Former prisoner of war speaks to American LegionPublished 10:42am Friday, August 30, 2013
Amie Detar/Contributing Writer
FRANKLIN—Vietnam War veteran and ex-prisoner of war Paul Galanti spoke to members and auxiliary of American Legion Post 73 Tuesday.
“I learned to appreciate many things I’d taken for granted,” Galanti said. “No matter how bad things got for me personally, somebody always had it worse.”
Galanti was one of many prisoners of war kept at what he described as “the Hanoi Hilton – definitely not a five-star.”
Galanti was imprisoned for seven years after his plane was shot down in northern Vietnam. A replica of his plane is on display at the Virginia Aviation Museum.
“They weren’t really happy of my being in their country,” Galanti said of his captors, who interrogated and tortured all of their prisoners.
The only thing that kept the soldiers going was contact with other Americans, which was done by tapping on walls.
They would also face the United States at the same time every day and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Communication was the key to survival,” Galanti said. “We were punished for it, but they never broke it.”
Galanti described the living conditions as “filthy” and “terrible.”
They were in solitary confinement at all times and lived off of pumpkin soup and bread or rice. Galanti remembered being down to 100 pounds from lack of sustenance.
A photograph taken of Galanti in his cell was featured on the cover of Time Magazine on October 20, 1967, and on February 26, 1973, Newsweek Magazine printed the reunion of Galanti and his wife.
During the seven years he was imprisoned, Galanti’s wife, Phyllis, campaigned tirelessly for her husband’s freedom. She addressed the Virginia General Assembly and met with world leaders including President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.
The Galantis will celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary Saturday.
The secret to a lasting marriage, Galanti joked, is “getting rid of the SOB for seven years in the middle.”
Now 40 years after he was freed, Galanti said he, his division and the fellow prisoners of the camp, are “nearly all successful and happy.”
Galanti still sees them at reunions. After speaking, Galanti spoke with many veterans who told him how much his coming to speak meant to them.