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A Fine Talk by Joe Galloway

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Published: 23 July 2011
Joe Galloway, at the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, 2000 Convention

"Thanks to all of you for giving me the honor of speaking to you. I have got to tell you that looking out across this assemblage I must confess: I haven't seen this many bad boys collected in one location since the last time I visited Leavenworth Prison.

When I first learned that I would be doing this gig I asked an aviator buddy of mine what else I needed to know......and he said, well, most of you would be bringing your wives along.......that half of you were so  deaf that you couldn't hear a word of what I was saying.....the other half would be so  drunk you couldn't understand what I was saying..... so I might just as well talk to the ladies......

I have waited years to be able to share this story with so august a group of aviator veterans as this: A few years ago I was at a large official dinner and I was seated next to a nice lady who was the wife of a two-star general. I knew the lady had two college-age daughters and I also knew that one of them had been dating a Cavalry lieutenant.......so I thought to make some polite conversation and I offered her my condolences at her daughter's choice of companionship. "Oh No!" the general's wife said. "He is a fine young man. Nothing wrong with him......and at least he isn't a xzxzxxzx aviator!"

I just wanted you to know that your successors in the business continue to win friends and influence people in high places. Before I go along any further in this thing I need to ask you some questions: --Is there anyone here who flew with the 1st Cavalry Division? The 229th? The 227th? How about the old 119th out of Holloway? Any Marine pilots who flew them old CH-34 Shuddering xxxxhouses??? Now I know I am among close friends......I know that old Ray Burns from Ganado, Texas, is here.....and I have got to tell you a story about me and Ray that goes back to October of 1965. Plei Me SF Camp was under siege by a regiment of North Vietnamese regulars. I was trying to get in there.....like a fool......but after an A1E and a B57 Canberra and one Huey had been shot down they declared it a No-Fly Zone. So I was stomping up and down the flight line at Holloway cussing......when I ran across Ray. He asked what the problem was and I told him. He allowed as how he had been wanting to get a look at that situation and would give me a ride......

I still have a picture I shot out the open door of Ray's Huey. We are doing a kind of corkscrew descent and the triangular berms and wire of the camp below fill that doorway.....along with the puffs of smoke from the impacting mortar rounds inside the camp. .....I can scare myself bad just looking at that photo.

Well old Ray drops on in and I jump out....and the Yards boil out of the trenches and toss a bunch of wounded in the door and Ray is pulling pitch.....grinning......and giving me the bird. When the noise is gone this sergeant major runs up: Sir, I don't know who you are but Major Beckwith wants to see you right away. I ask which one is the major and I am informed he is the very big guy over there jumping up and down on his hat. I go over slowly. The dialogue goes something like this: Who the hell are you?  A reporter.   Son, I need everything in the world from food and ammo to water....to medevac......to reinforcements.....and I wouldn't mind a bottle of Jim Beam.......but what I do not need is a xxxx reporter.

And what has the Army in its wisdom delivered to me? Well....I got news for you.....you ain't a reporter no more; you are my new corner machine gunner." Ray.....I want to thank you for that ride.......wasn't for you and Chuck Oualline I wouldn't have had half as much fun in Vietnam. .....every story anyone has about Vietnam starts and ends with a helicopter......you guys were simply fantastic. Thank you all. Thank you for every thing....large and small.

Now I guess I got to get down to business.   All of you know that I have spent most of the last forty years hanging out with the Infantry.....a choice some folks view as perverse if not totally insane. But there was always method in my madness: With the Infantry things happen close enough that I can see what's happening.....and slowly enough most times that even I can understand what I'm seeing. There's just this one little downside to my long experience with the Infantry:

During that time I have personally been bombed.....rocketed.....strafed..... and napalmed by the U.S. Air Force.....U.S. Navy......U.S. Marines.....and U.S. Army Aviation......as well as by the air forces of South Vietnam.....Laos......Sri Lanka......India......and Pakistan. Now I don't consider myself an inconsiderable target.....and wasn't even back when I could fit comfortably behind a palm tree......but here I am....running my mouth.....nothing hurt beyond my dignity. Don't get me wrong; I don't hold any grudges against those gallant winged warriors. But ever since the first time they attacked me and missed.....I have never ever used the words "surgical bombing strike" in any story I ever wrote.

I had the chance to say some good things about all of you at the Memorial Service at The Wall on Sunday. I meant every word of that..... and more. You chopper guys were our heroes in Vietnam. You were our rides....but you were much much more than that. We were always either cussing you for hauling our butts into deep kimchi.....or ready to kiss you for hauling us out of it. I have a feeling that without you and your birds that would have been a much shorter and far more brutish war.

You were our heroes, though, first last and always. You saved us from having to walk to work every day. You brought in our food and ammo and water.....and sometimes even a marmite can full of hot chow. To this day I think the finest meal I ever ate was a canteen cup full of hot split pea soup that a Huey delivered to a hilltop in the dry paddies of the Bong Son Plain in January of 1966. For a moment there I thought if the Army could get a hot meal out to an Infantry company on patrol maybe.....just maybe.....we could win the damn war. Oh well.

I think often of all that you did for us.....all that you meant to us: You came for our wounded. You came to get our dead brothers. You came....when the fight was over.....to give us a ride home from hell. There isn't a former Grunt alive who doesn't freeze for a moment and feel the hair rise on the back of his neck when he hears the whup whup whup of those helicopter blades.

What I want to say now is just between us.....because America still doesn't get it.....still doesn't know the truth, and the truth is: You are the cream of the crop of our generation.....the best and finest of an entire generation of Americans. You are the ones who answered when you were called to serve.....You are the ones who fought bravely and endured a terrible war in a terrible place. You are the ones for whom the words duty. .honor. country have real meaning because you have lived those words and the meaning behind those words.

You are my brothers in arms....and I am not ashamed to say that I love you, would not trade one of you for a whole trainload of instant Canadians.....or a whole boatload of Rhodes Scholars bound for England......or a whole campus full of guys who turned up for their draft physicals wearing panty hose. On behalf of a country that too easily forgets the true cost of war.....and who pays that price....I say Thank you for your service! On behalf of the people of our country who didn't have good sense enough to separate the war they hated from the young warriors they sent to fight that war.....I say we are sorry. We owe you all a very large apology.....and a debt of gratitude that we can never adequately repay.

For myself and all my buddies in the Infantry I say: Thanks for all the rides in and out....especially the rides out. It is great to see you all gathered here for this reunion. A friend of mine, Mike Norman, a former Marine grunt....wrote a wonderful book called "These Good Men" about his quest to find and reunite with all the survivors of his platoon from Vietnam. He thought long and deep about why we gather as we have done this evening and he explained it thusly:

I now know why men who have been to war yearn to reunite. Not to tell stories or look at old pictures. Not to laugh or weep. Comrades gather because they long to be with the men who once acted their best.....men who suffered and sacrificed.....who were stripped raw......right down to their humanity. I did not pick these men. They were delivered by fate and the military. But I know them in a way I know no other men. I have never given anyone such trust. They were willing to guard something more precious than my life. They would have carried my reputation.....the memory of me. It was part of the bargain we all made.....the reason we were so willing to die for one another.

As long as I have memory I will think of them all.....every day. I am sure that when I leave this world....my last thought will be of my family and my comrades.......such good men.  I'm going to shut up now and let us all get down to the real business of drinking and lying.....er.....telling war stories.

Thank you. I salute you. I remember you. I will teach my sons the stories and legends about you. And I will warn my daughters never ever to go out with aviators......

Good evening. God bless..."

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Randall Hannaway · 7 years ago
    Michael,

    Thanks for sharing this funny yet touching story. It is men like you and Joe Galloway who bring us to the front lines and allow us a glimpse of the men and women who are willing to put themselves in harms way to protect our and others freedoms. Thank you for all you do.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Graeme · 7 years ago
    Thank you very much Michael Yon for sharing this. I'm British. Two reporters who covered the Falklands' War concluded that an army doesn't march on its stomache, it marches on its humour. Joe Galloway proves that common bond amongst the armies of the free world. Thank you for your service.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Karen · 7 years ago
    Thanks, Michael, for this tribute. I have a good friend who flew choppers in Vietnam. He was shot down 6 times and still has his helmet with a bullet hole in it. He mostly did medevacs, I believe. BTW, are you with TF Spartan now in Kandahar? Just wondered, as my adopted soldier through Soldiers' Angels is with them. Am hoping things worked out for you to be with them. Stay safe!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Valerie Gottschalk · 7 years ago
    Having lived around military bases several times over the years, I have felt that exclusive 'brotherhood'. Its deep and powerful. Thanks for sharing!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    george brown · 7 years ago
    Absolutely terrific speech -thanks for sharing Joe with us!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill Treadway · 7 years ago
    You are right, the hair does stand up and I start trying to localize the chopper. Nothing sounds like a Huey and nothing sounds as good. The guys that flew them and their crews had more cojones than most pawn shops. I am always good for a beer whether you push slicks or guns.... ok and some Shadow pilots too.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Navy Nurse · 7 years ago
    Joe said it all. Why we are here and why we help our buddies and remember them forever. We know what it is to when one of our comrades lay his life down for us. Freedom is not without a cost and our military men and woman do it everyday. Thank you from a Navy Nurse who knows how it is to care for these wounded warriors. Blessings to all of our military sisters and brothers....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ned Chipley · 7 years ago
    I never served in the armed services, but my brothers served in WWII. Thanks to you and all doctors and nurses who also put their lives on the line saving the lives of others. Blessings on you and all our Wounded Warriors.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike · 7 years ago
    armyaircrews.com does a nice job in collecting data and sharing with us the sacrifices of Army Aviation. Even as far back as before Vietnam.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rosser · 7 years ago
    From a friend, a USMA grad: I got this message through another forum. I wrote Joe, an acquaintance, thanking him, but he wrote me back and said that this was a speech he made at the VHPA in WDC in 2002, not Orlando and 2011. He asked me to send information back to my classmates who originally sent out the message, and I did so, and I am doing so now to honor his wishes. It's still a great speech.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    withavengeance · 7 years ago
    So very many Vietnam vets were scorned and spat upon and called baby killers when they returned in uniform to the states. Too bad we weren't allowed by the politicians at the time to WIN...we could've won! Last time I checked, WWII was the USA's last true win. Back in the day, the vets were made to feel guilty and ashamed, so much to the point that they sort of slipped back home incognito (not in uniform)

    NEVER AGAIN!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Norm · 7 years ago
    I always have liked what Joe has written and said...as in this speech. Joe wrote a forward in this book of which I had the humbling honor to contribute some of my own story from those old days..40+ years ago. This book is far different than just about any you have read concerning those days. If focuses much more on accomplishments and coming home than most books on the subject. It also shatters the revisionist history of those times......

    www.garlock1.com
    http://www.amazon.com/Strength-Honor-Americas-Best-Vietnam/dp/1602647151/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1311863363&sr=8-1
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Carolyn Nicol · 7 years ago
    I married an aviator and my son is one. The blood that flows through their veins is different than other military. They are both chopper pilots. I was in Nam too. I loved the whop of the choppers.. They made me feel safe. I traveled in and out of my assignments on one of them. I loved the humor and the seriousness of your speech. I was a woman but they made me feel I was a part of what we all did. It didn't matter if it was a slick, cobra, or anything that had blades I knew I was safe on it. They all flew in and out of hell. Some came back and come didn't. They were all heroes.

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