Over the years, Mount Holyoke's Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Professor Joseph J. Ellis has enthralled his students with war stories about his exploits on the beaches of Tuy Hoa and in the jungles around Anh Khe back when he was a platoon leader in the mighty 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam.

Having spent four years in the proud 101st and one year in "Tim's Traveling Trouble" 1st Brigade in Vietnam, it puzzled me that I'd never heard of the learned Ph.D. Believe me, a paratrooper with a Ph.D. is someone the grunts talk about. And in '65, the 1/101st was a very tight outfit, most of us having served together at Fort Campbell before we went to Vietnam. But when I checked with many scarred mates who served in the famed brigade, they, too, drew a blank when it came to brave Platoon Leader Ellis.

Now the hero-soldier-turned-academic-turned-author (who claims that Thomas Jefferson fathered a child with Sally Hemmings) has been proven a liar and a fraud -- and my 1st Brigade pals uniformly want his head at the end of a pike. "The puke's danced on the graves of all my friends who didn't come back and diminished all of our deeds," 101st vet and dear friend retired Army Col. Ben Willis raged.

Meanwhile, Mount Holyoke is standing by its man. Bet your jump boots if my son were still attending one of the Five Colleges, he wouldn't be sitting in this phony's class.

Then there's basketball-jock-cum-clown Dennis Rodman, who was recently photographed wearing a U.S. Army green jacket ablaze with four rows of ribbons, including the Combat Infantryman Badge with a star indicating he'd fought as a grunt in two major wars. A check with a friend at St. Louis' National Personnel Records Center indicates that basketball threads are the only uniform the blond tattooed one's entitled to wear. And by flaunting undeserved awards, this muscled buffoon falls into the same category as Ellis.

My blood especially boiled when I saw Rodman wearing the CIB, an award treasured above all others by many infantry combat vets, this one included. To us, the CIB is a badge of honor, a symbol of great sacrifice. And, to add insult to injury, Rodman had it on upside-down!

Claiming false service or wearing unauthorized awards denigrates the service, patriotism and gallantry of all who have served. B.G. Burkett's brilliant book "Stolen Valor" depicts scores of sickos like Ellis and Rodman, many of whom have become "the object of award-winning documentaries on national network television ... who have flooded major publishing houses with false tales of heroism which have become best-selling biographies."

Many of the frauds Burkett outed wore Medals of Honor and other valor awards they didn't earn. Many conned their way into the U.S. Congress and other positions of trust with bona fides based on their fake honors and resumes.

Why a person becomes a warrior wannabe is food for the shrinks, but what concerns me more is the public's indifference. Apparently, it counts more that Ellis is a good teacher and Rodman a good athlete than that they're bad role models.

Or maybe there's no outcry because many Americans can no longer tell the difference between fact and fiction. Look at the movie "Pearl Harbor." The kids who saw it probably think Japan was on our side.

And besides Hollywood-type distortions, the nation is suffering media overload from the 24/7 intense hype we get on the tube -- where reality shows are carefully choreographed fiction, and wars and executions have theme songs and logos.

Maybe the Ellises and Rodmans aren't big-enough celebrities for the media to really run with. If they'd been a Clinton or the Bush girls, Peter Jennings would've been zapping them rather than breathlessly recounting the sizzling bit of breaking news that Timothy McVeigh's death certificate listed his occupation as a soldier.

If we don't stop putting down our soldiers and start protecting their honors and service -- perhaps by passing a law sentencing all warrior wannabes to hard time clearing mines with a bayonet someplace as cruel and dangerous as Kosovo -- then somewhere down the line, we'll lose our liberty because no one will be motivated any longer to defend America.


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(c) 2001 David H. Hackworth
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