WASHINGTON (AP) — Longtime American foreign correspondent Joseph L. Galloway, best known for his book recounting a pivotal battle in the Vietnam War that was made into a Hollywood movie, has died. He was 79.
A native of Refugio, Texas, Galloway spent 22 years as a war correspondent and bureau chief for United Press International, including serving four tours in Vietnam. He then worked for U.S. News & World Report magazine and Knight Ridder newspapers in a series of overseas roles, including reporting from the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
Galloway died Wednesday morning, his wife, Grace Galloway, told The Associated Press, after being hospitalized near their home in Concord, North Carolina. He is also survived by two sons and a stepdaughter.
“He was the kindest, most gentle and loving man,” Grace Galloway said. “He loved the boys and girls of the U.S. military. He loved his country.”
With co-author retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, Galloway wrote “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young,” which recounted his and Moore’s experience during a bloody 1965 battle with the North Vietnamese in the Ia Drang Valley. The book became a national bestseller and was made into the 2002 movie “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson as Moore and Barry Pepper as Galloway.
“Joe has my respect and admiration — a combat reporter in the field who willingly flew into hot spots and, when things got tough, was not afraid to take up arms to fight for his country and his brothers,” Gibson said Wednesday.
Galloway was decorated with a Bronze Star Medal with V in 1998 for rescuing wounded soldiers under fire during the la Drang battle. He is the only civilian awarded a medal of valor by the U.S. Army for actions in combat during the Vietnam War.
Galloway also served as a consultant for the 2016 PBS documentary “The Vietnam War,” directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. They said he will be missed.
“Joe was a very brave and courageous reporter and phenomenal storyteller the likes of which they don’t make anymore,” Burns and Novick said in a joint statement. “We were lucky he came into our lives and made our understanding of the Vietnam War that much more vivid.”
After reporting from the front lines during Operation Desert Storm, Galloway co-authored “Triumph With Victory: The Unreported History of the Persian Gulf War.” As he approached age 50, that was Galloway’s last combat assignment, but not the end of his career covering the U.S. military.
In 2002, Knight Ridder asked Galloway to return to reporting after a stint as an adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell to bolster its Washington bureau’s coverage of the Bush administration’s case for ousting Saddam Hussein.
Galloway did that by contributing, often anonymously, to his colleagues’ stories and by writing a column that often was critical of Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who were bent on invading Iraq.
John Walcott, Galloway’s longtime editor and friend, recounted how an exasperated Rumsfeld finally asked Joe to meet with him alone in his office. When Joe 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.”
According to Walcott, 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 like whores in church.”
Galloway’s critical coverage of the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq was later portrayed in “Shock and Awe,” with fellow Texan Tommy Lee Jones playing Galloway.
“The thing about Joe is that there wasn’t a dishonest bone in his body,” Rob Reiner, the movie’s director, told the AP by phone. “He spoke truth to power. … We will miss him, there’s very few people who hold his level of integrity.”
Clark Hoyt, former Washington editor for Knight Ridder, said it was a privilege to work with Galloway, who he called one of the great war correspondents of all time.
“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 run up to the Iraq war,” Hoyt said.
Walcott said he was an exemplar of what journalism should be. From the People’s Army of Vietnam to Rumsfeld, no one ever intimidated Galloway other than his wife, Gracie, Walcott said.
“He never went to college, but he was one of, if not the, most gifted writers in our profession, in which his death will leave an enormous hole at a time when our country desperately needs more like him,” Walcott said. “He never sought fame nor tried to make himself the star of his stories. As sources, he valued sergeants more than brand name generals and political appointees.”
Associated Press writers James LaPorta in Delray Beach, Florida, and Hillel Italie in New York City contributed to this report.