Joseph L. Galloway, a Refugio native who is well known as a foreign correspondent and co-author of a best-selling book that was turned into a critically-acclaimed 2002 film, died Wednesday at the age of 79 in Concord, N.C.
Carolyn Stellman, Galloway’s second cousin who lives in Victoria, remembers encountering Galloway for the first time in the mid-50s after she and her family moved from California to Bloomington. When the adults would gather to play dominoes and enjoy cake and coffee, Galloway would always read a book in the other room, she said.
While Galloway apparently liked to read, he did not care much for school, according to an October 2001 Victoria Advocate news article. At 17, Galloway graduated from Refugio High School and later enrolled in Victoria College. He dropped out six weeks later.
“I quit college. I’d had all I could stand of it,” Galloway told the Advocate.
On the way to the Army recruiting office, Galloway’s mother brought up journalism as a potential career for her son as they passed the office of The Victoria Advocate. Galloway stopped and put in his bid to be a reporter. Managing Editor Jim Rech hired him for $35 a week in 1959.
Three years later, Galloway joined United Press International and eventually assumed the role of bureau chief of UPI’s Topeka bureau, making him the youngest chief in the history of the wire service. Before long, he was lobbying his bosses to send him overseas.
“I had to be there, in Vietnam, on the battlefields. Vietnam was my generation’s war. I had grown up reading the collected works of Ernie Pyle. I believed that someone had to go there to tell the stories of men and boys in combat,” Galloway told the Advocate. “What I saw and wrote about broke my heart a thousand times, but it also gave me the best and most loyal friends of my life. The soldiers accepted me as one of them, and I can think of no higher honor.’’
A March 2004 article of the Victoria Advocate describes how Galloway covered the Battle of Ia Drang from day one — Nov. 15, 1965. The battle was thought to be the bloodiest battle of the Vietnam action. American soldiers were bailing out of helicopters flying just feet off the ground into a landing zone about the size of two football fields while North Vietnamese troops poured out of tunnels dug into the surrounding mountains. Later, it was learned that the Americans were outnumbered 10 to one. The battle served as the inspiration for Galloway’s book, “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young,” which was co-authored with retired Lt. Gen. Hal G. Moore, and the subsequent movie, “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson.
Galloway was the only civilian awarded the Bronze Star for valor by the U.S. Army for his service during the Vietnam War.
Joe Pena, of Port Lavaca, fought in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965. A member of his company, Vince Cantu, was from Refugio and recognized Galloway taking photographs during the battle. Pena learned who Galloway was when they returned to base camp, but he did not meet Galloway in person until 1990 when he attended a ceremony in Fort Benning, Ga., which marked the 25th anniversary of the battle. After dinner, Moore and Galloway, among others, invited Pena and some of his fellow veterans to examine film footage of the battle frame-by-frame to identify the men involved. The authors interviewed the men who were identified and put together the book.
“It (the book) put us into history. Without the book, nothing would have been said about Ia Drang Valley, simple as that,” Pena said. “He was a brother. He told the story the way it was supposed to be told and brought attention to who we were and what we did in that battle. He was a humdinger as far as telling the truth. He said to always tell the truth because lies catch up with you.”
Galloway served United Press International for 22 years before working for the U.S. News and World Report and Knight Ridder newspaper chain in a series of overseas roles, including reporting from the Persian Gulf War in 1991, according to an Associated Press story. He also was a special consultant to Secretary of State Colin Powell for a time.
Tim Delaney, who worked for the Victoria Advocate for about 25 years, was an acquaintance of Galloway’s before they became neighbors for a while in Bayside, where he got to know Galloway better through the Bayside Historical Society. Delaney used Galloway’s syndicated column on the Advocate’s editorial page for the liberal point of view, while he used George Will’s column for the conservative side. Delaney said Galloway was a real ally to the veterans.
In a September 2008 letter to the editor of the Advocate, Alton Mueller of Yorktown wrote, “Joe Galloway has seen war and politics from a grunt’s point of view. I’m begging you, please, keep bringing us more insightful, civilized commentary from this man. He is a genuine, brush-country Texan and patriot.”
“He was kind of like a star, especially after he wrote the book, but he was an everyday guy — very approachable and friendly. He never panicked about anything — he was very calm. He was just a magnificent human being,” Delaney said. “In this day and age of what’s the truth and what’s not, he went to the nth degree to make sure everything he wrote was factual, and you can’t go wrong with that kind of reporting. Reliable stuff.”
Richard Sanchez, of Woodsboro, a registered nurse who spent time in the Marines and International Guard before retiring from the Army as a lieutenant colonel, knew Galloway from Refugio in the late 60s. Later, when Galloway lived in Bayside, the two men kept in touch.
“He was brilliant and very outgoing. He respected all the veterans, and the veterans looked up to him. What he did in Vietnam, he was part of the battle. He just had characteristics of a combat soldier but he was carrying a camera instead of a rifle,” Sanchez said. “We all respected Joe so much. He dedicated his life to veterans even though he was not a military guy himself. I consider him a veteran.”
Gracie Galloway, of Concord, N.C., married Joe Galloway in 2012. The two had met in Indonesia 55 years earlier, and had become “friends and soulmates.” She said her husband loved telling the soldiers’ stories and believed in striving to make the world a better place. He never pushed himself to the forefront, but rather enjoyed elevating others, which is why he was so loved, she said.
“Joe was the milk of human kindness, to quote Shakespeare. He was the most honest and ethical man, and truly spoke the truth,” she said. “Sometimes it means bucking heads with someone, but you have to when you tell the truth, and he got that. When you’re a truth-speaker, some will be very angry with you. (Former Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld was furious with him. Good. A journalist worth anything must be fearless to speak the truth because it’s difficult sometimes.”