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Read this book

Stolen Valor:  How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heroes and its History

-- by B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley

Try this at home

Try this experiment on yourself and your friends.  Ask a group of folks to name a hero from World War II.  Anyone who has an ounce of historical sense will name Patton, MacArthur, Audie Murphy, or another common WWII name.  Then, ask them to name a hero from the Vietnam War.  Silence.

Then, ask your friends to tell you what comes to mind when they hear the term "Vietnam veteran."  Do not be surprised if the answer includes such words as "drug addicted," "misfit," "wacko," "PTSD," and the like.

Then, ask your friends if the following statements are true or false:

  • The suicide rate among Vietnam veterans is LOWER than the rate among the population in general (TRUE).
  • The rate of Vietnam veterans suffering psychological and emotional trauma from combat is lower than that from WWII (TRUE).
  • African-Americans died in Vietnam in far greater proportion to their percentage in the American population (FALSE).
  • Vietnam veterans make up a  percentage of the nation's homeless that is vastly out of proportion to their percentage of the population as a whole (FALSE; the opposite is true).

Finally, ask your friends if they know of Lance Sijan, Jim Stockdale, Nick Rowe, Bob Howard.  Get ready for lots of blank stares.  (If you don't know, maybe you need to find out.)

Why No Heroes?

The fact is that the 2.7 million Americans who served in Vietnam served valiantly and selflessly.  They did not burn villages, shoot babies,  rape women, cut off ears, push enemy prisoners out of helicopters, go into battle stoned, kill their officers and sergeants.

The fact is that, yes, as with any large population group, there were misfits, goofballs, and criminals.  Some of them acted like misfits, goofballs, and criminals and got away with it.  But, a lot of them went to Leavenworth and served time.

Americans in Vietnam -- individually and as units -- built roads, schools, wells, and hospitals.  Sponsored orphanages.  Worked in clinics.  Observed rules of engagement that would not permit firing into populated areas.  Held MEDCAPS and DENTCAPS (medical and dental civic actions).  In general, treated the Vietnamese people with decency and respect.  At the same time, we persevered through waning support from home and we won every battle we fought.

When Vietnam veterans returned home, they got on with their lives.   They went to work or to school; some married, some stayed single, some divorced; most had children, some did not have children; some did great things, all did the small things of life, responsibly.  Vietnam vets are normal people.

So, why are there no heroes? Why is the stereotype of the Vietnam veteran the shaggy, pot-bellied, bumbling loser who tells tales of shooting women and children, burning villages, and fragging his lieutenant?  That's the question that B. G. Burkett, author of Stolen Valor, sets out to answer.  I believe he does it well.

Because We Were Robbed of Our History and Our Heroes

Burkett was asked by some friends to help raise money for a Vietnam veterans' memorial in Texas.  As he tried to approach potential donors, they turned him away, sneering that they would not contribute to any Vietnam veterans' cause because they -- Vietnam vets -- are nothing but a bunch of addicts and losers. When Burkett tried to talk with the press, the reporters turned away, only to interview a scruffy bunch of clowns in old camouflage uniforms with odd headgear and medals pinned on here and there.

Angered at this situation, Burkett began to research these local "Vietnam vets."  He used the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to the military records of these "vets" and the results rocked him.  These "Vietnam vets" were either not veterans, not Vietnam veterans, or, if they had served in Vietnam, their tales of combat did not match their service records.

Spurred by this, Burkett began to research more and more individuals who appeared to be professional Vietnam vets.  He turned up more and more phonies.  In Stolen Valor, Burkett unmasks dozens of phony Vietnam veterans -- many of them had risen to high positions in veterans' organizations, had been feted in banquets and parades, were local heroes.  Most of them wore chests full of medals that they never earned.

But, It Does Not Stop With Phony Vets

If the only thing that Burkett did was to unmask phony vets, then this book would be interesting reading and no more.  However, he devotes considerable attention to other topics that have been identified with Vietnam veterans.

Burkett argues that PTSD -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- was largely manufactured by zealous Veterans Administration officials who needed more patients for their declining hospital population and by anti-war psychiatrists and psychologists who used the supposed destruction of the mental health of a generation to vent their anti-war views.  He is careful to make certain that the reader understands that there are men who suffered and still suffer emotional and psychological problems from the stress of combat but he argues that their numbers are nowhere near the numbers of Vietnam vets who are supposedly wrecked by PTSD.  Burkett exposes several cases of those being treated for PTSD as phonies.

How many of us watched Dan Rather's documentary on stressed-out veterans living in the forests of the Northwest, unable to adjust to normal life after years of combat?   Remember Rather's The Wall Within  and the sad, tortured souls he interviewed?  All phonies.  Yet, researchers and "experts"still quote this fairy tale.

Remember the claims that Vietnam vets are suicidal?  One often hears the quote that more Vietnam vets died of suicide after coming home than died in combat.   Burkett quotes study after study that proves that Vietnam vets commit suicide at a rate lower than that of the rest of the population.

Remember the claim that African-Americans died in numbers far out of proportion to their numbers in the general population, mainly because as a group they were poor and unable to avoid the draft?  During the years of the Vietnam War, African-American males made up 13.5 percent of the draft-age population.  African-Americans made up 12.5 percent of the KIA in Vietnam -- slightly less than their presence in the general population.  The one percent difference is not statistically significant -- African-Americans carried their share of the burden and did so valiantly.

Burkett also devotes space to Agent Orange, the defoliant containing the carcinogen dioxin that was used on jungle areas of Vietnam.  One hears today claims that the dioxin has caused serious problems for many Vietnam vets, including birth defects for their children and cancer for them.  Burkett is not convinced and he cites numerous scientific studies that tend to refute these claims.

( Before anyone launches on me regarding PTSD and Agent Orange --  I know that these two topics are sensitive matters among Vietnam vets, with opinions ranging all over the spectrum.  The preceding comments on PTSD and Agent Orange are not necessarily my opinions; I am relating the content of the book.  Read the book and weigh his evidence. )

So, What's the Point?

The point is this:

  • Americans who served in Vietnam did so willingly, valiantly, and with honor.   They returned home and got on with their lives.
  • African-Americans served in Vietnam -- they served valiantly, they served well.
  • The service of a generation of American heroes has been distorted, twisted, lied about.
  • A generation who served their country under difficult conditions has been painted as demons, addicts, murderers, and victims of an uncaring government.

Vietnam veterans were indeed robbed of our heroes, our history, and our valor.   But we know what we did and I am proud of my part in it.  During a tour of duty in the Pentagon, 1986 - 1990, I had the opportunity to speak to Vietnam veterans' groups around the country.  I met hundreds of good guys and not a single loser.   Welcome home, brother.

Check out the web site:

Stolen Valor is available from  Click here.


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