as a correspondent. A journalist. Ask anyone within the military community, however, and you will learn that Galloway is considered every bit the soldier as the men and women he served alongside.
And he’s got the medals to prove it. Galloway is the only civilian to receive the Bronze Star, with V for Valor. He earned that honor by risking his own life rescuing wounded soldiers while under fire in the Ia Drang Valley in November, 1965.
Wherever he goes, soldiers, young and old, seek Galloway out to shake his hand, to thank him for his service, to have their photos snapped alongside him. In military circles, Galloway is regarded as one of our nation’s bravest heroes.
His weapon of choice has always been his pen.
Not long after the beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, I called up Galloway and spoke with him about wars and terrorists and why in the world anyone would want to be a freelance journalist in a war zone.
“Because it’s the only job you can get,” Galloway said. “Being a foreign war correspondent has become so deadly for journalists, that most newsrooms depend upon freelancers. With Syria, that whole thing is being covered by freelancers.”
Galloway was working for the now-defunct United Press International (UPI) when the Vietnam War amped up.
“I fought like crazy to go,” Galloway said. “I knew this was going to be my generation’s war. “
For a Texan like Galloway, it would be a lot easier to explain why he did go than why he didn’t.
His bosses at UPI not only sent him off on that first tour, they ordered him to go back, time and time again.
“The second tour was in 1971. My boss called me up 3 days after a Huey went down with several good friends of mine. I was deeply shattered and grieving when the boss called up and said I had to go back to Vietnam. My wife was standing there saying, ‘If you go I may not be here when you get back.’ And I’m thinking if I go, I may not make it back.”
Being a correspondent in a war zone has always been a dangerous job. Dangerous and low-paying.
“During Vietnam, the cameraman would get $100 for 100-feet of film. UPI took on a guy who had just arrived in country with a few hundred rolls of color film and sent him off with Special Forces infiltrating the North Vietnamese. The guy raised up to shoot his first inch of film and a sniper’s bullet struck him through the camera, through his eye, out the back of his head. This freelance thing isn’t new, it’s just that more freelancers are used now, and the cost of that is what you are seeing – people getting their heads cut off.”
What does Galloway think of those in the public who say that journalists like James Foley and Steven Sotloff had no business being where they were when they were taken hostage?
“If they don’t go, how are we going to cover it?” Galloway asked. “Who is going to write the stories and tell the truth about what is going on?”
Truth, they say, is always the first casualty in any war. That was certainly the case in Vietnam, and again in Iraq. So why risk losing a life to tell stories that the American public really isn’t interested in hearing about?
“Americans have not wanted to know the details of our wars for some years now,” Galloway said. “Network news knew if they teased with an Iraq combat story, half of the viewers would immediately change the channel. These are nasty wars we are fighting. Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria have been dragging on for years with no good outcome. We got accustomed with the Gulf War of wars being fought in a 100 hours and we won. It didn’t work that way before and it doesn’t work that way now. “
These prolonged wars give birth to outfits like ISIS.
“These bitter rebellions are bloody. There’s no sense of any rules of war. It’s just absolute barbarism. The bloodier the fighting the more disgusting the tactics used,” Galloway said.
War didn’t harden Galloway. If anything, it has made him all the more human and humane. He weeps freely when talking of the friends he lost in the Ia Drang Valley and in the years since. He has traveled great distances to stand graveside with a war widow and her children as the flag is folded and passed. Gold Star families love Galloway for the way he weeps with them. Tears don’t shame Galloway. If war isn’t worth crying over, what is?
Galloway has never grown accustomed to the terrors of war and he has never been reticent about holding accountable the political powers who blithely and foolishly send troops off to fight wars that should never have been waged. Galloway has gone toe-to-toe with Rumsfeld and Cheney. He maintained from the get-go that Iraq was an ill-fated venture. One that is costing the US dearly with the rise of ISIS.
To know how much of a threat the US considers ISIS to be one needs only to consider that military families have been advised to change their profiles on Social Media to remove any hint of a connection to the military. Some are going so far as to remove any military-affiliated bumper stickers from vehicles. As tech-savvy as ISIS appears to be, there is a growing unease among military families that they may be targets on US soil.
Galloway has seen his fair share of bloody battles but the depths of depravity displayed by ISIS troubles him. He has seen some of the footage of James Foley’s death.
“I was horrified,” Galloway said. “The guy was a good journalist. He did good work at great personal risk. You cannot but be deeply moved by those things if you are human. If you have a heart.”
But he is not surprised that ISIS is targeting journalists.
“A journalist holding up a press card just makes you a bigger target,” Galloway said. “There wasn’t a lot of protection for journalists in Vietnam. These days there isn’t any protection at all.”
Galloway has been to Iraq, boots-on-the-ground reporting.
“I was stunned at how unsafe the streets of Baghdad were in a city occupied by the US Army for God’s sakes. I never felt more unsafe in my life than I did there.”
Galloway supports the position that we cannot and should not ever negotiate with ISIS, even when that position costs the lives of honorable men like James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Negotiating only empowers groups like ISIS.
“They go for maximum shock by doing barbaric acts,” Galloway said.
On Veterans Day, we are supposed to remember those who have served this nation honorably and faithfully, at great personal risk.
Usually when we think of veterans, we think of the men and women who served in the Armed Forces.
This year, let’s take time to remember the other veterans, shall we?
Veteran journalists like Joe Galloway, Daniel Pearl, James Foley, and Steven Sotloff and so many others who have put their lives on the lines in order to bring us the hard truths of war.
Isn’t it about time we started paying attention?