Former United Press International war correspondent Joseph Galloway, whose book about the Battle of Ia Drang in Vietnam was transformed into a Hollywood film, died Wednesday in a North Carolina hospital. He was 79 years old.
Grace Galloway, his wife, had recently written on Facebook that he had suffered a heart attack.
Galloway, who was born in 1941 in the small town of Refugio near the Texas coast, began his career working for a local newspaper, The Victoria Advocate, before going to UPI’s Kansas City, Mo., office in 1961. Galloway said he kept up with dispatches from other reporters out of Vietnam while covering state administration and court matters for two years.
“I decided there was going be a war there. It was going to become an American war, and it was going to be my generation’s war, and I damn well was going cover it,” he told UPI in 2002. “So I raised so much hell that eventually, just after the election, in November 1964, they transferred me directly from Topeka to Tokyo. How about them apples? That was hard to do for a young reporter in those days.”
During that first 16-month stint in Vietnam, Galloway reported on the war, often on the ground with infantrymen thick in the fight. In once instance, he said, he served as a corner machine gunner in a beleaguered Special Forces camp until reinforcements arrived.
This was around the time, in November 1965, that the 24-year-old joined up with the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, which was dropped into the Ia Drang Valley and was quickly surrounded by combatants. This battle was the inspiration for his 1992 book, We Were Soldiers Once … And Young. It was turned into a movie a decade later called We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson. Barry Pepper played Galloway.
Galloway told UPI he went prepared for the battle thanks to Maj. Charlie Beckwith at the Special Forces camp — he would later found the Delta Force.
“I was leaving the camp and went over to say goodbye to Beckwith, and he allowed that I had been a halfway decent machine gunner, and he said, ‘Where are you going’ and I said, ‘I’m going with the Cav,’ and he said, ‘You don’t have a weapon.’
“I said, ‘In spite of what you had me do in the last few days, technically speaking I’m a non-combatant.’
“And he said ‘There ain’t no such thing in these mountains, son.’ He told a sergeant, ‘Get him a rifle,’ and he gave me an M-16, and I marched out the gate with it on my shoulder.”
Asked if he had previously served in the military or been trained to shoot, Galloway responded, “nope.”
“But when you’re a kid growing up in Texas, you learn to hunt, so I could generally make out OK. So I went off with the 1st Cav, and that led inevitably toward the Ia Drang valley operation.”
In 1998, while working as a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report, Galloway was awarded the Bronze Star with a “V” for valor for his actions during the Battle of Ia Drang.
During the battle, Galloway, along with a medic, ran to the aid of two soldiers who had been burned by napalm bombs.
“With assistance from another man, Mr. Galloway carried one of the injured soldiers to the medical aid station … Mr. Galloway’s valorous actions under enemy fire and his determination to get accurate, factual reports to the American people reflect great credit upon himself and American war correspondents,” the Army citation awarding him the medal read.
“Based on our assignments — and because we got shot at many times over (and thankfully missed) — many of us fancied ourselves as war correspondents. But few, if any, measured up to the real deal that was Joe,” he wrote. “Indeed, not since Ernie Pyle was there a war correspondent who engendered as much respect from the grunts he covered into battle as Joe Galloway did.”Galloway retired from journalism as a columnist for McClatchy Newspapers in January 2010.
He is survived by his wife, Grace Galloway, and sons, Joshua Galloway and Lee Galloway.