Photo: McClatchy columnist Joseph L. Galloway. (Chuck Kennedy/MCT) MCT
18 August 2021 | JOHN WALCOTT | Miami Herald
War correspondent and author Joseph Galloway, who covered the front lines from the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam in 1965 to an onion field outside Basra in 1991, died Wednesday of complications following a heart attack. He was 79.
Galloway was a young reporter for United Press International when he covered the battle between the U.S. Army and the People’s Army of Vietnam in the Ia Drang Valley of South Vietnam.
His 1990 recounting of it won a National Magazine Award and formed the basis of the award-winning bestseller “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young” that he co-authored with Lt. Gen. Hal Moore. The book was made into the movie “We Were Soldiers” starring Mel Gibson.
He was often referred to as a “soldier’s reporter” and valued sergeants more than generals and political appointees.
Galloway received a Bronze Star for rescuing wounded soldiers under fire in the Ia Drang Valley, the only civilian to be awarded a medal for valor by the U.S. Army for actions during the Vietnam War.
Late in his career, Galloway returned to reporting at Knight Ridder, bolstering its Washington Bureau’s coverage of the George W. Bush administration’s case for ousting Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
“It was a privilege to work with Joe, one of the great war correspondents of all time,” said Clark Hoyt, former vice president of news and Washington editor of Knight Ridder. “He earned the trust and respect of those he was covering but never lost his ear for false notes, as shown by his contributions to Knight Ridder’s skeptical reporting on the runup to the Iraq war.”
That coverage was not Galloway’s first on Iraq. After Saddam’s troops invaded Kuwait and as the United States prepared for the Gulf War in 1991, U.S. News & World Report sent Galloway to the Riyadh headquarters of the allied commander, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, to ask for “the best seat in the war.”
After about two weeks, Schwarzkopf summoned Galloway to his office and told him, “I know what you want, and I’m going to give it to you.” He sent Galloway to the headquarters of the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) on the Iraqi border in northern Saudi Arabia.
As the division commander, then-Maj. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, recalled it:
“I took him alone into the operations center and walked him through the entire plan of attack … telling him it was embargoed until we crossed the Line of Departure.”
McCaffrey said he told Galloway to go anywhere he wanted.
“Next time I saw him was on the back ramp of my M113 in the Assault Command Post as we plunged into the Euphrates River valley well behind the Iraqi Army. I gave Joe an update with a giant battle going on against the stunned and disoriented Republican Guards,” he said.
“Joe, as usual, was up front with combat soldiers where the action was.”
After Operation Desert Storm ended, Galloway co-authored “Triumph Without Victory: The History of the Persian Gulf War.”
He joined Knight Ridder in 2002, after a stint as an adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
He contributed, often anonymously, to his colleagues’ stories and wrote a column that often was critical of Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and their aides who were bent on invading Iraq.
An exasperated Rumsfeld finally asked Galloway to meet with him alone in his office. When Galloway arrived, he was greeted by Rumsfeld — and a group of other high-ranking Pentagon officials.
“Good,” Galloway reported when he returned to the Knight Ridder office. “I had ‘em surrounded.”
Galloway then described how after Rumsfeld accused him of relying on retired officers and officials, he had told the group that most of his sources were on active duty, and that some of them “might even be in this room.”
Asked by his colleagues if that was true, Galloway replied: “No, but it was fun watching ‘em sweat.” He finished with a colorful analogy.
Galloway’s contributions to Knight Ridder’s critical coverage of the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq were later captured in director Rob Reiner’s 2017 movie “Shock and Awe,” in which fellow Texan Tommy Lee Jones plays Galloway.
“Joe Galloway literally risked his life so the world would know the truth about the Vietnam War. His journalistic skills were also invaluable in uncovering the lies that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq,” Reiner said.
“Joe and I worked closely on a film that told the story of how the public was fed those lies. But the making of ‘Shock and Awe’ not only allowed Joe’s voice to be heard, it also allowed me to become friends with a true American hero. I will miss him,” he said.
Galloway is survived by his wife, Gracie, sons Lee of San Antonio and Josh of Houston, stepdaughter Li Mei of Concord, N.C., and three grandchildren.
Editor’s note: John Walcott is former Washington bureau chief for Knight Ridder and McClatchy, which purchased Knight Ridder in 2006.