David H. Hackworth
29 September 98
STOLEN VALOR: SETTING THE VIETNAM RECORD STRAIGHT
The Vietnam War just won't go away. Daily it kills vets who fought there. Daily it kills Vietnamese who live there. Daily it haunts those warriors who survived the battlefield but still live with the nightmare of America's most divisive war.
Of all the wars our country has fought Vietnam was perhaps the toughest for the grunt; the most reported, but the least understood. It was the only war where our heroes who did the bleeding were never honored. There were no parades. No "Welcome Home". No "Job Well Done."
When it ended, it was quickly buried. The Pentagon swept it under the rug. Colleges refused to teach it. Many vets even denied they were ever there. Collectively, society wanted to forget it.
But still it wouldn't go away.
Hollywood produced its Rambo version, the media followed with theirs, and the rumor mills churned out still more sleaze. The vets never countered these massive misrepresentations. Their voice was silenced by their shame at being accused of losing the war -- a first for America -- and the stigma that bad war engendered.
Myth eventually replaced truth.
The fiction became that the "baby killers" of Vietnam were unstable losers, drug fiends, suicidal creeps, murderers, pathological time bombs, animals unfit for society.
They were branded like cattle. Too often at the top of a negative story -- a crime, a murder, a violent act -- would be "Vietnam Veteran " For thirty years, reporters produced thousands of distortions. Big hitters like CBS's Dan Rather, for example, who received a prestigious media award for a story about a nutso SEAL in Vietnam who later turned out to be a rear echelon weenie rather than a member of that elite outfit.
Time Magazine reported a vet shot a pregnant women while in Vietnam, except that the impostor had never served in Vietnam. The Boston Globe told the story of a vet who was in the slammer for murder because of a heroin addiction he picked up in Vietnam. The story won him an early release until it was revealed he'd never served in Vietnam.
These lies from and about wannabes and total frauds are just three of countless stories designed to degrade those that fought there. Many in the press accepted these cons and exaggerations without doing their homework because too many reporters bought into the propaganda that Vietnam vets were bums. And when caught along with CBS, Time and The Boston Globe, their false stories were seldom retracted and the record was seldom set straight.
Why apologize? For decades it's been open season on the men who served our country so faithfully and so bravely in Vietnam -- the ones who didn't follow the example of over 14 million of their contemporaries who shirked in Canada, shirked in college or shirked in the National Guard.
Few have stood tall to the press and said "Wait a minute. You got it wrong." Vietnam vets didn't have many public defenders.
Now Vietnam vet B.G. Burkett, a Texas businessman, has taken on that role. For ten years, at a huge personal cost, he dug through the National Archives and filed hundreds of requests for military documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Finally, he gathered enough for his self-published book, STOLEN VALOR, and launched a vigorous counterattack that has "uncovered a massive distortion of history."
In his own words, his research revealed "killers who have fooled the most astute prosecutors and gotten away with murder, phony heroes who have become the object of award-winning documentaries on national television and liars and fabricators who have flooded major publishing houses with false tales of heroism which have become best-selling biographies."
Former Navy Secretary James Webb called Burkett's work "one of the most courageous books of the decade." In STOLEN VALOR, Burkett tells the story of more than 1700 people who tried to steal the valor of others or to disgrace the service of those who did their duty in Vietnam by distortion and lies.
Few regular bookstores stock it. Most are as afraid of a lawsuit as the publishers were. But Joe Gallaway, a distinguished combat correspondent, says "STOLEN VALOR exposes more fraud than the Justice Department." You can get it by calling 800 - 253-6789.