Vince Cantu and Joe Galloway
They grew up together, doing all the things boys did in small Texas towns in the 1950’s: courting girls, playing high school football, dreaming about the adventures the future would bring. When they graduated from Refugio High School – two members of a class of 55 students – they took separate paths: one into the Army and the other to a career as a journalist. Those paths would merge six years later and 10,000 miles away in a place called the Ia Drang Valley.
Private Vince Cantu was married with a young child when the First Battalion of the Seventh Cavalry touched down in Landing Zone X-Ray. Under the command of then Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, the famed U.S. Army unit had traded horses for helicopters for a new kind of warfare called airmobile, and deployed to Vietnam in 1965 after months of intensive training. On November 14, airmobile was tested in the first major battle of the Vietnam War, and two boys from Refugio, Texas were there.
Like his school friend Vince, Joe Galloway was also in Vietnam, working as a correspondent for United Press International, when he heard American troops were engaged with the enemy. He hitched a ride on a Huey helicopter headed for the area; later he would described his step on to that aircraft as the most significant of his life. “I bought myself a lifetime of nightmares that day.”
The 1/7 Cavalry was engaged in horrific battle against an overwhelming enemy force. Bullets. Mortars. Rockets. Napalm. The young correspondent snapped photographs. He noticed a soldier zig-zagging through enemy fire to retrieve a dead comrade. Snap. Later, he would realize that soldier was his childhood friend Vince Cantu, the same one who recognized him on the battlefield and pointed out that he really should take cover because there were people shooting at him.
Many years and many battles and wars later, Joe Galloway and General Hal Moore co-authored a best-selling book about the November, 1965 Battle of the Ia Drang titled “We Were Soldiers Once: And Young.” The book was adapted into the feature film “We Were Soldiers” starring Mel Gibson as Moore and Berry Pepper as Galloway.
Vince Cantu became a supervisor for the Houston Metro Service. Joe was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor – the only civilian to receive the honor in the Vietnam War – for assisting the wounded at X-Ray. In 2011, he was selected to receive the Doughboy Award, the highest honor the U.S. Army Infantry can present to an individual.
Joe and Vince remain best friends.