Joseph Galloway's speech at the Wall, Memorial
There are so many people here today who mean so very much to me: Some
of my Ia Drang Valley brothers and sisters in this audience. Other friends from that
battle and a hundred other battles are here on the panels of this Wall. I have always felt
I owed my life to my Vietnam brothers, both the living and the dead. That is a debt I can
never adequately repay, except by standing with you and by you until the last of us has
crossed the River and all the Vietnam battalions are mustered one last time at full
strength, everyone finally present and accounted for.
All of you here today know that feeling and share it. We are all
debtors, and on Memorial Day we come here to acknowledge that debt. Some who don't know
any better say we are living in the past, refusing to let it go. What they don't
understand is how much the names on this Wall mean to us, not just on Memorial Day and
Veterans Day but on every day we live. Individually they gave their precious lives so that
we, their buddies, could live. Collectively they gave their lives in hopes that their
sacrifice would ensure that all Americans continue to live in freedom.
Yes, it is true that all of us who have known war have a habit of looking back. In
Vietnam, on patrol, we looked back to make sure the guy behind us was keeping up; to make
sure he hadn't fallen, or fallen out with heat stroke or the fever. We also looked back
because it was just another direction where the enemy might be coming in on us.
Today we have a habit of looking back because we left something very important back there.
But coming here today, or any day, has nothing to do with living in the past. It has
everything to do with keeping our promises.
None of us here today can answer the one question we have in common: Why? Why am I alive
when my friends are not? We can't answer that question, but we can live up to the
obligation that was spelled out so eloquently by my friend B.T. Collins of California, who
came home from Vietnam missing an arm and a leg. Before he died three years ago, B.T. used
to tell every Vietnam vet he met about our obligation. He put it this way:
"No whining! No crying! We are the fortunate ones. We lived when so many better men
all around us gave up their lives for us. We owe them an obligation to live every day to
its maximum potential; to work every day to make this country and this world a better
place for our children, and their children."
BT's message about our debt is echoed in these words of the poet Robert Frost:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.
There are people in this country who have stereotyped the Vietnam veteran in negative and
demeaning terms. They believe the worst of you, and say so. I say they are wrong; I say
the Hell with them. I was there and I know who you are and what you are and what is in
I say you are the best of an entire generation of Americans. When the country called, you
answered, just as your brothers answered in Korea and your fathers in the Good War. I say
thank you for your service, on behalf of a nation that too easily forgets the true cost of
war. I say, unashamedly, I love you for all that our country asked of you, and all that
you have given.
I know you. You are the people who keep your promises. You are the ones who live up to
your obligations. You are the people who have always stood tall and made us proud to be
Americans. You are a mighty force for good in a country that needs you now more than ever.
There are three million of you who served in Indochina; there are 40 million Americans who
have some direct connection to one of the names on this black granite Memorial. And
that;'s just Vietnam. What about Korea? What about World War II?
Together we can keep our promise and America's promise; together we can make a difference
in the wars our nation is waging today---against ignorance, against racism, against the
crime and drugs that blight our cities and touch every town in America. Against the
hopelessness and despair of poverty.
We owe that, and much more, to the 58,209 friends whose names are carved on this Vietnam
Veterans Memorial; to the 54,000 who died in Korea; to the more than 300,000 who died in
World War II.
And there is one other promise we must keep; one more war we have to fight. First, before
anything else, we must do everything in our power to see that our country keeps its
promises to the veterans of our war, and all wars, and that it keeps its promises to the
families of those who died beside us.
I get angry when a brother calls to tell me that he's having trouble getting anyone to
listen to him down at the local VA office...or that he can't get medical attention when
he's suffering the agonies of old wounds, visible or invisible. I hear that much too often
not to worry that the system of caring for and taking care of our veterans is broken. It
makes me ashamed. I hope some of the people who work in the big buildings along this
street hear these words and start keeping their promises.
Thank you. God bless you, and God bless all our absent friends.
(remarks delivered by J.L. Galloway at Memorial Day observance, May 26, 1997, at the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.) reprinted by
permission from the author.