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Galloway, soldiers reunite in Refugio for book signing
by KENDA NELSON
Sep 11, 2008 | 734 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joe Galloway chats with Sharon and John Scott of Bayside during a book-signing at the Refugio County Museum on Saturday.
Joe Galloway chats with Sharon and John Scott of Bayside during a book-signing at the Refugio County Museum on Saturday.
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The citizen-soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 7th and 5th Cavalry, Delta Company, came to the museum in Refugio on Saturday from Houston and Port Lavaca, from Corpus Christi and various towns in the Valley and from the southernmost tip of South Padre Island off Brownsville. The Vietnam War veterans, children of 1950s Texas, joined Refugio’s native son Joe Galloway to sign books and to chat.

The book, a sequel to “We Were Soldiers Once...and Young,” co-authored by Galloway and retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, is titled “We are Soldiers Still.” The soldiers of Ia Drang Valley are brothers, still. It hit the best-seller list over the weekend.

“They all are most loyal friends,” Galloway said. “They fought the battle, and 25-30 live within 100 miles of Refugio. Most are Hispanic, many are black, that’s who I saw on the battlefield and they’re my brothers. It makes me feel humble and proud to have them as friends.”

The soldiers have changed dramatically since November 1965 when 450 men of the 1st-7th were dropped by helicopter into a clearing in the valley for a battle that would change their lives and bind them forever. Surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers, the young men never gave up as their comrades’ blood spilled on the red dirt. A doctor, a retired police chief, a professional businessman and other hard-working Americans stand shoulder to shoulder inside the museum with their comrade Galloway.

“Joe Galloway has nerves of steel, you know,” said Joe Moore of Padre Isles. “Our lives touched in the heat of battle for a couple of days but he continued to do what he does for 40 years. His thing was to be in the middle of heat. He was trying to get in while we were trying to get out. He’s one of a kind...don’t know of any correspondent, author, historian — all the above — who should be commended more. I don’t think there’s a person connected with the service who doesn’t know what he’s all about.”

As a young war correspondent who went into battle armed with cameras, pen and pencil, Galloway joined the soldiers in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. If not for Galloway, Moore believes the true story of Vietnam “would have never gotten out.”

“He and his documentaries opened the eyes of everyone,” Moore said. “Joe told the country what we did and what the battle was all about. Before, veterans wouldn’t talk about it.”

Joe R. Peña and his wife, Rose, of Port Lavaca looked forward to the sequel. Peña and Vince Cantu, formerly of Refugio, went into the Army and fought together.

“We lost 75 and 115 were wounded,” Peña said. “We went in to provide relief until we got overran.”

Galloway’s and Moore’s book started the healing process and allowed them to feel proud of themselves and their comrades.

“We’ve been married 40 years but he never let me into his perimeter until after the book,” Rose said.

The Peñas went to the premier of the movie at Fort Hood and continue to stay in contact with the general, Galloway and the other soldiers.

“The general is still awesome,” Rose said. “When he and Joe speak, I can see Joe’s heels click together in respect.”

Another veteran of the battle, Dr. Tone Johnson of Corpus Christi was seriously wounded in Ia Drang Valley. He was shot near his eye and lost his vision. The tendons are clearly visible beneath the skin on the top of his hand from a deep shrapnel wound.

“Our unit was pretty much decimated; it was pretty bad,” Johnson said.

In spite of his injuries, Johnson assisted other wounded soldiers on the battlefield for two days before help arrived.

Johnson was 17 and fresh out of school in 1964 when his father signed a waiver to allow him to enter the service. So impressed with the care he received after the battle, he went to college and became a doctor.

After the book tours are complete, Galloway will begin writing the movie score for the sequel. When the movie is ready for the big screen, the brothers will be there.

Hundreds of Americans and thousands of Vietnamese died on the battlefield at Ia Drang Valley, the first of many bloody battles that would rage for the next 10 years. The vets say that Galloway and Moore’s books quelled the “nightmares etched in their hearts.” And so they come to book signings to support their brothers and pay homage to the war correspondent who gave them a voice.

At the end of the day, people continued to arrive and stand in line at the museum. For another hour and one-half, Galloway and the vets sign books, more than 400 in all.
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