Galloway: a farewell after 50 years of newspapering

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 27, 2010 

To quote Mr. Dickens, they were the best of times and the worst of times. This is Galloway writing "-30-" and farewell to this weekly column after almost seven years and wrapping up half a century in the newspaper business.

Oh, I will still write an occasional op-ed piece when the bastards in Washington, D.C., blast across the line into moron territory, and there's always another book waiting to be written.

From that first day in November of 1959 when Jim Rech, the managing editor of The Victoria (Texas) Advocate, hired me as a reporter to this day when I say my goodbyes I have, with few and momentary exceptions, loved all of it.

This is not going to be an obituary for the newspaper business. I have loved being a reporter; loved it when we got it right; understood it when we got it wrong. I hope print-and-ink daily newspapers will outlive me by many years. Somehow.

I was a state bureau chief for United Press International (UPI) before I could legally take a drink or vote. My friends and mentors were former President Harry Truman and former governor and presidential candidate Alf M. Landon. I stood in the courthouse corridors on smoke breaks and talked to Richard Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, the "In Cold Blood" killers. On a freezing cold midnight, I watched as the State of Kansas hanged Lowell Lee Andrews by the neck until death for shooting his mom and dad for the insurance money.

In 1964, at age 24, I headed off to Asia to cover a war that I was certain was coming in a little-known country called South Vietnam. Within four months, the first American troops, Marines, were landing on the beaches of Danang, and I was right behind them.

It would be 16 years before I returned to work in the U.S. — years of wars, coups d'etat, disasters natural and otherwise in places such as Vietnam, Laos, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, East Timor, Afghanistan, the U.S.S.R.

You grew up fast covering the infantry at war in the jungles and mountain highlands and broad rice paddies of Vietnam. Seventy reporters, photographers and cameramen, many of them friends, were killed covering the war.

We mourn their loss even now, four decades later: the scholarly Bernard Fall, Life photographer Larry Burrows, UPI shooters Kyoichi Sawada and Kent Potter, old colleagues such as the effervescent Henri Huet, my buddy Sean Flynn and his sidekick Dana Stone, and a mentor, Dickie Chappelle.

There were great characters, some of them left over from covering World War II or fighting in it, such as former Guards officer and former rubber planter-turned-war correspondent Don Wise, Jim Lucas and Jack Foisie and Keyes Beech and George McArthur. There were others: Dave Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, Syd Schanberg, the AP's Horst Faas and Pete Arnett and Bob Poos, a Korean War Marine who fought at the Chosin Reservoir. My good buddy Leon Daniel of UPI, a Korean War Marine. Also Kate Webb, Gloria Emerson, Betsy Halstead, Maggie Kilgore and Tracy Wood.

We were privileged to march with and get to know some great military commanders at all levels — soldiers and Marines — such as my best friend and co-author Hal Moore, Marine commander Lew Walt, Hank Emerson, David Hackworth, Charlie Beckwith, Sam Wilson, Norm Schwarzkopf and on and on. Too many great infantry non-coms and too many bold, brave, insane helicopter jockeys to begin naming.

It was a pleasure to share a foxhole or a watering hole with any one of them, especially on a very bad day.

There were some fine editors who were willing to gamble that you could deliver on a risky or occasionally even a fanciful proposal. The best one of all I worked for the longest — John Walcott — who was my boss and friend for nearly 20 years at U.S. News, Knight Ridder Newspapers and, most recently, at McClatchy Newspapers.

Then there were two others who were a delight to work for and with — Mike Ruby and Merrill McLoughlin, husband and wife co-editors at U.S. News who each possessed their own unique skills that fit together perfectly.

In the end, it all comes down to the people, both those you cover and those you work for, with or alongside during 50 years. I can only thank God for putting me on paths that crossed with all those named above and all the others not named here but still alive in my heart.

Finally, I have to say that when I was given this weekly opinion column to write in April of 2003, it was strange new ground for someone who had spent 22 years at UPI, where you might be allowed to have an opinion but could never let one creep into your stories, and nearly 20 years at U.S. News, whose founder believed in presenting the facts and letting the readers make up their own minds.

There was never a shortage of topics or targets during the remainder of the Bush administration. Nor is there any seeming shortage as the Obama administration wraps up a first year of one disaster after another.

But in the words of Kenny Rogers "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." After 50 years, it's time to fold 'em and move on with the rest of my life.

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