A pilot’s new wings

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.
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