Soldier, editors recall work, friendship of slain journalist
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent August 21, 2014 4:28PM
FILE - In this Friday, May 27, 2011, file photo, journalist James Foley poses for a photo during an interview with The Associated Press, in Boston. A video by Islamic State militants that purports to show the killing of Foley by the militant group was released Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. Foley, from Rochester, N.H., went missing in 2012 in northern Syria while on assignment for Agence France-Press and the Boston-based media company GlobalPost. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
Updated: August 22, 2014 2:01AM
John Villegas still is reeling from the news that James Foley is dead.
Villegas, 47, of East Chicago, served in Iraq with the Indiana National Guard’s 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in 2008. Foley was embedded with the team as a Post-Tribune correspondent, and the two became friends during the year they spent together.
Foley, 40, a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, was killed by Islamic State militants. A video of his death by beheading was released Tuesday; he had been missing since November 2012 while freelancing in northern Syria.
Villegas learned Tuesday of Foley’s death from one of his fellow soldiers.
“I was in tears,” he said, adding he and Foley were in regular contact after he finished duty in Iraq. The two saw each other once or twice a year, with Foley stopping by the Euclid Tap, one of two East Chicago bars Villegas owns.
He last saw Foley at the end of 2011, shortly before Foley left for Syria. Before that, Foley often called Villegas and other soldiers from the 76th to see how they were doing.
“He knew what we were going through because he was right there with us,” Villegas said. “This was a good man.”
Foley had no trouble going out with Villegas and his fellow soldiers when they were on combat missions, even though he didn’t have the same protective gear. Foley, Villegas said, “had more balls than we did.”
“He was out there shooting his camera while we were shooting guns,” he said. “He was just there to tell the truth.”
Former Post-Tribune Executive Editor Paulette Haddix hired Foley to work for the paper as a correspondent in Iraq.
“He wanted to go to Iraq, so he was essentially cold-calling newspapers and he found a receptive ear at the Post-Tribune,” she recalled Thursday, adding she didn’t know which other papers he might have called.
He was the second Post-Tribune journalist to die during wartime. Photographer John Bushemi worked for the paper for five years before enlisting in the U.S. Army during World War II and becoming an Army photographer. He was killed in 1944.
Foley offered to embed himself with the 76th and write for the Post-Tribune.
“He wasn’t expecting us to cover his expenses or anything,” Haddix said, adding Foley wanted the experience of covering a war. “He sounded like an eager young man, so I was happy to give him the experience.”
Haddix said she was “very fortunate” to have Foley embedded with the National Guard, and he was able to connect with local soldiers, which gave a personal touch for the National Guardsmen there.
“I think his body of work speaks for itself,” she said.
Former Managing Editor Diane Aden Hayes agreed.
“We had no idea who James Foley was when he proposed writing for the Post-Trib,” she said. “But he quickly proved he understood us —the paper and the people of Northwest Indiana.
“Knowing that makes this loss that much harder.”
In a statement released to the Post-Tribune on Thursday, the Indiana National Guard sent its “deepest condolences” to Foley’s family.
“He was able to document the war and tell the story to the American public from the perspective of a soldier. He was very well liked by many of the troops and had a genuine appreciation for them and the job they were required to do. The soldiers he served alongside in the 76th Infantry Combat Brigade will certainly miss him.”
Foley also worked as a counselor at Cook County’s juvenile boot camp in Illinois. Sheriff Thomas Dart issued a statement Wednesday expressing “shock and sadness” over Foley’s death.
“We join the country in being outraged at the events surrounding his death. Jim dedicated his life to serving others and effecting change. We thank him from the bottom of our hearts for his service and for all he did while working with us and for all he did to shine a light on the injustices and suffering in the world,” Dart said.
Foley, who received his undergraduate degree at Marquette University, got his master’s degree at Medill in 2008. The school issued the following statement on its website:
“Our Medill family is shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the murder of Jim Foley. He was a courageous reporter who risked his life to seek the truth around the world.
“Journalists face threats in many forms as they try to report difficult stories that need to be told, but the attack on Jim was barbaric. It was, in a larger sense, an attack on freedoms necessary in a civilized society and across strained cultures. Jim endures for us as a beacon reminding us of the risks implicit in shedding light where inhumanity can take hold.”