The third annual Anything Goes Gala benefitting the Virginia Repertory Theatre departs from its performance-based format to honor posthumously Phyllis Eason Galanti, one of Virginia’s and the United States’ most remarkable women.
You’ve heard the saying, Heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Nothing could be more descriptive of Phyllis. In 1963 she married Paul Galanti, a naval fighter pilot. Deployed to Southeast Asia in 1965, he was shot down over North Vietnam in 1966 and taken prisoner, isolated and tortured at the infamous Hanoi Hilton.
As the unpopular war dragged on, news about the prisoners and the missing was not forthcoming. North Vietnam withheld information from the United States, and Phyllis and the other service wives became increasing frustrated at the lack of intelligence. Were their husbands alive? If so, where were they being held captive? What were their prison conditions? To lobby the U.S. and North Vietnamese governments for updates, these women formed the National League of Families of Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia (NLF) and began their crusade to get those answers, seek the return of their loved ones who were alive and obtain an accurate accounting of those missing and killed.
After an impressive campaign of letter-writing, making presentations, appealing in person to President Nixon, Secretary Kissinger and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and appearing on television news, Phyllis and the NLF finally succeeded in seeing the safe return of their husbands who were imprisoned. Their efforts humble me; they were the ultimate volunteer committee.
After being imprisoned for 7 years, Paul settled with Phyllis in Richmond to raise their family. Phyllis became involved in the community and was an ardent supporter of Theatre IV/Virginia Rep. I had the good fortune to meet her while working on the inaugural gala committee. Despite her quiet unassuming nature, she exuded strength and kindness throughout our meetings.
Phyllis passed away last April, and the Board of Virginia Rep easily decided to honor her with the Founders’ Award at this year’s gala, only the second time the award has been presented. Commander Paul Galanti serves as the Honorary Chair of the event. Proceeds from the Gala will establish the Phyllis Eason Galanti Fund at the Theatre. One of the uses of the fund will be to host Central Virginia’s WWII veterans as guests at this summer’s production of South Pacific, something Phyllis looked forward to doing prior to becoming ill.
If you would like to enjoy an evening like no other, consider attending the Anything Goes Gala at the Historic John Marshall Ballrooms on Saturday evening, January 31st. For tickets and more information, click here. If you are unable to attend, contributions can be made online. I hope you can join me that night to honor Phyllis Galanti.
p.s. Contrary to popular belief, the POW/MIA bracelets like Paul Galanti’s below
were not made or distributed by Phyllis’ group, NLF. They originated with a student group in Los Angeles but became the most visible reminder of our imprisoned and missing servicemen. Did any of you wear one?
January 9, 2015