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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," "loser," "wacko," "PTSD," and the like.

Then, ask you friends if the following statement are true or false:

bulletThe suicide rate among Vietnam veterans is LOWER than the rate among the population in general (TRUE).
bulletThe rate of Vietnam veterans suffering psychological and emotional trauma from combat is lower than that for veterans of WWII (TRUE).
bulletAfrican-Americans died in Vietnam in far greater proportion to their percentage in the American population (FALSE).
bulletVietnam 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).
bullet"Agent Orange" has been proven to have caused cancer in Vietnam veterans exposed to it as well as birth defects in their children. (FALSE)

Finally, ask your friends if they know of Lance Sijan, Jim Stockdale, Nick Rowe, Bob Howard.  Get ready for lots of blank stares.  You don't know?  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 a few misfits, goofballs, and criminals.  They 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.  And, we won every battle of the war.

The fact is that, when Vietnam veterans returned home, they got on with their lives.   They went to work, to school; some married, some stayed single, some divorced; some had children, others did not; some did great things, some did small, important things every day; Vietnam veterans, 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.  And he does it admirably and thoroughly and documents his findings.

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.  Burkett takes on a number of issues that have been attached to Vietnam veterans -- some of his opinions are likely to be quite unpopular.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Burkett recognizes there are men who suffered and do suffer both short-term and life-long emotional and psychological problems from the stress of combat.  However, he questions if PTSD is as widely spread as is commonly belived.  Burket goes through a lengthy discussion in which he argues that PTSD  was seized upon 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 does not argue that PTSD is not real.  His position is that the actual numbers of men suffering from PTSD -- mild to severe -- is nowhere near the numbers commonly believed. 

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.

Vietnam Veterans and Suicide

One often hears the quote that more Vietnam vets died of suicide after coming home than died in combat.  Burkett dissects this falsehood and cites several studies showing that Vietnam vets commit suicide at a rate lower than that of the rest of the population.

African-Americans and Vietnam

Remember the claim that African-Americans, poor and unable to avoid the draft, died in numbers far out of proportion to their numbers in the general population?  Stolen Valor cites several indicivual cases of African-Americans who acquitted themselves superbly in combat.  Burkett then points out that, 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.

Agent Orange

In a chapter titled "The Myth of Agent Orange," Burkett cites studies into the dangers of various herbicides used in Vietnam and into dioxin, an ingredient in the herbicide called "orange."  (The term "Agent Orange" was not used in Vietnam -- that came about later.)   His chapter title tells you what Burkett believes about claims of birth defects, cancer, and the like caused by exposure to herbicides in Vietnam.  This chapter and the one on PTSD are likely to be the most controversial in the book and I suggest that folks read the book.


So, What's the Point?

The point is this:

bulletAmericans who served in Vietnam did so willingly, valiantly, and with honor.
bulletThey returned home and got on with their lives.
bulletAfrican-Americans served in Vietnam -- they served valiantly, they served well.
bulletThe service of a generation of American heroes has been distorted, twisted, lied about.
bulletReal heroes have been painted as demons, addicts, murderers, victims of a cruel government.
bulletAnd nothing will change it.

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Check out the web site:  http://www.stolenvalor.com

Stolen Valor is available from amazon.com.  Click here.