Paul Galanti: POW

Like many young men at the time, Paul Galanti, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, kissed his young wife Phyllis goodbye, and in October 1965 went off to war. Serving as a pilot of an A-4 Skyhawk stationed on the USS Hancock off the coast of Vietnam, he flew 96 combat missions before being shot down by ground fire and captured by the North Vietnamese on June 17, 1966.


Phyllis received a Western Union Telegram listing him as missing in action, but stating that he had ejected safely and reported that he was surrounded by dogs and people with rifles and that he was going to destroy his radio. That was the last news she heard about him for quite some time.


Meanwhile, Paul was taken prisoner, tortured, placed in solitary confinement in what became known as the “Hanoi Hilton” and fed a diet that was later determined to be about 700 calories a day, which caused him to drop to about 100 pounds. Now he says when he hears Marie Osmond talking about a great diet plan, he can offer something more efficient.


Despite their solitary confinement, POWs were able to communicate by tapping a code on their cell walls. They were even able to teach each other foreign languages with this method, although Paul reports that when he finally me one of his fellow prisoners, his French accent wasn’t quite right. Getting caught communicating meant 30 days in leg irons with hands handcuffed behind their backs. The guards never broke this method of communication.


In November 1970, he was moved to another prison with large rooms and about 50 prisoners per room. Finally, after bombing raids in 1972 forced the North Vietnamese back to the bargaining table, he was released on February 12, 1973.


After leaving the military as a commander, he went on to a varied career as a pharmacy association CEO, medical society CEO, motivational speaker, political gadfly and a bureaucrat.


So after all this time, what did he learn from his POW experience?


An irreverant Marine told him: “Galanti, you had the best deal in the whole Navy — Only had to make one cruise in a 20 year career and most of that was overseas shore duty living in a gated community!”


In reality, what he says really learned was “to appreciate many things I’d previously taken for granted, that no matter how bad things got for me somebody always had it worse and, most importantly, there’s no such thing as a bad day when there’s a door knob on the inside of the door!”