According to the group Reporters Without Borders, 63 journalists died during the Vietnam War.
Most of them were Americans, but others were French, Japanese and even North Vietnamese.
It was certainly not an easy war to report on, but given the access that reporters were given at the time, it’s understandable why that number of journalists died.
Some were killed in aircraft crashes. Some were captured and executed. Others were killed when units they were attached to came under fire.
For American journalists covering the war, they were given unprecedented access to Army units and battlefield locations.
Last week, I interviewed one of those journalists, Joe Galloway, about his experiences covering the war.
During the first two world wars, there was “absolute military censorship,” Galloway said. Reporters wore Army uniforms and could be charged under military laws, he said. Typically, an officer, usually a colonel, would read articles before they were sent to press, and could cross out whole paragraphs or just throw the whole thing away.
During the Korean War, there was not direct censorship, but “censorship by control of communications,” which were controlled by the military, Galloway said.
In Vietnam, however, reporters were “free as a bird,” Galloway said. Anything was allowed, other than reporting on troop movements while the movement was under way and similar basic rules that could threaten the success of an ongoing mission.
My hour last week with Galloway was one of the most interesting interviews I’ve had in my 13 years as a journalist. He is certainly a great storyteller, and has a great admiration for American soldiers and other service members.
And that respect is a two-way street. American commanders, specifically former 1st Cavalry 3rd Brigade Commander Col. Hal Moore, would personally invite Galloway to cover live missions. I’ve heard of local veterans, like the late helicopter pilot William Hattaway, who had a lot of respect for Galloway. Hattaway’s family told me the Huey pilot didn’t really like flying reporters from place to place, but he made an exception for Galloway.
It all boils down to earned respect. And Galloway didn’t earn soldiers’ respect solely from the words he wrote or the pictures he took, but also his actions on the battlefield.
When things got heavy, he helped carry ammo, water and wounded soldiers to safety. He also picked up a rifle, and in his words, “used it.”
Some might say that’s not journalism. But in many cases, journalism is about doing the right thing. And Galloway did the right thing.
Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker, is the Fort Hood Herald editor and military editor of the Killeen Daily Herald. He was stationed at Fort Hood and served with the 1st Cavalry Division from 1993 to 1996. Contact him at email@example.com or 254-501-7468.