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A pilot’s new wings

Galanti due in Henrico to unveil ‘40-year time machine'
Since 1967, he’s been portrayed on the cover of both Life and Newsweek, and featured in Time Magazine as well as various Discovery Channel documentaries.

As a nationally recognized inspirational speaker, he’s spoken to more than 1,300 audiences of schoolchildren, civic groups and professional associations, and was named by a national sales journal as one of twelve outstanding motivators in the U.S.

In the four decades since he led his U.S. Naval Academy class as president, he’s served as president of the Virginia Aviation Foundation (VAF), the Science Museum of Virginia Foundation and the Nam-POWs.

As a former Navy pilot and a veteran of 97 combat missions, he’s received the Silver Star and Bronze Star for heroism, the Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, two Legions of Merit, nine Combat Air Medals and two Purple Hearts. He’s a member of the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Liberty Bell Award and the Outstanding Virginian Award.

And on April 29 in Henrico, Paul Galanti will add another honor to his long list, as the VAF unveils a replica of the A-4C Skyhawk he flew in combat – and donates it to the collection of the Virginia Aviation Museum.

Painted exactly like the aircraft in which Galanti was shot down and captured in Vietnam, the revamped A-4 "was literally a 40-year time machine for me," said Galanti following the restoration. "And the sentiment behind it watered my eyes.

"The young sailors who painted it," he marvels, "weren't born when I flew the original!"

For the "Festival of Wings" event, to be held at the Virginia Air National Guard facility, surviving members of Paul's squadron will gather in Richmond for a reunion, along with members of the Richmond Chapter of the USNA Alumni Association.

In the days leading up to the ceremony, Galanti will also address a University of Richmond audience that includes the USNAAA groups from Richmond,Charlottesville and Williamsburg, as well as members of the West Point Society of Richmond and the Navy League.

Full schedule
From his room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Washington, Galanti told the Citizen earlier this month, "I'm in DC for a meeting of the VA Secretary's advisory committee on former POWs. I just got back from dinner with four of my POW friends and a couple of our doctors. Mellow evening."

His not-so-mellow schedule for the upcoming weeks, said Galanti, would include (in addition to the the VAF event) "two full days of training for the Virginia Board of Veterans Services, a family reunion, and the Vietnam POW Reunion almost back to back.

"Those are followed immediately by a week-long trip to Pensacola for a NOMI physical and Naval Aviation Museum Symposium. That's followed immediately by the State POW Convention which is hosted this year by my chapter of which I'm commander."

As he prepared for his next series of speeches, Galanti noted that he had entitled his remarks for the dinner at UR (where he received his MBA in 1976), “Plebe Years Bravo - Hotel – for the seven years I was in Hanoi.

"[Fellow POW] James B. Stockdale thought the discipline instilled at USNA was what helped him endure the unimaginable pain and torture inflicted by the Communists.

"I do, too."

From Jersey to Nam – and Virginia
Born in New Jersey into a military family, Galanti grew up living in Japan, France, Turkey and Germany as well as numerous states. After his 1962 graduation from the Naval Academy, he married his wife Phyllis, completed jet flight training and became a flight instructor in Pensacola -- until leaving for Southeast Asia in 1965.

He was shot down in flames in his A-4 Skyhawk the following year, while conducting an attack on a railroad siding in North Vietnam.

Decades later, in a column recounting events for the Richmond Times Dispatch, Galanti wrote, "I was ejected violently from the bird at almost 600 m.p.h., made my first parachute descent, was shot on the way down, and arrived in a country whose locals didn't exactly roll out the Welcome Wagon."

Of the seven years of torture, humiliation and inhumane treatment that followed, Galanti spent more than a year in solitary confinement – "the hours broken only by infrequent communications (tapping through concrete) with other Americans."

If caught in attempts to communicate, prisoners endured a month in leg irons with hands cuffed behind the back. Once, a guard saw Galanti throwing a package of Lifesavers (part of a package from Phyllis) to another cell. As punishment, he had to sit on a small stool, drugged and sleep-deprived, in a cold interrogation room for 10 days and nights.

When the POWs were moved to camps where groups shared cells, Galanti helped organize lessons in which prisoners taught each other French, Spanish, German, Russian, math, architecture, engineering drawing, and music.

"Classes taught without benefit of books, A-V equipment, or teaching certificates were so effective," he wrote later, "that three of our enlisted men who'd had no college training prior to capture passed more than 100 semester hours of college-level validation exams on their return."

After his release in 1973, Galanti says, "homecoming was a renaissance - literally and figuratively. My marriage was intact. Indeed, my formerly shy wife was a national leader who had addressed the joint session of the Virginia General Assembly and met with President Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and (in France) hundreds of Communists on behalf of all the prisoners of war."

Assigned to the Navy Recruiting District in Richmond, Galanti set new records during his tenure as chief recruiter in Virginia. His final assignment before retirement from the Navy was to the commandant's staff at the Naval Academy. In 1983, he became the first non-pharmacist executive director in the Virginia Pharmaceutical Association’s 100-year history.

'Treasures in our midst'
As Academy grad Rich Polek told Richmond alumni in the VAF invitation, "Those who have attended USNA Richmond events over the years know Paul Galanti to be one of our most interesting, friendly, helpful, colorful, funny, active and dedicated alumni.

"We often forget the treasures within our own midst, [and] Paul is our treasure -- USNA Richmond's own certified war hero. I, for one, do not think I can be more proud of him."

To a former POW, who still savors the warm beds, hot meals, and freedoms that he dreamed of in confinement, everyday treasures are an easy concept to grasp. And in his speech to the USNA alumni, Galanti says, he plans to close by pointing that out.

"The three main things I learned [as a POW]," he recites:

"I was more resilient than I thought I could ever be.

"No matter how bad it got for me, somebody else always had it worse.

"Finally, and most importantly, There's no such thing as a bad day when there's a doorknob on the inside of the door."

For more about Galanti, visit nampows.org. For information on the VAF event, visit vaaf.org or call 249-9366. Visit the USNA alumni website at usna.com/Chapters/US/VA/Richmond.


Community

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


There’s no excuse for kids and families to not get out of the house this weekend! The Armour House and Gardens has an “Egg-celent Egg-venture” planned and Reynolds Community College will host the Reynolds Family Palooza. If you’re looking to give back to your community, Dorey Park will host Walk Like MADD and coordinators2inc will present the annual Kids Walk for Kids. And a special event for children with special needs will be on Sunday – the Caring Bunny will be at Virginia Center Commons. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

A new meaning for fried chicken

Is it heresy to say – in this bastion-of-tradition capital of the Old South – that it's time for Southern fried chicken to take a step back and make way for a new fried chicken king?

Count me among the new believers bowing to Bonchon Chicken's delectable double-fried bliss. Hand-brushed with signature garlic soy or hot sauce, flash-fried once and then again, the decadent drums and wings take "crisp" to a new level. If you're eating with a crowd and everyone bites in at once, be warned: you might need ear plugs to handle the din. > Read more.

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