"Poor is the country that has no heroes, but beggared is that people who having them forgets." source unknown
B.G. "Jug" Burkett wrote the book on Vietnam.
B.G. "Jug" Burkett wrote the book on Vietnam. Actually, the book on Vietnam veterans. Its called "Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History," and it examines why so many Americans bought the image of that wars vets as disaffected, disheveled, drug-addled, bitter and unemployable losers.
The answer is quite simple. Its because the national media bought it first and then sold it to the American people.
But that stereotype was one that was built on a flatbed of misrepresentations, distortions and outright lies.
Burkett, a Dallas stock broker and a Vietnam volunteer himself, discovered this a dozen years ago while trying to get a memorial built to the nearly 3,500 Texans who died in Southeast Asia.
"In doing that I quickly realized I didnt have a fund-raising problem," Burkett told me Wednesday. "I had a public relations problem."
Too many of the people he asked for money were turned off by the image they had of Vietnam vets.
"They thought (we) were bums."
Burkett knew differently and decided to prove it.
The first place he went was to the Department of Labor. He asked for a breakdown of unemployment statistics. At the time, the unemployment rate for all males was 6 percent. Among all veterans it was 5.5 percent. But among Vietnam vets, it was 3.9 percent, the lowest of any demographic group.
He also discovered that his fellow vets had the highest per capita income, the highest home-ownership rate, and were well among the best educated. When he ran the numbers on homelessness and the prison population, Vietnam vets showed up far below the national average.
Burkett soon discovered something else. A lot of people were lying about their "experiences" in Vietnam.
From major league baseball managers (Tim Johnson), to Hollywood actors (Brian Dennehy), to Pulitzer prize-winning historians (Joseph Ellis), men were fabricating stories about serving their country. It shouldnt be surprising. It has always been so. Throughout human history, men have lied about their exploits in battle for variety of reasons, from self-aggrandizement to guilt to money.
When it comes to Vietnam, thousands of men have told lies about their service and the service of others and too many of them made their way into newspapers and onto TV without being questioned. Murderers have been freed from prison claiming post-traumatic stress syndrome from a war they never fought in.
Thanks to the efforts of Burkett, his co-author Glenna Whitely and a few others, thousands of these frauds have been exposed over the last few years. But, for the most part, the national media has done little to correct the record of lies passed onto the American people thanks to the media gullibility.
Which brings us to the presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the United States.
According to Burkett, no man is more responsible for the image of Vietnam veteran as dysfunctional losers than Sen. John Kerry.
It was Kerrys work as the head of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and his 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that helped create and shape the image of that war and the men who fought it.
"All of this, John Kerry helped create when he brought those ragtag bums to the mall (in Washington, D.C., to protest)," says Burkett. A full 75 percent of those protesters who claimed to be combat veterans, Burkett and many others have since discovered, were imposters.
Now, 33 years later, Kerry is running for president claiming to be both proud of his military service and proud of standing up to the government that forced him and his fellow soldiers to become, in Kerrys own words, "rapists," "murderers" and "war criminals."
Jug Burkett, for one, doesnt see how a man who announced to the world that he and his fellow soldiers committed war crimes as a matter of routine could be proud of that service. Burkett said he has heard enough about Kerrys own service from veterans familiar with it to want to know more.
And so for years, and especially now that Sen. Kerry is running for president, Burkett thought it would be appropriate (and illuminating) for Kerry to release his entire military record -- all of it -- to the public.
Just weeks ago, the national chairman of the Democratic Party accused our current commander in chief of being AWOL during his years in the National Guard. In response, President Bush (who Burkett casually refers to as a "draft dodger") released all of his service records for public inspection.
However, for decades, Burkett says Kerry has stiff-armed similar requests from journalists back in his home state to do the same thing. Why? Whats in that record that John Kerry doesnt want shared with voters?
Burkett told me Wednesday some of Kerrys fellow Vietnam veterans will, quite soon, publicly call for Kerry to be more forthcoming.
Gil Spencers column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
"People everywhere confuse what they read in the newspapers with news." --- A.J. Liebling