Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Paul and Phyllis Galanti Education Center at the Virginia War Memorial

Posted by Bruce Miller

On Thursday evening, Phil Whiteway and I had the privilege of joining hundreds of Richmond’s finest to honor our very dear friends Paul and Phyllis Galanti, pictured on the February 1973 Newsweek cover to the left. As many of you know, Paul was a POW in the Hanoi Hilton for seven years during the Vietnam War. The story of Paul’s captivity and Phyllis’s international efforts to force the North Vietnamese to abide by the Geneva Convention provided the subject matter for the original musical Four Part Harmony, which received its World Premiere at Theatre IV in 1993.

On Thursday evening, it was announced that the new Education Center that is to be built at the magnificent Virginia War Memorial is to be named in honor of Paul and Phyllis Galanti. This is a tribute that is both fitting and well deserved. Phil and I could not be more proud of our friends. Phyllis has been an exemplary Theatre IV Board member for upwards of 25 years, and Paul has stood beside her in support every step of the way.

Ross Perot made the keynote speech at Thursday’s celebration, standing at the foot of Memory, the inspiring statue that is the War Memorial’s centerpiece. He spoke movingly of Paul’s heroism and Phyllis’s exemplary national leadership of the POW wives. Perot’s impassioned tribute and Phyllis’s and Paul’s gracious responses brought tears to many eyes, including mine.

In a time when the subject of torturing prisoners of war is once again making headlines, it was viscerally moving to be in the presence of men who were subjected to such torture (many of the American POWs were present) and a woman who fought with all her might on the national and international stage to ensure that the torturing of prisoners would not continue unopposed.

K Strong, who played a role based on Phyllis in Four Part Harmony, was also present and beaming with pride. Bruce Rennie, our highly respected Tech Director, was on hand to oversee the effective operation of sound and lights. Former Theatre IV Board President (and recent Theatre IV Board returnee) Bill Garrison and his wife Mary were in attendance, as were Barksdale stalwarts Tom and Carlene Bass.

The Galantis’ adult sons, Jamie and Jeff, were there, of course, to honor their parents, along with Jeff’s new bride. Jeff and his wife are in the photo to the left, along with Phyllis. Mayor Wilder, Dr. E. Bruce Heilman (my good friend and U of R Chancellor), and countless legislators and dignitaries added gravitas.

During our college days at U of R, Phil and I joined hundreds of thousands of students of our generation in wearing POW bracelets on which were etched the names of American servicemen who were being held captive in Hanoi. We pledged not to remove these bracelets until the POWs came home. The name on Phil’s bracelet was Cdr. Paul Galanti. When Paul came to speak at the University after his release, Phil, who had just completed his first summer as a Navy officer candidate, had the honor of giving Paul the bracelet he had worn for so many years. (That's Paul and Phil in the photo above and to the right.)

Because I’m about to mention politics, I’ll now speak only for myself. I am a liberal-leaning Democrat, and deeply embrace the principles that inform my political thinking. Paul and Phyllis Galanti are conservative Republicans, and embody heart and soul the tenets that lead them to their political beliefs. I hope I’m not being presumptuous in saying that, for over 30 years, the Galantis and I have been the closest of friends. I could not have more respect and affection for Paul and Phyllis than I do. Even when we disagree on politics, perhaps especially when we disagree, I treasure our relationship and will always value and honor their character and opinions.

The remarkable tribute that is being paid to Paul and Phyllis Galanti with the naming of the new Educational Center at the Virginia War Memorial is well deserved. I know first hand that both of them are leaders and citizens of the highest caliber. It was my honor to join them on Thursday for the unveiling of plans for the War Memorial expansion.

--Bruce Miller


pnlkotula said...

Bruce, I was immeasureably affected by Four Part Harmony as I am sure were countless others. And every time I see the Galantis at a TIV function, I am reminded of all they endured and triumphed over. What a wonderful and more than well deserved recognition.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who knows them knows that Paul and Phyllis Galanti are two of Virginia's finest citizens. You are lucky indeed to have them as supporters.

Deborah Clemmons said...

God bless Phyllis Galanti for leading the international efforts to stop the torturing of prisoners of war during the Vietnam War era. I don't know Mrs. Galanti, but like her, I'm a lifelong Republican. I pray to God that President Bush will remember the lessons of the Hanoi Hilton, and begin to do everything in his power to cooperate rather than obfuscate with regard to current US torture practices and policies.

The following editorial appeared in yesterday's New York Times. I don't alway agree with that publication, but everything I hear about this issue from Jim Lehrer and others seems to indicate the sentiments included in this piece are close to the truth.

The anti-torture legacy of Phyllis and Paul Galanti deserves better than this.

"On Torture and American Values

Once upon a time, it was the United States that urged all nations to obey the letter and the spirit of international treaties and protect human rights and liberties. American leaders denounced secret prisons where people were held without charges, tortured and killed. And the people in much of the world, if not their governments, respected the United States for its values.

The Bush administration has dishonored that history and squandered that respect. As an article on this newspaper’s front page last week laid out in disturbing detail, President Bush and his aides have not only condoned torture and abuse at secret prisons, but they have conducted a systematic campaign to mislead Congress, the American people and the world about those policies.

After the attacks of 9/11, Mr. Bush authorized the creation of extralegal detention camps where Central Intelligence Agency operatives were told to extract information from prisoners who were captured and held in secret. Some of their methods — simulated drownings, extreme ranges of heat and cold, prolonged stress positions and isolation — had been classified as torture for decades by civilized nations. The administration clearly knew this; the C.I.A. modeled its techniques on the dungeons of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union.

The White House could never acknowledge that. So its lawyers concocted documents that redefined “torture” to neatly exclude the things American jailers were doing and hid the papers from Congress and the American people. Under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Mr. Bush’s loyal enabler, the Justice Department even declared that those acts did not violate the lower standard of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

That allowed the White House to claim that it did not condone torture, and to stampede Congress into passing laws that shielded the interrogators who abused prisoners, and the men who ordered them to do it, from any kind of legal accountability.

Mr. Bush and his aides were still clinging to their rationalizations at the end of last week. The president declared that Americans do not torture prisoners and that Congress had been fully briefed on his detention policies.

Neither statement was true — at least in what the White House once scorned as the “reality-based community” — and Senator John Rockefeller, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, was right to be furious. He demanded all of the “opinions of the Justice Department analyzing the legality” of detention and interrogation policies. Lawmakers, who for too long have been bullied and intimidated by the White House, should rewrite the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act to conform with actual American laws and values.

For the rest of the nation, there is an immediate question: Is this really who we are?

Is this the country whose President declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and then managed the collapse of Communism with minimum bloodshed and maximum dignity in the twilight of the 20th century? Or is this a nation that tortures human beings and then concocts legal sophistries to confuse the world and avoid accountability before American voters?

Truly banning the use of torture would not jeopardize American lives; experts in these matters generally agree that torture produces false confessions. Restoring the rule of law to Guantánamo Bay would not set terrorists free; the truly guilty could be tried for their crimes in a way that does not mock American values.

Clinging to the administration’s policies will only cause further harm to America’s global image and to our legal system. It also will add immeasurably to the risk facing any man or woman captured while wearing America’s uniform or serving in its intelligence forces.

This is an easy choice."

Bruce Miller said...

There was a shining moment when Paul, Phyllis and I were all backing the same guy. We all supported John McCain for the Republican nomination before Bush II's first term. McCain, of course, was a prisoner with Paul in Vietnam.

I have great respect for McCain, because I think he's his own man in a way that few candidates are. In sync with Deborah's previous comment, here's what yesterday's paper said about McCain:

"And yet, here is Mr. McCain, the happy warrior on a last mission, an odd mix of liberated and subdued. ... He is prone to solemn monologues against the evils of torturing prisoners and the atrocities committed by 'those thugs in Burma' against pro-democracy demonstrators, neither of which are top-of-the-agenda issues for most Republican voters. But they are important to John McCain, never mind the polls and focus groups, which are too expensive anyway."

If McCain were Pres, I'm confident that torturing prisoners of war would never even have been under discussion.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or do K Strong and Bruce Rennie look like movie stars? Move over Bradjolina.