The American Veterans Tribute sends our best to 2011 honoree Paul Galanti for the passing of his lovely bride, Phyllis. We were fortunate to have known her. Our condolences to Paul and the entire Galanti & Eason families.
We have posted an article from the Richmond Times Dispatch by Brandon Shulleeta and Ellen Robertson that outlines the love & extensive work of Mrs. Galanti.
Phyllis Eason Galanti was a shy young blonde bride when her 32-year-old husband, Lt. Cmdr. Paul Edward Galanti, was shot down in his U.S. Navy Skyhawk over North Vietnam on June 17, 1966, while bombing a railroad.
Reflecting on his 51-year marriage to Mrs. Galanti, who died at the age of 73 on Wednesday, Paul Galanti recalled seeing her for the first time after nearly seven years as a prisoner of war.
Not knowing when, if ever, he would see her again, Galanti said that he thought about her all 2,432 days that he was held captive.
What Galanti didn’t know, as a POW in the infamous Hanoi Hilton complex, was that Mrs. Galanti had been fighting tirelessly for the rights of POWs and for her husband’s release.
Galanti said his wife is believed to have died from complications from her battle with leukemia.
Mrs. Galanti’s death is a loss to the country, said John V. Cogbill III, the former chairman of the Virginia War Memorial Educational Foundation’s board of directors.
Cogbill described her as a hero who was soft-spoken and easygoing, yet spent much of her life fighting for those who have served in the military, as well as spreading a message about the importance of Americans serving their country and citizens taking care of those who serve.
The Paul and Phyllis Galanti Education Center was built at the Virginia War Memorial in the couple’s honor.
A 1963 graduate of the College of William and Mary, with a degree in French, she had been too nervous to stand in front of a class and teach the language.
She said in a Richmond News Leader interview in 1971 that while Galanti was a POW, she just “wanted to be a housewife.” She wanted to “sink into oblivion” when he returned.
By 1969, she had become active with other POW wives. In 1970, the wives group became the National League of Families and Friends of POWS and MIAs in Southeastern Asia. It evolved into a tour de force in crusading for the North Vietnamese to adhere to Geneva Convention protocols in treatment of prisoners and eventually for the release of POWs and the accounting for those missing in action.
Mrs. Galanti served as chairwoman of the league.\
In a televised speech before the Virginia Senate on Feb. 12, 1971, she kicked off an area-wide campaign, “Write Hanoi: Let’s Bring Paul Galanti Home,” part of a nationwide project.
Her efforts generated more than 450,000 letters from the Richmond area, around 300,000 letters from Northern Virginia and 378,000 from Gastonia, N.C., where Paul’s parents had moved in 1964.
More than 80 percent of people living in the Richmond area contributed a letter, which was thought to have been the greatest response to the Write Hanoi campaign anywhere in the United States.
In March 1971, Mrs. Galanti was among a delegation of 10 Write Hanoi campaigners who went to Stockholm, Sweden, to try to obtain information on the POWs from the chargé d’affaires in the North Vietnamese embassy there.
They also wanted to send the letters asking for freedom for American servicemen being held in Southeast Asia to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong delegations attending the World Assembly of Paris for Peace and Independence of Indochinese Peoples.
Because “they knew we had” the letters, Mrs. Galanti said they were able to talk with officials. The letters were flown to Paris to be given to the North Vietnamese delegation at the peace talks.
By Christmas Eve 1971, she received two letters and two postcards from her husband. “Those four little pieces of mail were the most elaborate Christmas gift,” she said.
She reported in March 1971 that she was using the services of a peace group to correspond with her husband.
Mrs. Galanti called for a shift in strategy in July 1971. Instead of writing Hanoi, she asked Americans to write to President Richard Nixon and Congress. “The issue has become a political matter,” she said. “Their release can come from one place — Washington.”
In an op/ed piece in The News Leader in 1971, she wrote, “I can honestly say that I have never done anything so rewarding and worthwhile in my life. Knowing that so many people were genuinely concerned gave me a much-needed boost.”
When she and other POW wives went to Versailles, near Paris, in February 1972 to talk about release of POWs with 800 communist delegates from 75 countries at the World Assembly of Paris for Peace, they failed to get an audience. However, Mrs. Galanti said she felt a softening on the part of communist officials to Nixon’s plan to end the war.
Mrs. Galanti and two other POW wives talked about prisoner issues with Nixon and Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser, on May 15, 1972.
In October 1972, she was elected chairwoman of the league and early the next year learned that her husband’s name was on a list of living POWs.
Galanti was released on Feb. 12, 1973, among the first group of POWs freed by the North Vietnamese.
Their plane landed at Clark Air Base, Philippines. He arrived in Virginia from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., on Feb. 15. He was reunited with his wife at the Norfolk Naval Station.
At the time, he told reporters, “Phyllis was pretty shy when I left, and I came back to a real tiger.”
Mrs. Galanti resigned as chairwoman of the league in March 1973.
In June 1974, she received the American Legion Service Medal, the highest given by the organization.
Galanti, 74, said he had been deployed overseas about two years after getting married.
He said that when he was finally returned to the U.S. as a free man and saw Mrs. Galanti waiting for him, he didn’t know what to say. So, he recited to her a poem that he had sent her when they first started dating — a poem he had recited in his head many times as a captive, as a way to remain close to her.
“The poem went: Lonely the days and nights, my love, that we have been apart. It seems almost forever since I held you to my heart. The moments are as restless as the waves that move the sea, but every second means a step nearer, my love, to thee,” he said.
Galanti said that, the next thing he knew, he was reunited with his wife, “making out like bandits in the back of this Navy staff car.”
Galanti, who served in the Navy and later recruited for the service, said Mrs. Galanti’s father was an Army veteran, and while she never served in the military, she was “just as patriotic as they come.”
Mrs. Galanti was honored in Blackstone in 1975 during the kickoff of bicentennial festivities. At the time, Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. said, “One dedicated woman and a handful of others had more influence on the communist world than legions of armies and diplomats.”
He called the Galantis “examples of raw courage, of faith that sustains us all, of a spirit that is undaunted and a life that is well-lived.”
In 1977, she was involved in a program commemorating the Women’s Plea for Soviet Jewry and spoke on letter writing to prisoners in the Soviet Union.
She spoke at a rally to show support for the release of U.S. hostages in Tehran, Iran, in 1979. “Here we go again,” she said.
The Galantis have two sons who live in Richmond, Jamie and Jeffrey Galanti, three grandchildren and a fourth on the way.