A Retiring War Correspondent Returns from Iraq

Joseph Galloway

Joseph Galloway, a recently retired senior military correspondent, is co-author of We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young. hide caption

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After more than 40 years covering wars from Vietnam to Iraq, Joseph Galloway recently retired from Knight Ridder newspapers. He says good leadership is critical in a protracted war like the one in Iraq.

"Oh, it's everything," Galloway says. "There's a saying, 'There are no bad soldiers, just bad leaders.'"

Galloway has been critical of the military's civilian leadership over Iraq. Shortly before retiring, Galloway entered a heated e-mail exchange with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's chief spokesman, Larry Di Rita. It began after Galloway wrote a column about retired Marine Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper's call for Rumsfeld to resign.

"I received an e-mail from Mr. Di Rita saying that [the column] was silly. It was foolish of me to blame Secretary Rumsfeld for anything like this. So I responded, and I said, 'You know, this is just as the Navy holds the captain of any ship responsible for anything that goes wrong with that ship. Whether it runs into a dock, whether it runs aground on a sandbar, it doesn't matter. They court-martial the captain."

Di Rita responded that the Army is much more capable than it was five or 10 years ago and that critics of the war's handling missed the forest for the trees.

"And that's utter and complete BS," Galloway says. "I said, 'Look, I've been doing this for 41 years. I've been covering America's wars. And over and over and over I've had my heart broken.'

"And I said, 'You know, in January I stood in a garbage-filled mud pit watching American troops tear apart the wreckage of a Kiowa Warrior helicopter that had been shot down minutes before and pulling the lifeless body of one of the pilots and the barely alive body of another one out of the wreckage. They're pulling this wreckage apart with their bare hands. And I watched their faces as they were brought out and laid on stretchers and carefully and lovingly drug out of that mud pit. And I stood there and I wept, just as I wept when I saw the first face of a dead America in Vietnam 41 years before.

"And I, you know, I told them then, and I tell them over and over again, I would feel a whole lot better if somebody in that chain of command had ever worn the uniform and gone to combat and held a dying boy in their arms and watched the life run out of his eyes while they lied to him and told him over and over, you're going to be all right."

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