Greetings! You are reading an article from The Mudville Gazette. To reach the front page, with all the latest news and views, click the logo above or "main" below. Thanks for stopping by!
August 19, 2004
Stolen ValorBy Greyhawk
Much talk around the blogosphere on a related topic today, so it seems like a good time to re-post this entry from December 2003:
A Vietnam veteran who exposed more than 1,200 people trying to capitalize on bogus or inflated Vietnam war records has been saluted with a military honor.
B.G. "Jug" Burkett received the Army's Distinguished Civilian Service Award on Monday from former President George H.W. Bush at the Bush Library in College Station.
"He exposed a mass distortion of history that cost taxpayers billions of dollars" in undeserved veterans benefits, said John W. Nicholson, an undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "He returned to the Vietnam veterans their good name."
Burkett's mission began in 1986 with his efforts to raise funds for the Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Dallas. Many people refused to donate, Burkett said, because they believed they would be helping drug-abusing psychopaths with no desire to work or contribute to society.
Though I pointed out that many successful Dallas men, such as former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach, had served in Vietnam, to them, men like Staubach were the exceptions to the rule, the rare individuals who were not ruined by their war experiences. "Everybody" knew most soldiers who fought in Vietnam were reluctant draftees, poor minorities, or dumb cannon fodder not smart enough to avoid military service. When I told them that I - a financial adviser with undergraduate and graduate degrees from major universities - had voluntarily served in Vietnam, they looked at me in disbelief.
Burkett started his own research to find out who fought in Vietnam and to debunk some of the myths about Vietnam veterans. Through the work, he exposed more than 1,200 people, including politicians and entertainers, who lied about or exaggerated their claims of serving in the Vietnam War.
"I'm a little overwhelmed because none of what I've done exceeded just doing my duty," said Burkett, a financial adviser who served in Vietnam in the late 1960s.
Burkett said he's happy to receive the Army's award because it will help bring the right type of attention to his comrades.
"It brings the focus back to the message," he said. "And the message basically is that the people who served in Vietnam are the finest troops we ever produced."
In the years after returning home from my military service in Vietnam in 1969, I watched the negative images of Vietnam veterans in movies like Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and Platoon. I saw the stereotypes on bookshelves, in newspaper stories, on the TV news. By the Eighties, more than two decades after the fighting ended, there were reputedly hundreds of thousands of homeless Vietnam vets, most suffering from PTSD. On top of that, they suffered physical disabilities brought on by poisoning from the defoliant Agent Orange. The common refrain: More men had died by their own hand -- victims of suicide -- than had been killed during the decade of the War.
When Burkett first arrived back in the states from the war, uniformed and lugging a duffel, the waitress at the airport restaurant ignored him, walking away.
Oh, don't mind her,'' said another who came over to take Burkett's order. ''She's got this antiwar thing. She won't serve anybody in uniform.''
No trumpets, no yellow ribbons tied around the old oak tree for Burkett. Just a cold shoulder.
It got worse. When he lucked into a standby seat on the flight home, Burkett was last to board. He was greeted by a drunk hollering out, ''Hey, folks, we've been sitting here on the runway waiting for a big goddamn war hero! ... Hey, bucko, you spent a year killing women and children,'' said the inebriate. ''Make you feel like a big man did it?''
Americans have allowed the soft-headed in the ''sophisticated'' media to convince them that Oliver Stone's drug-addled troops in Platoon and the surreal lunacy of Apocalypse Now are the real stories of Vietnam.
The crazed ''Rambo'' of First Blood, the vet who cannot stop killing, has become part of the language.
We have allowed those who were too cowardly to go to define both the Vietnam War and the Vietnam veteran.
The vets did their job. Polls show that well over 90% are proud of what they did and would do it again.
And thanks to Burkett, they have a vigorous defender.
One of his gifts to his fellow Vietnam warriors is a book called Stolen Valor : How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History. In it, he details the work he did to unmask scores of phony Vietnam ''vets,'' some claiming Silver Stars and Medals of Honor when, actually, they never wore a uniform.
As a one-man ''truth squad,'' he demolished a slanted, wrong-headed Dan Rather documentary about ''post-traumatic stress disorder'' titled, The Wall Within. Checking military records, Burkett found giant holes and many lies in the stories of men Rather depicted as heroes.
Burkett's book is a tribute to truth, and Vietnam needs some truth.
Toronto Blue Jays manager Tim Johnson fired up his baseball teams with bloody tales of his days as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam. War was hell. He had killed a little girl and her brother who happened into the line of fire.
The truth: He had been in the Marine Reserves. An exemption for baseball players had kept him out of combat.
The Blue Jays fired Johnson. Now he manages in the bush leagues.
U.S. Rep. Wes Cooley told reporters he'd fought in Korea as a Special Forces "demolition expert" trained in mountain climbing and escape tactics. The Oregon Republican said he'd engaged in countless secret missions.
The truth: Cooley never left the states during his military career. He hadn't even finished his training when the Korean conflict ended.
After his lies unraveled, Cooley dropped his re-election bid. He was convicted of falsifying campaign documents.
Actor Brian Dennehy, one of the stars of the Rambo movie "First Blood," said he served five years in Vietnam. He'd been hit by shrapnel. Combat, he told Playboy magazine, was "absolute f---ing chaos."
The truth: Dennehy had been a Marine, but his only overseas assignment had been as a football player on a service team in Okinawa.
After a long delay, Dennehy admitted his lies.
Pulitzer-winning historian Joseph Ellis spiced his lectures with tales of his Vietnam service. His unit had been nearby during the My Lai massacre. He served on the staff of America's top commander in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland.
The truth: Ellis never fought in Vietnam. During the war, he taught military history at West Point.
Ellis made a tepid apology: "Even in the best of lives, mistakes are made."
Veterans call them by all sorts of names: phonies, fakes, imposters, wannabes. Some claim they fought in wars they never served in. Others served honorably but exaggerate their exploits; they claim service in elite units, tell tales of top-secret suicide raids, wear medals they never earned.
Untold thousands of masqueraders are using make-believe war records to polish resumes, collect veterans benefits, or impress business associates, friends or romantic partners.
Almost any time Burkett reads a newspaper article about someone claiming to be a Vietnam veteran, he digs into their background and files a request for their military records.
Over the past 15 years, Burkett said, he has investigated perhaps 2,000 claims of military service; at least 1,500 of them were bogus in one way or another. Rep. Cooley was among the storytellers he helped expose.
False warriors are a phenomenon that happens after every war. Historian William Marvel has written that every one of the last dozen recognized living Confederate veterans was bogus. Marvel found that the last one, Walter Williams of Texas, would have been 5 in 1860 and 10 when the war ended. Williams didn't begin identifying himself as a Civil War veteran until 1932, when he applied for a Confederate pension.
Society is fascinated, too, with victims and heroes. For self-aggrandizers, Burkett said, Vietnam is alluring because its tortured history allows them to meld two identities. Like Rambo, they can be both heroes who fought for their country as well as victims betrayed by politicians and the public.
Some fakers are compulsive liars who convince themselves of the truth of their own stories. And while most fakers are trying to bolster fragile egos, some use their stories for grander aims: to win elections, steal money, hype their public images as entertainers or business executives, make political statements for or against U.S. military actions.
When confronted with evidence of their duplicity, Burkett said, most will stick with their stories, even presenting doctored and forged documents for support. "It's very rare that they'll cough it up."
In his book, Burkett argues that the problem goes beyond acts of individual dishonor. He says military pretenders often appear in news stories that contribute to stereotypes of Vietnam vets as violent, drug-addled, psychologically wasted and homeless.
The image is so universally accepted, he says, reporters and producers are quick to use stories that fit the stereotype, and rarely check the veracity of the source.
And what happens when someone questions the record of a veteran quoted in a news story? Most of the time, Burkett said, reporters, editors and producers refuse to admit their mistakes.
The media and the public live by stereotypes; rarely do they willingly forsake long-held beliefs. It's not an easy battle to challenge oft-repeated stories of a community hero's valor, or to correct a flawed but long-accepted historical record.
Burkett said one thing his campaign has taught him is that people want to hang onto their myths, whether it's a society certain that Vietnam veterans are woebegone cases, or a spouse who wants to blame her husband's problems on the trauma of war.
"They want to believe," he said. For some people, "there's a point where, once you cross that threshold, it doesn't matter whether it's true or not."
His decade of research at the National Archives, he writes in Stolen Valor, revealed a ''massive distortion of history'' colluded in by the entertainment industry, the Veterans Administration and the legal system. Many journalists also willingly went along.
Despite his bulldog effort, Burkett will never get it all back for the Vietnam vets.
The Oliver Stones, Sly Stallones, and Dan Rathers of this world are too powerful, even when they are dead wrong. But it's great to see what one guy can do if he puts his mind and energy to it.
Find more info on identifying false veterans at Soldiers for the Truth
I am not a Vietnam veteran.
Original post: 2003-12-02 21:50:04
Posted by Greyhawk / August 19, 2004 4:16 PM | Permalink
John Hawkins has the Right Wing News War Blog Awards posted. I won't give away my votes (like I normally do when it's for a different RWN list), but suffice it to say that I am glad that Juliette of Read More
Stolen Valor is the title of a piece at Mudville Gazette about the work of one man to find the truth about Vietnam Veterans.Myth: The war in Vietnam was fought by teenagers barely old enough to shave, while World War... Read More
SMASH is getting ready for Naval Coastal Warfare work, so I'll help by posting lots of stuff for him. His lovely bride has the keys to the joint, but she's not going to spend hours posting on his site, and that's okay. So here goes: ProtestWarr... Read More
Meet B.G. "Jug" Burkett, who was presented with the Army's Distinguished Civilian Service Award on Monday by former President George H.W. Bush. Few--if any--have done more to restore honor to the men who served in Vietnam than Burkett.... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com