After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1962, then-ENS Galanti reported to fighter jet training, learning to fly the A-4C Skyhawk. In November 1965, he deployed on the carrier USS Hancock to South East Asia. On his 98th combat mission in Vietnam, he was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese. He spent almost seven years, from 17 June 1966 to 12 February 1973, interned in the infamous Vietnamese prison camp dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton.” After retiring from the Navy in 1982, he has served as Executive Director of the Virginia Pharmaceutical Association , Medical Society of Virginia’s CEO, and Executive Director of the Science Museum of Virginia Foundation. He currently serves as Commissioner of Veterans Services for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

JJ: Mr. Galanti, I heard there’s an interesting story about you giving the finger to the Vietcong. What happened?
PG: In June 1967, several of us were moved to a camp that was obviously being prepared as a propaganda camp. We named the camp “The Plantation. It had been used as a film studio at some point. When they tried to get mw to submit to an interview with German journalists I said I’d tell about all the torture and bad treatment. The camp commander said I was to sit and look happy and not say anything in my cell. Here are some of the photos. The unadulterated photos were on display in every intelligence center in DOD. My classmates and squadronmates knew I wasn’t cooperating.

JJ: Did your training at the Academy help you overcome captivity in Vietnam?
PG: Yes. Many of the leaders in Hanoi were Naval Academy graduates. Admirals Jim Stockdale and Jeremiah Denton (’47), Bill Lawrence (’51) and others.
I often refer to my Hanoi experience as Plebe Years Bravo through Hotel. Admiral Stockdale said the same thing. He lamented the softening of plebe year and the over-emphasis on computer and other people unfriendly endeavors. Our old “Jack of all trades master of none” USNA B.S. degree was the best “major” in existence then. When USNA decided to do the “Major” thing and join the academic standards rules of the majority of colleges and universities, the experience went downhill in my opinion.

Why? Our degree was 160 semester hours almost equally divided between Hard Sciences and Humanities. We all had classes on Saturdays and the curriculum was identical. We were engineers who could write. The degree was good for grad school in nearly any discipline. We all took two years of a language which, more than anything else, improved our English. I am, frankly, appalled by the inability of many midshipmen and USNA graduate officers to express themselves beyond a vocabulary of only a few hundred words. In informal conversations with mids when I visit the yard, the many seem barely literate.

JJ: Why did you decide to remain in the service after Vietnam?
PG: Why??? Why not? All my friends were there. Had I not been medically retired (as a Battalion Officer at USNA in 1982) I’d still be there.

JJ: From 1979 to 1982, you served as the officer representative to the Midshipmen Honor Committee. From your experiences there, do you believe the Academy should go back to separating midshipmen for a single honor violation (the single-sanction policy)?
PG: Yes. Equivocating honor is dumb. Stupid. And sends hundreds of wrong messages.

JJ: Medal of Honor recipient VADM Stockdale said that Stoicism helped him overcome his internment. Did Stoicism help you get through the Hanoi Hilton?
PG: VADM Stockdale is the only one who said that. He was a true philosopher who honestly believed his mission in life was to lead in adversity. Many stories, nearly all favorable, about “CAG” Stockdale. A true “Man’s Man.”

JJ: If you could do it over again, would you still chose naval aviation after graduating from the Academy?
PG: Of course. Without hesitation.

JJ: How did your seven years in captivity change you as a person?
PG: It didn’t. The world changed for the worse, IMNSHO [In my not so humble opinion].

JJ: Where you ever offered repatriation before 1973?
PG: I think that’s what the photo shoot was all about. I didn’t make the cut due to a decidedly “bad attitude.” Immediately after the Germans went away I was moved to a filthy cell sleeping on the ground in about an inch of coal dust. Its bloc of cells was located next to the Hanoi Thermal Power Plant.

JJ: Other Vietnam POWs called the day they were shot down/captured the “day I died.” Did you feel this way?
PG: I don’t ever remember feeling that I died on 17 June 1966 although torture, beatings and solitary confinement made me wish I had gone down with airplane on several occasions.

JJ: In your capacity as commissioner of Veterans’ Services for the Commonwealth of Virginia, how can our government better handle veterans’ services?
PG: Uncle Sam can’t afford to do all it should actually do for the veterans – particularly those who are disabled.

JJ: Do you have any career advice for current midshipmen or junior officers?
PG: Press on. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. Keep your chin up and always do the absolute best you can on any assigned task – and seek out every opportunity you can find to excel. Hey, it’ll work. I promise.

I’d like to thank CDR Galanti again for this interview and for his extraordinary service.

Posted by jjames in Aviation, Navy

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  • Sig

    This man is an utter badass.

  • My A-7 squadron, VA-56 Champs off Midway flying in the Gulf from April ’72 till the end of the war had POW names painted underneath the pilot’s name below the canopy. Only squadron to do so as far as I know.

    His best friend name -Paul Galanti – was on NF 401, Skipper Lew Chatham’s a/c.

    All the best Paul
    Fly Navy, the BEST Always Have
    Champ 9 sends

  • Byron

    Not sure he’d like to be described as a badass, for sure he went in a chunk of coal and came out hard as diamonds. Hard. Damn hard. Thanks for sharing the interview!

  • SEAL76

    Cmdr. Galanti is a true hero. How sad that it reminds me of that other Naval officer who was shot down and captured in the Gulf War and spilled his guts for Saddam’s propaganda machine. Where do we get such men as Cmdr. Galanti? Former SEAL and Vietnam Vet

  • Paul Galanti truly is an American Hero. He is a wonderful person and I am lucky to have him as a friend. I told his story in on of the chapters of my book, “On Leadership – Essential Principles for Success”

    Paul taught me “There’s no such thing as a bad day when there’s a doorknob on the inside of the door.” He is a great inspirational speaker who always gets a standing ovation.

    My thanks to Paul and all of the Veterans on this Veterans Day.

    Liberty is not free and because of brave people like Paul we enjoy our freedoms. Let’s not give those freedoms away and dishonor the memories of the warriors.