Soldiers’ Keith Oliver spoke with famed war correspondent, author and veterans advocate Joe Galloway recently, catching up with the Bronze Star recipient on his most recent activities in support of the congressionally mandated United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration. Among his other roles is that of oral historian, taping a series of interviews with Vietnam vets in conjunction with the Commemoration.
Joe, you continue to be busier than any three people we know. What made you sign up for all this added work and travel?
We are moving fast on this project to capture the personal stories of Vietnam War veterans because too many of them are going out of the game. I so deeply regret that we were not able to capture the stories of Gen. Norm Schwarzkopf, CSM Basil L. Plumley, Lt. Gen. Hal Moore (not gone, but too frail now for interviews), and many others.
So we are working hard for that reason, and for the reason that this is, in my opinion, a very worthy project. When we are finished I hope there will be a very large body of first person accounts of what it was like soldiering in Vietnam – and that it will be available to researchers in future decades and centuries.
What would you say to an active duty Army first-termer about the men and women being honored during these 50th commemoration activities?
To those young men and women on their first tour in our military I would say that you are marching on the shoulders of ALL the great American troops who went before you. You have inherited the mantle of duty, honor, country and we are all confident that you will hold those principles high. I can stand on an empty parade ground and see faint visions of the long gray lines from a century, or two centuries, before. They are beside you in spirit always.
November means the 50th Anniversary of “the” battle (Ia Drang). We are assuming there are some special, specific activities in which you might be engaged during the actual anniversary period?
It is hard for me to believe that 50 years, half a century, have gone by since we stepped off the helicopters onto the grassy fields of Landing Zone XRay in the Ia Drang Valley and into a cliffhanger battle against overwhelming odds. At times it seems like that was only yesterday. The memories of death and dying and great valor at every hand are as vivid as yesterday.
I see the long line of our fallen brothers, wrapped in their own ponchos, their booted feet sticking out the ends, with the same clarity as the first time. The men I stood and fought beside in that hellish place remain the best friends of my life. We will gather on November 14, the day the battle began, for a reunion dinner in Washington DC. Stories will be told. Glasses will be lifted. Our days dwindle down to a precious few and it is right that we share those days with those who mean the most to us.
Hollywood has a reputation for being hot and cold in terms of their treatment of the Vietnam War and those who fought it. Are you hearing anything about what the movie or TV people may have on the front burner in the next year or so (including the Ken Burns project which obviously has your heavy involvement)?
I have no idea what Hollywood might be considering in the way of Vietnam War movies in the near future. My focus over the last couple of years has been on a Ken Burns production of a documentary history of that war of our youth. Burns’ Florentine Films is producing ten 2-hour episodes for that documentary which will air in November 2017 on PBS. I’ve been interviewed for the project and have consulted with them.
Last fall we went to Mr. Burns’ home in New Hampshire for a week, screening the “roughs” of every episode. They were, simply put, magnificent. I am confident that this documentary series on Vietnam will live up to the very high standards of every production Ken Burns has directed, beginning with his breathtaking Civil War History in 1991.
What are we leaving out here? What do you want to say to our readers about this commemoration, this war, and the soldiers who fought it?
The Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemoration project, run out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, is focused on working with towns, cities, states and organizations all across America to hold local events honoring and welcoming home and thanking all who served in the Vietnam War.
This is our last opportunity to honor and thank the young men and women who served honorably in an orphaned war, and came home to no welcome at all. Beginning this year and every year for the next ten years, our Commemorative partners will host hometown events to welcome their own veterans home. I attended and spoke at one such event in the heart of my hometown – Concord, North Carolina – last night. The venue was filled with Vietnam veterans, some in wheelchairs, who had come out on a beautiful evening to hear a little praise of them and their service.