Joe Galloway, an award-winning journalist, former McClatchy columnist and co-author of “We Were Soldiers Once and Young,” was presented the Doughboy Award Tuesday along with two decorated Army veterans at the RiverMill Event Centre in Columbus, Georgia.
“I never would have dreamed it in a million years,” Galloway said before the program started. “When I opened the letter from the general out here at Fort Benning and it said I had been selected, I thought right away the Army has lost its mind or found its heart. I think it was the latter.”
Galloway joined retired Gen. Edward S. “Shy” Meyer and retired Command Sgt. Maj. William H. Acebes as recipients of the annual award to recognize individuals for outstanding contributions to U.S. Army Infantry. The award is a chrome replica of the helmet worn by American Expeditionary Force soldiers during World War I and the early part of World War II.
The Doughboy Award was one of the highlights of a 2011 Maneuver Conference that started Monday at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.
To recognize the best of the armor and cavalry leaders, the 2011 Order of the St. George Gold Medallion was presented to retired Gens. Ronald H. Griffith and John H. Tilelli Jr.
Galloway, 69, was a 24-year-old reporter when he arrived at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam in 1965. The 7th Cavalry Division, with about 450 soldiers, was surrounded by more than 2,000 Viet Cong fighters. As a civilian in 1998, Galloway was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with the “V” for valor device for rescuing wounded soldiers under heavy fire in the valley. He co-authored the book, which was made into a movie starring Mel Gibson, with retired Lt. Gen. Hal. G. Moore, the commander of the cavalry.
After three days, Galloway said the battlefield changed everyone in that valley.
“You cannot go into such a thing as a witness and remain just a witness,” said Galloway, wearing a Stetson worn by cavalry scouts. “You can’t be neutral when people are laying down their lives to save your life. You come out with a sense of obligation for all who wear the uniform and that is what going to war as a young man means to me. Those events gave me the best, most loyal friends of my life.”
Moore was at the event for the honor. “I’m just overwhelmed,” Galloway said.
Acebes, 66, of San Bernadino, Calif., said he has attended many Army recognition events but never thought he would receive such an honor.
“I was always one of the people who sat in the gallery and looked and said, ‘Boy, that is a great person up there,’” Acebes said.
He described the honor as a high school reunion or a college reunion.
“It is just great to be around all these people you served with before,” he said.
Meyer served two tours of duty in Vietnam, commanded the first air cavalry divisions, and was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry in action as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism.
John Tilelli, 69, of New Jersey said the gold medallion was not for anything he had done but pointed to the men and women he served with.
“In that context, leaders help you succeed rather than cause you to fail,” Tilelli said. “That’s what you call leadership, mentorship.”
After 37 years in the military, the general said he remembers the men who were killed or wounded while he was in command. “I remember their families and I cherish their sacrifice for the nation,” he said.
Bill Hansen, 68, said he’s proud to be part of one of the greatest natural resources in the nation, the men and women who serve their country. “Tonight is unique,” he said.