- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

As the two young women worked their way along the engraved panels of polished black granite, scanning the thousands of names etched, they talked about the film they had seen the night before, and the tales of courage and sacrifice that had moved them to pay their respects at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on an overcast Wednesday afternoon.
One scene in particular stood out: A bloodied, tired United Press International reporter putting his camera down to help an injured American soldier. When Alicia Porter and Sarah Walls, both 21, mentioned the soldier's name Jimmy Nakamura a 60-year-old Falls Church resident standing nearby overheard the two, and offered help: He knew exactly which panel included Nakamura's name.
"I carried him to the helicopter," Joseph Galloway told them.
That somber encounter at the Wall yesterday is one of the reasons Mr. Galloway is so proud of "We Were Soldiers," the hit film based on a 1992 best seller that the Virginian co-authored. The book is an account of a bloody four-day battle between U.S. forces and the North Vietnamese at la Drang Valley in November 1965.
The film and the book, he said, are helping change misrepresentative stereotypes about the conduct of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.
Mr. Galloway, a UPI reporter at the time and the only journalist to witness the battle, co-wrote the account with Lt. Col. Hal Moore, the commander of the U.S. forces during the fight. Mr. Moore, now a retired general, is played by Mel Gibson in the film.
In an interview with The Washington Times this week, Mr. Galloway said the film offers a perspective on U.S. soldiers that is absent from earlier Vietnam War films like Oliver Stone's "Platoon" and Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now."
For the vast majority of U.S. troops in Vietnam, he said, the war was not about "rampaging through the countryside, killing civilians, raping women, smoking dope and killing their own NCOs."
What sets "We Were Soldiers" apart, said Mr. Galloway, is that it is factual, whereas characters in "Platoon," for instance, were "all fictional pieces that have been grafted onto a Vietnam framework."
Mr. Galloway, who recently stepped down as a speechwriter for Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to work on another book project, said the reports of atrocities committed by Americans during the war have been blown "way out of proportion."
He, like many Americans, feels the war in Vietnam was a mistake. But, he said, the country's animosity toward the war itself was misdirected at its own soldiers.
"The country turned its back on the war, and unfortunately it turned its back on its warriors," he said. "Many of them came home to be jeered and spat upon by protesters. The experience [of the war] and of the return was searing to their souls."
Much of Mr. Galloway's life for the past 36 years has been spent trying to make known the true heroism of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. He covered the war through its completion in 1975.
"I've been trying to tell the truth for a lot of years, primarily the truth about the soldiers who fought there: 19- or 20-year-old boys who didn't ask to be sent there, but tried to do their job once they got there."
A strong sense of camaraderie has sustained Mr. Galloway's decades-long quest. He was with the 450 men of the 7th Calvary in Ia Drang Valley when they were surrounded on all sides by 2,000 Vietnamese soldiers.
Mr. Galloway, whose career in journalism began at the Victoria Advocate in Victoria, Texas, moved on to UPI. He then badgered his bosses to send him to cover the war. Once in Vietnam, he wheedled his way into the thick of what was then thought of as the biggest battle of the war.
"If he's crazy enough to want to come in here, then let him come," said Col. Moore at the time.
Mr. Galloway quickly found he was a participant, not just an observer. The American forces were heavily outnumbered, and in great danger of being overrun. The Refugio, Texas, native was forced to put down his camera, pick up a gun and start shooting.
At one point, a can of napalm exploded nearby, igniting 22-year-old American soldier Jimmy Nakamura. Mr. Galloway carried the horribly burnt young husband and father to a helicopter. He died two days later.
It is the one scene in the movie Mr. Galloway cannot bear to watch. At the various premieres he has attended, he has walked out of the theater at that point, returning when the scene is over.
"That's my personal nightmare for 36 years," he said. "To have it up on the screen, in technicolor, is too much."
The decision to go to the scene of battle earned the young reporter a scoop over his press corps colleagues, but Mr. Galloway had always felt there was more to what happened in la Drang valley than could be told in a handful of short newspaper stories.
So, in 1982, he and Gen. Moore began work on the book, and when it was published in 1992, it became a best seller. With the film's success, the book has been reprinted and is back on the best-seller list.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide