I was yanked out of the field in Vietnam to come home on emergency leave because Dad had a heart attack. I had on khaki uniform, jump boots and a Green Beret. A civilian drinking coffee beside me asked me where I was serving. When I replied "Vietnam" he turned and stared. "You guys are all screwed up," he said. Then he picked up his coffee and moved down the counter. He continued to shoot curious glances at me. Waiting for a flight I found that people would not make eye contact and kept their distance. What is going on here? I wondered, because I had been overseas for almost three years by that time.
In his amazing book, Stolen Valor, BG Burkett and co-author Glenn Whitley tell the story of what happened to those who served and, sadly, what continues to happen. Page after page, Burkett takes on every one of the myths, the exaggerations, the pretenders, the bogus vets and the entire cultural stereotype that has become the Vietnam Veteran.
I put off reading Stolen Valor for awhile because I thought that there would only be a story or two of a pretender in it. What a shock, even for someone who thought he was in the know, to see the prodigous work that Burkett and Whitley have amassed. Now I wish that I had read it immediately on release. I am certain that over the years I will refer back to it frequently. It is in the "keeper" section of my bookshelf.
One of the most useful results of this amazingly effective book is that for those who might have felt guilty about supporting our Vietnam veterans you also can hold your heads high knowing full well that you are not supporting the contrived 'baby killing, drug besotted, anti-social bum' that Hollywood and the anti-war left presented to you.
As Burkett correctly notes, we are your children, parents, cousins and fellow countrymen. We are just like you, just like the amazing American service men and women who preceeded us and who sacrifice for us now. Thanks to BG Burkett for giving us back the honor that was so casually and reprehensibly besmirched by those who didn't have the courage to serve themselves.
If you want to start your Vietnam library start with this book. If you are a vet, know a vet and especially if you unwittingly bought into the negative stereotypes about us, you must read this book. Tell everyone about it. Given time the truth will out.
Every journalist, editor, and TV producer should read Stolen Valor. Hopefully that would keep them from interviewing and featuring the scruffy looking liars, fakers, and "wannabees" in camouflage fatigues covered with patches, pins, and unearned medals when they want to interview a Vietnam veteran.
Too many journalists pass on to their readers--and preserve for posterity--whatever lies they are told about secret missions behind enemy lines, American atrocities, amazing Rambo-type combat, and our nation's highest awards for valor which somehow were never recorded in the faker's official records. Are these journalists just naive or are they intentionally supporting an anti-Vietnam War, anti-military, and anti-American agenda?
Burkett and Whitley demonstrate how those opposed to the war (and the military and the government) are using the myth of vast numbers of Vietnam veterans being so psychologically scarred by the war that they are dysfunctional and the parallel myth of widespread American atrocities in Vietnam to validate their own political agendas.
The leaders of the American Legion, VFW, and other mainstream veterans' organizations would also do well to read this book. Many of them have been hoodwinked by fakers who gain positions of leadership and influence within veteran's organizations and become public spokesmen based on their impressive--but false--war records.
The machine copies of DD214 forms used by individuals to join veterans' organizations, obtain VA care, and convince skeptics cannot be accepted as valid proof of service because they can be forged with copy machines. Burkett and Whitley tell us the way to unmask the liars and frauds is to use a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a copy of their DD214 directly from the National Records Center in St. Louis, MO.
I've encountered some of these phonies myself and my theory is that the longer and dirtier their hair and beards are, the more they look like street people, the more medals, badges, patches, pins, and other gewgaws they are wearing, the more likely they are to be impostors.
It's not difficult for a real veteran to see the inconsistencies in their claims but journalists and the public who have never served are easily fooled into believing these bums are typical of Vietnam vets. That's why "Stolen Valor" is an appropriate title for this book. They are besmirching the reputation of all of us who served honorably and are proud of it.
Several recent reviews have cast serious aspersions on Burkett's research and honor. That is ironic, given that "Stolen Valor" was given the Colby Award for Outstanding Military Book and that Burkett himself was presented with the U.S. Army's highest civilian award, the Distinguished Civilian Service Award, by former President George H.W. Bush on December 1, 2003. Such recognition is hardly indicative of poor scholarship!
The review by Shelby Stanton is particularly galling, since he knows that Burkett "has the goods" on him and is able to document where he was and what he did during Viet Nam (it was not the stuff of which movies are made!). I have not seen any evidence that Stanton, a lawyer, has brought suit against Burkett for libel. What Burkett said about Stanton in "Stolen Valor" is a matter of record. If I were Stanton, I would withdraw myself from public view, given how he appropriated reams of classified military documents and stored them in an unsecure location for several years. Only the fact that the documents were declassified AFTER Stanton purloined them kept him out of serious difficulty.
I would recommend to anyone interested in the Stanton case that they should read pages 435-443 of "Stolen Valor." Stanton stands condemned by his own words as much as by Burkett's.
Regarding reviewer Latham's comments about PTSD and the VA, a recent blind study conducted on 100 randomly selected records of "totally-disabled" Viet Nam vets reveals an interesting statistic--60% of those individuals were never in combat at all, and a significant number of them were never in Viet Nam. The Department of Veterans Affairs is sitting on a scandal of monumental proportions, a scandal that should earn an enterprising reporter a Pulitzer Prize, such are its ramifications.
Burkett is my hero, as he is for thousands of other Viet Nam veterans and lovers of honesty. "Stolen Valor" should be read by anyone with a desire to know how the courage of true heroes is besmirched every time some "wannabe" lies about what he did in the war.
As a retired Navy SEAL officer who has spent countless hours exposing phony SEALs, I am indebted to Burkett for what he does to keep the phonies in the spotlight.
Keep it up, my friend!
Far from being tedious, I couldn't put this book down when it first came out. The author's thesis reflected my own experience growing up in the '60's and 70's (1974 HS grad), knowing many vets, including relatives and friends, who did not resemble the phony "bush vet" stereotype emerging in TV and film. I served in the Marine Corps 1981-84 after college as a Lt. in the infantry, and again, among the many vets I served with, I knew no one with the "whacked out vet" persona.
I became a police officer in 1985, and in the ensuing 20 plus years I have encountered scores of phony "traumatized" vets among the alcoholics, drug addicts and petty criminals living by choice at the margins of society. The symptoms are as noted: secret special forces ops, classified service records, an inability to respond intelligibly to questions about unit, MOS, places of service in-country, sob-inducing stories of atrocities committed, etc. As reviewers have noted, one's unit & MOS are things that are pretty ingrained(I spent the bulk of my tour with Bravo Co., 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, attached to 1st Marines, 1st Mar Div, FMF Pac at Camp Pendleton... MOS: 0302, Infantry Ofc. Total decorations: one Sea Service Deployment Ribbon). I don't know how many times I had to explain to a self decribed Viet vet what the acronym MOS meant, and then the reply would be generic or nonsensical. I have always been explicit that I never saw combat (in fact, I was on Okinawa on a West Pac deployment when Grenada and the bombing of the barracks in Beirut occured), believing that to claim that experience would be a dishonorable lie,and a slap in the face to those who did. This, I always felt compelled to dissect the lies of these phony vets, so at least they would understand there was at least one person they hadn't conned. And perhaps in the process, I wanted in some way to speak up for the genuine Vietnam veterans.
It's telling that this is one of the books that has received hundreds of reviews, indicating it has struck a significant nerve. The syndrome it describes is, I believe, just another manifestation of a narcissistic culture of celebrity victimhood that encourages identification with a false self, an inflated ego image, rather than encourage the authentic suffering entailed by a search for one's true self and authentic identity. These phony "whacked out" vets are simply creating their own version of the kind of manipulative celebrity persona which has been increasingly and pervasively glorified in our culture.
I have to comment briefly on the negative reviews I read; I also have the sense that some people seemingly read a different book. For one, the author went out of his way to describe himself as a rear echelon pogue, complete with photo in clean starched utilities during his Vietnam tour.
Moreover, I'm pretty independent politically (voted for Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Kerry)& I didn't get the powerful conservative OR liberal bias that some reviewers have criticized.
At the same time I understand the psychological and emotional consequnces of traumatic experiences,and I don't suggest that disorders like PTSD don't exist, nor do I beleive the author is doing so.(I'm currently working on my thsis for a Master's in Counseling Psychology).
In sum, this book is a great public service, and I congratulate the authors for their courage and perseverance in bringing it forth.
As a Vietnam veteran who lost one leg along with the loss of use of the other leg and right arm, I must say that Stolen Valor is a courageous, insightful book that should be required reading for every VA doctor and administrator in this country. I for one am sick and tired of hearing about another so-called "stressed out" Nam vet going beserk, when in fact the closest he ever got to Vietnam was when he washed the general's wife's car while stationed in Hawaii.
Just because someone claims to have fought in Vietnam does not make it a fact. And how does someone who swabbed the deck of an aircraft carrier as it sailed 20 miles off the coast of Vietnam claim he's now suffering from PTSD? Or the loser who cleaned latrines in the safety of Da Nang--while sleeping in air conditioned rooms and eating sumptuous meals and never hearing the sound of a rifle fired in anger--come home with an armload of combat medals, including two or three Purple Hearts?
I for one am sick of it. If everyone who said they served in Vietnam during the war actually did, that small peninsula would have sunk into the South China Sea decades ago. These leeches MUST be weeded out, and this book is a good start. Are their lives so shallow they must steal what other men have earned and shed their blood for? Get a life, for God's sake. And as for the VA...open your eyes! I will close by posing a question for the VA: Has even one person who receives compensation for PTSD ever actually recovered? I doubt it. Why climb off the "gravy train." This charade is a slap in the face to every Vietnam veteran who was legitimately disabled fighting for his country.