Knight Ridder Bureau Chief Pays Tribute to Galloway at Retirement Party

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By: E&P Staff

A retirement bash for famed war correspondent Joseph L. Galloway was held Thursday night in Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club, as E&P Editor Greg Mitchell observes in his “Pressing Issues” column elsewhere on this site. It was sponsored by the Military Reporters and Editors group, which has named an award after Galloway, who leaves his post as military columnist for Knight Ridder next week.

Galloway’s longtime friend and colleague, John Walcott, Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau chief, offered the following, slightly edited testimonial at the party.

Joe, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to have your going-away party with the speakers you have, not the speakers you might want.

It’s been my privilege, really my honor, to work with Joe for the last 17 years, and I consider him not only a colleague, but also my friend and my brother. I’ve learned a great deal from him — much of which cannot be repeated here in mixed, if not polite, company.

But with your indulgence, I want to be serious for a moment and thank Joe for what I believe have been three enormous contributions to our profession and to our country.

— First, in an age given to punditry, pontification and
polarization, Joe has been — first, last and always — a reporter. He has always gone to the sound of the guns, to be with the warriors he loves so much.

During the first Gulf War, the editors of U.S. News came to the same conclusion that many of you did: that the pool system was a snare and a delusion. But at U.S. News in those days, we had a secret weapon.

I remembered a picture Joe showed me that he’d taken of then-Major Norman Schwarzkopf, walking down a dirt road with a unit of South Vietnamese paratroopers, and I asked Joe if he’d kept up with Schwarzkopf. You all know the answer to that quintessentially dumb editor’s question. Of course he had.

Long story short: Mike Ruby, Merrill McLoughlin and I sent Joe to Schwarzkopf’s headquarters in Riyadh with the kind of simple request that editors like to make: Go get the best seat in the war.

General Schwarzkopf sent Joe to Maj. Gen. Barry McCaffrey’s 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized), which he said had the most complex and dangerous assignment in his battle plan, the famous left hook. Almost as soon as he arrived at division headquarters, Joe was ushered into the TOC, the Tactical Operations Center. The cover was
lifted off the division’s battle maps, which of course were Top Secret-and-change.

Joe asked General McCaffrey why he could see the secret battle plan. “I trust you because Norm trusts you,” Barry replied. “But most of all, I trust you because you’re coming with us.”

And that’s where Joe has always gone, to the tip of the spear.

— Second, with his column, Joe has reminded us in the media, our colleagues in the military and the government and our fellow citizens how important it is to speak truth to power instead of serving as megaphones for the powerful.

He was, for a long time, almost a lone voice, and that is as much a testament to his courage and his convictions as the Bronze Star he won in the Ia Drang Valley.

–Finally, starting with his 1990 U.S. News cover story on that long ago, faraway battle and ending with Randy Wallace’s movie version (“We Were Soldiers Once…and Young”), Joe has taught America that you can hate war but love the warrior. That is a lesson that much of my generation either never learned or forgot in the bitter debate over the Vietnam War.

I learned a long time ago that Joe’s words are almost invariably better than any that I can come up with, and as usual, he said it best, in this case in his now-famous e-mail firefight with Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita [reprinted by E&P earlier this week]. Joe’s last blast summarizes what he’s all about as well as anything, and although I know that everyone here has read it by now, I think it’s worth repeating aloud.

Toward the end of their exchange, Mr. DiRita wrote that: “This is tough stuff, and we’re all hard at it, trying to do what’s best for the country.”

Joe replied: “I like to think that is what I am doing also, and it is a struggle that grows out of my obligation to and love for America’s warriors going back 41 years as of last month….Someone once asked me if I had learned anything from going to war so many times. My reply: ‘Yes, I learned how to cry.’ “

Joe, my friend and my brother, now it’s your turn to celebrate, and our turn to cry.

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