the Myths of the Vietnam War
SESSION 4 (TRANSCRIPT)
The Best and the Brightest
B.G. Burkett: Hi. Steve wants me to get started here and I must catch a plane right after this. My name is B.G. Burkett. I am a co-author of this book, Stolen Valor. In the first part of my talk, I am going to kind of describe my personal situation and what got me into the book business and co-authorship and everything else.
I grew up in the military. Like Scott, my
father was an Air Force officer, pretty much raised in the
Strategic Air Command, and of course my whole youth, every
housing development we lived in, every neighbor on the street was
a World War II vet. P-51s, B-25s, B-24s, B-17s and of course we
migrated into the C-47s, the B-58s, B-52s. I was a senior at
Vanderbilt when I decided, I did not exactly want to go into the
Air Force, I knew I had an ear problem. I knew I would not be
able to be a pilot, so I decided to go in the Army which actually
my father had done it in World War II and ended being in aerial
ordnance and went over to the Air Force when they switched over
in the 1940s. It never dawned to me not to go in the military. In
peace time, war time, I was going to go in the military just even
because it was the thing do and one of the things of lost in the
love at press about Vietnam veterans, the thing that we probably
had most common with each other regardless of what class strata
we came from, we were the sons of World War II vets. There was
that concept of honor, duty, country; there was that JFK
ask not what your country can do for you but what you can
do for your country. So, anyway I went as an enlisted man
to go to OCS.
I had gone on for many years when a friend
of mine from Vanderbilt who had two tours, calls up and says, hey
there is a committee forming trying to build a Texas Vietnam
Memorial. They had a couple of failed attempts and lets go to
this meeting. When we go to this meeting and there are a lot of
well meaning people, but you could tell they did not have a clue
how to organize and where to get the money or anything else and I
was in the financial world, my friend was a chief executive
office of a company, so we get in there and there was another
fellow named, Mark Ruff and basically the three of us took over
this committee. I became the co-chairman. My immediate friend
became the president and we had a division of labor. The friend,
chief executive officer, was an engineer. He ran all the
construction outfits trying to get the labor units to donate
time, trying to get construction companies to donate material.
The other fellow was very well placed and made a fortune in the
construction business. He was the rainmaker. My job was the
day-to-day fund raising and I thought that was going to be easy.
I had been a broker for almost two decades in
Four months later she published that report;
unemployment in the economy was 6% among all men; among all
veterans of all ages this was back in the late 1980s
all veterans it was 5.5%. Among the men who had served during
Now, again I am arming myself to try to raise this money and about that time, I was working with the archives because I was trying to locate casualties by municipalities. I was trying to locate next of kin. I might go to a particular county who had lost 14 individuals in that particular county. I would go to city council, show them who had been lost, I might even have contacted the high school and find out what class they were in and then I would make a presentation, why does not this city get behind this effort to honor these men, raise 1000 dollars in this county for each one of them and I would go county by county, city by city. I would go to VFW post in these locations.
But about that time, in Downtown Dallas and
I worked in Downtown Dallas at that time, there was a police
officer who stopped the motorist making an illegal turn and they
both were standing below the curve, in front of the car and up
came this individual that all of us were familiar with, he was a
African-American homeless man who was obviously mentally ill, he
just mumbled to himself, he would just be talking, he shuffled
along, he walked straight up this police officer without any
hesitation, pushes officer, the officer falls back over the
curve, his weapon is dislodged from his holster, the vagrant
grabs the gun, points it at his face and bunch of stupid kids at
a bus stop start chanting kill him, kill him. He
shoots the police officer in the face and kills him. Headlines
We finally raised the money, I mean it was
like pulling teeth and probably the worse period of my life that
I was getting, I dont say embittered, but I was getting
very disappointed in the Texas community, the national community
because there continued to be a barrage of negative Vietnam
stories which we have some recounted here today and we finally
raised the money in 1989. We had the dedication on Veterans Day
and by this time, George Bush was President. We had thought that
when he became President, he would not continue to do this and
would not have the time and he said absolutely not, I am sticking
with you all the way, I went to the White House and invited him
to come down here, he comes down, the Governor comes and we have
this ceremony that is covered by 65 separate media services, from
around the world. The interesting thing though is when I was
building the memorial, one of these local veterans would get
involved and I mean they were like flies in your face, they
always had some kind of agenda whether than raising the money to
honor the dead, I had kind of weird episodes. Once we got those
tablets, there would be big events on the weekends in the
Fairground and I would set up a kind of a display or the mock
memorial and these guys would be there collecting donations and
after work, I would go by and pick up the donations and cash.
There would be a certain group there, in which there would be
nothing but change and 1 dollar bills. The next three days, there
would be different guys there and there were 5s and 10s and 20s,
I certainly realized, the first group is stealing the money. Also
it dawned on me that these guys doing normal business hours
arent working. Actually every one of them was in the VA on
disability, mostly post traumatic stress. I started checking
military records. The President of the VVA was an individual that
when I checked, he had deserted the army in
Anyway, the episode was over and I started
trying to decide. Personally I was just irritated as hell and I
had all this research and I thought I have got to do some. I
cant do a movie. I cant get on the air. They are not
going to put me on 60 Minutes with what I have got. So I am going
to do a book. So I kind of started doing a summary of what I want
to do and I had some author friends and I put it around to some
of the publishers and that was it. There is nothing, no interest.
About that time, a Readers Digest editor calls me,
Malcolm McConnell who did a book called Inside the Hanoi
Archives. Malcolm calls me and he starts talking and he says
what are you doing, I say well I am a stockbroker, and he says
you are a stockbroker? I said yes and I said why, and he said the
Pentagon told me to call you, I was asking for some information
and they said you were the guy to talk to, so I ask him what he
is doing, he told me he is writing this book and he was looking
for background material on several individuals that he wanted to
have in his book, one of them was a guy named Larry Pistili and
he starts clicking off, I cant remember, all the names. He
starts clicking off in all of these names and every single one, I
had already gotten their military records, none of one of them
In the meantime, I get Dan Rathers military record, because he is on public record in many, many places saying he is a two-tour Marine. Well, when Dan Rather was in college, he was from Texas, went to Sam Houston State, he was eligible for the draft and during the Korean War at that time, you could be drafted out of college and all you got to do is finish the current term or year that you were in. He did not get full blanket exemption for the four years. He joins a reserve unit, basically goes. The second the war ended, he drops out of the reserves, he then graduates from college and goes into the PLC program with the Marine Corpa, cannot do the physical activity and gets kicked out before he gets through basic training and he is now claiming and still claims that he is two-tour Marine. We did not put that in the television piece.
Once this started happening, once Readers Digest did the story, once 20-20 did the story, I started checking more of everything related to Vietnam, statistics, you know post traumatic stress, Agent Orange. I started checking the records of all the veterans advocates, I started checking New York Times stories. I started everything that I could get my hands on, I went to the Dallas library and a lot of this stuff is on microfilm, the New York Times, Dallas Morning News, started pulling out the old articles. There were two guys down in San Antonio running a Vietnam War Museum and it got national news about that, one was a Seal and one was Green Beret, which little bit like mating a chicken with a duck, and I got both their military records, both of them just completely made it up and one guy had several federal convictions for stealing weapons. When he was in the Coast Guard Reserves, he had broken in an armory and sold the weapons. But neither one of the individuals knew that the other one was fake, I mean they each thought the other guy was legitimate.
The continuation of this thing, I mentioned
the unemployment, I mentioned the crime, it was always the thing
about the air which
The statistics on suicide, this bit about a
Blacks: Everybody knows the Blacks suffered
Homelessness. There is a magazine in Dallas
called D Magazine, which is kind of a regional
version like The New Yorker, nowhere near as good, but it
was run at that time and still run by a man named Wick Allison
who had been the publisher of the National Review and they
were doing a story, did a cover story on my work and the Memorial
and everything else and one day, we were just casually talking
and he said, how do you explain all these homeless Vietnam
veterans, I mean, you keep talking about all these exemplary
Vietnam veterans and their employment and I said virtually none
of these guys are Vietnam veterans and he says, come on, you
could ride around Downtown Dallas to see 20 of them in probably
an hour. I said I dont care, they are not
One of the stories in the book is actually a
Another TV story. This also is false. And actually I love this story more probably than any single story. There is a guy named Joe Yando. Joe Yando was a Marine and this is his story. He was in Vietnam and he fought at the battle of Khe Sanh. His best friend had to go out in the open, got shot, hung up on the wire, took a day and a half to die and they could not get him and they had to listen to him scream and Joe had to go take him off the wire and you know Joe was wounded and Joe got a Bronze Star, etc. He comes home because of the horrors, he got addicted to heroin in Vietnam. He hooks up with a buddy and they got just about money to get one gun and one car and they spend the weekends robbing gas stations and convenience stores and they alternate, one goes in with the gun in this street, they go to another street and they switch places and the other one goes in and of course threaten to kill whatever proprietors in there and take off the money up. They apparently get caught, they get convicted, they go to prison for life without parole. Well, Joe being the great Vietnam veteran he is, starts a chapter at the Vietnam Veterans of America in prison. VVA has got I dont know how many chapters in prison. You dont go to prison with your DD214, so you become a Vietnam veteran in prison going to the chapter basically about saying I will do it. He rises to the position of chairman or whatever the title is for the state of Massachusetts. They have the state intervention in the prison record. This is during the time of Dukakis and those of you in this area know Willy Horten where he [Dukakis] was letting convicted murderers go home on the weekends, he thought it was good therapy, until Willie Horton goes out and kills somebody and they decided that was not such a good idea, Good old Joe is going out, hooks up with his girlfriend, fathers a couple of kids at least so he thinks, it turns out one of them is by another man, and the VVA that jumps into the argument that poor Joe is now family man and really should be let out and he has straightened his life out. The Boston University gave Joe $20,000 dollars tuition money to get both an undergraduate degree and a masters. Now the [wife of the] guy that he killed in the convenience store was working, trying to put his kids through college, they did not give them any tuition money and she is working as a waitress. The VVA then starts a campaign that good ol Joe should not be in prison. They hook up for the Boston Globe. The Boston Globe does probably does probably 20 positive references to Joe. They would commemorate his birthday or they would commemorate what year it was in prison, theyd do feature stories on him in the Sunday Magazine. Mike Wallace jumps into it, does a piece of him and then they rerun it twice. The Governor at that time was Weld and he is getting flooded with let Joe out, he is a good man, that the evil war turned him bad and he is a reconstructed human being. I go get Joes military record and, remember, he has gone through a trial. He has got prosecutors, they got investigators, actually form a commission on the commutation to check all this out. I get his military record and during the battle of Khe Sanh he was in the brig at Yorktown for tearing up the Enlisted Mens Club. The only overseas assignment the guy had was an inventory clerk in Okinawa, never served in Vietnam. I didnt have immediate communication with the Boston area and I am assuming all of this is going to be discovered until I see something in the VVA where they say the release is imminent, because they think the Governor is going to commute the sentence. I call the Governors Office, ask for the aide thats is handling this case, telling everything I know and say look, you need to go and get the record but I will certainly send to you, just tell me, give me a call back and tell me where to send it. I dont hear from the guy for a few days and bam, the guy had his sentenced commuted. He is out. I then call Mike Wallace because I knew some producers from 60 Minutes and after this discussion with him and he is kind of silent on the issue, I send him the records they check and it is like, oh God! Youre right and I am saying Mike, this is a great story, you known integrity of journalism. That is 60 Minutes, run this and correct your mistake. He puts me off for four months. I realize he is not going to do it. He was saying we are going to do it on 60 Minutes II, hey, the seasons out, we are doing reruns, I mean, there is always an excuse. I took it back to ABC, they run the story, I mean, they do the research and the last step is to confront Yando, who is now living in Vermont and asked me whats Yando is going to do. Well it was kind of a prohibition, I think, one, he is not going to talk to them and, when they go back in the morning, he is not going to be gone, he is not going to wait around and get sent him back to prison. They put the camera in his face he basically says, I wondered to know how long it was going to take you, sure I did that, oh yeah those papers were false, the producers calling me on the cell phone, trying him like hell to get back to New York to get all this on tape. Yando, in the meantime, calls Wallace and apologizes to him. He is like, thank you for getting me out of prison but I got something to tell you. Wallace then calls me and wants me to go on that evening news and I said go to hell, I am not doing it. He had the opportunity and I am doing it with ABC which was going to be this is like on a Tuesday or Wednesday, we are running it on Friday. Anyway, we ran it on Friday, they arrested Yando on Saturday morning very early and Wallace on Sunday in 60 Minutes where you think the commercials, you know, the screens blackened at commercials going to popup for office except Mike Wallace pops up and hes just sitting in a chair with a blank background and then starts to tell us the real situation with Joe Yando and it was not apology, but it was like we are calm like everybody else, like the Governor and eventually this whole listening. He goes to say CBS did not like me very much and they I know bashed the documentary and 60 minutes. The other bizarre thing is they discovered they could not put Joe Yando back in prison under the original sentence because you cant revoke a commutation. And now it is like what in the hell are we going to do now and of course is a big uproar from the public about do something. They end up figuring up, if there is some violation related to perjury during the various hearings related to this and he has gone back to prison for murder but he has only gone back and he comes up for parole every five years. I think we have gone through that once and I think we are getting ready to come up on it again. I get called from, there is a student group I think at Harvard, this is a project to get old Joe out of prison and they go back at it again, you know every time that some Professor makes this the class project.
Brian Dennehy, the actor, he had done several 60s and 70s interview about his tour in Vietnam and Playboy magazine did a feature story, New York Times did a full page story and he is always talking about how acting became his therapy for his post traumatic stress and all the horrors and dead guys he had seen all this stuff. I get his military record. He had been on a football scholarship at Columbia. He just flunked out of it, went into the Marine Corps, went to Monterey language school, learnt French and then ended up going to Okinawa where because of his football, he was in the gym handing out footballs and basketballs to play it on the Marine Corps football team. No Vietnam. He was out of the Marine Corps in 1963. I contacted him, told him what I had and I got this six- or eight page handwritten letter back, begging me not reveal this because he was an honest, patriotic American and this would damage his career and the funny personal thing about this is, I have been now invited to the White House, the Army has given me their highest civilian award and I have gotten all of these accolades because of this book. The only thing that ever impressed my wife about any of this is that handwritten letter in Brian Dennehys handwriting.
The television, as we all know, nothing is history in America until television does it. We Texas have the same thing with the Alamo, it does not matter what happened at the Alamo, it just mattered what John Wayne said happened at the Alamo, whatever version is now out there. One of the speakers mentioned Professor [Walter] Capps, University of Southern California, until his death, he became the US Congressman, did a theories where he was holding the biggest history class in America filled his auditorium and he would bring in speakers and he would bring in a legitimate people but one of his stars was this guy named Gisele. Gisele was a Green Beret and fought in the battle of Dong Xoai and I got a video tape of this and he would cry at the appropriate time, talking about killing VC and buddies dying and all this kind of thing and of course he gets a standing ovation. He has been doing it for 10 years. I get his military record and while this is all going on, he was an MP in Japan and I had several other cases that again, I went back to 20/20 and that got woven into another 20/20 piece. He was getting VA benefits and we did a piece on Yando, too, which did not win an award which surprised me because I thought that was the best one but the third one we did won an Emmy. Needless to say, he is no longer lecturing and I called Capps and Capps was kind of blasÚ about it, it was so like, well yeah, but he tells a good story. He was like he didnt care whether it was true or not and I did not realize he already declared running for Congress and I had some local newspaper people jump on my case, because I was obviously trying to smear the Professor. I did not even know he was running for Congress and he is a locally elected, he ended up I think dying of a heart attack at Dulles Airport.
A guy named Dave Golf up in Syracuse, New York, a ceremony up there in Congressman Walsh awarded him the Distinguished Service Cross and again he gives huge interviews, local press and some of the VVA stuff talking about how he was in the unit of special assassinations and how the military had white washed his record and all this stuff. I get the thing and its just total bunk. He just made the whole thing up. I tried to get everybody from the Congressman to some of the veterans groups to do something, they would not do anything, in the meantime, Readers Digest does another story and I actually felt kind of proud about this the editor up there said, Burkett you dont understand, we didnt do two stories on Winston Churchill, but they did this story again and by this time, Walsh is now hacked off because he is getting publicly humiliated about giving this guy the Distinguished Services Cross. We got that guy federally convicted wearing medals which was not owned.
Command Sergeant Major Ricciardi [E-9]. He was in a 79th Infantry Division in New Jersey, Reservist and he was on a board that actually picked individuals to go to Special Forces school. He ran a kind of a tactical Special Forces thing for them in the New Jersey Guard and they had a division, he got noticed one day that he was belatedly; he had been awarded a Distinguished Service Cross that had never been presented to him. This was sent to his commanding general and they had prayed and they awarded him Distinguished Service Cross. I checked and when he claims that he was doing all this, I was able to find a license for getting married that he had signed in New Jersey etc, etc, he was in Vietnam. He was a fellow telephone operators, those plug-in telephones in one of the base camps, had no Green Beret status, had no Combat Infantrymans Badge, had nothing. I gave that to the Commanding General of the Division, he assigned a Warrant Officer to investigate. The Warrant Officer gets facts of the case, you are absolutely right. I am sure the General was going to do something with this, I didnt hear anything for 30 days. I called back and I said, you told me the general was going to do something, what did he do. With a moment of hesitation, he said, well sir, he did do something, he transferred him to another unit. I called the new unit and they couldnt have cared less. So now I go back and try to find somebody important in the army, fortunately the head of Reserve for the Department of the Army was the guy, the last name is Clark, and he was the son of Mark Clark, both father and son were West Pointers, both had won the Distinguished Service Cross. This hit his hot button. They ended up ruling administratively that Ricciardi had now worn that medal for, I think, a total of seven years, they were reverted back to the time of Good Service which took him a few months less than 20 and they threw him out of the service. He was a deputy fire chief in Newark and in New Jersey you get points for valorous decorations and every time he came up for a promotion, he was able to doctor his own record in the Reserve to show that he had a Silver Star or some medal and of course this Distinguished Service Cross was the crowning movement that got him deputy fire chief. He had never beaten anybody on that exam to get the position, he always jumped ahead of them. I took it to the Mayor in the City Council and he called up because there was a black firemans group in Newark which has a race problem and they were furious that many of their members had been beaten out this guy for promotion and so the Mayor had to diffuse this whole thing and lets the guy instantly retire. He is now living in Florida and owns about three condos down there, kept his retirement in New Jersey.
The situation -- are there any guys who served in Korea? the one here -- three years ago, there was a story about the massacre at No Gun Ri which is a rail bridge in Korea. Some South Koreans had gone to the local AP office in Seoul and complained that this story had been hidden both from their government and from the American people that their children or their ancestors had been killed there. The AP does some research and the unit there was the Seventh Cav. So they contact the Seventh Cav Association and asked to talk to members that would have been in the unit at that time and one of the first guys that comes to mind is the guy named Ed Daily, who had been President of the Seventh Cav Association. He had written two biographies about his combat in Korea. He had gotten a battle field commission. He had been captured during the retreat, managed to escape because of the chaos and had been awarded a Distinguished Service Cross. He had lectured at West Point, all the major [service] academies, would do tours, Army sponsored tours to speak to the troops, Fort Hood, Fort Sill, etc escorted by officers and when he was interviewed for this story, Brokaw catches on to it and thanks him and his two buddies that also said they were in Korea and they do an hour documentary recounting how they had done the massacre with the machine guns, all that stuff. A professor who was a Major at that time at West Pointer calls me and he has done several book reviews on Stolen Valor in various military journals and he said there is some more, I know this guy personally because as a Captain, I escorted him at Fort Hood. I totally have believed he had say but in this interview, they did some things tactically and theres just something wrong here, I walk him through, I get the military record and then walking through getting the morning reports all the duty rosters, everything, action reports, the whole bit. Ed Daily, was an E-4 mechanic in an ordinance unit, 60 miles away, he was never in this battle. The other two guys that had been in the unit, but they had been wounded and medevaced before this particular episode. They were not there either. AP, by this time, had gotten tremendous publicity. The Pentagon was doing an investigation and, of course, their investigation was somewhat inconclusive because during that retreat, you had more than one warring fraction, you had the North Korean Communists, you had the Chinese Communists, you actually had South Korean, I mean you had South Korean Communists, fighting the South Korean Government, fighting the Americans, fighting some of the Allies and lead is flying everywhere and a lot of civilians got killed. I mean not intentionally but there were some that died. In any event, we notify the AP, provide all the records to the AP about how they just screwed this story up, rather than say, we will look into it, they immediately start a war of words with us, tell us basically to go to hell, they submit that story to the Pulitzer Committee and they win the Prize. The Pulitzer Committee has refused to review that story. Again it is one those stories, the American Government slaughtered civilians which those of us have served in Vietnam, that should be nothing new.
Tomorrow, I think I am leaving here in half an hour, I am going to Quantico, to testify. I have been there about three times with this case. There is a Active Duty Navy Captain named Roger Edwards and Roger Edwards until recently was the Navys liaison to the Pentagon for all medical services to the Marine Corps, hospitals, doctors, nurses, the whole bit. The Commandant of the Marine Corps this was back before Jones was made Allied Commander in Europe. This man had such exemplary service, he wanted to make him an Honorary Marine. So theres a ceremony at Marine Corps barracks make him an honorary Marine at a reception, I hear about it and get the program and this man had gone to Naval ROTC but prior to that he had been a Green Beret medic in Vietnam and during that period of time, he had been awarded the Silver Star, multiple Purple Hearts, and Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Stars and the whole bit. He had worn these decorations, all through his promotion boards, everything else etc. I get his military record. He was a practical nurse in Vietnam at a dispensary in the Mekong Delta servicing some helicopter. I called Jim Webb, he referred me to an Admiral in the Navy. We work for about two weeks, the Navy decided they didnt want to do it and so they sent it back to the Marine Corps which technically is assigned to the Marine Corps, something I didnt know. If youre a Naval Officer assigned a Marine Command, you wear Navy insignia but you wear a Marine uniform. I didnt know that. So he looked like a Marine for years. Anyway the Marine Corps, took kind of a negative attitude toward the good Captain, embarrassed to comment on. They go after him. I mean I file a complaint. They go after him, and give him a hearing, file Article 32 against him and for the last year and a half he has been fighting. You know the Army does not keep good records. They did not Mirandize me. I have got post traumatic stress and I cant be tried because I cant defend myself and he wants to retire now under disability, all of those things are knocked down and about two weeks ago, he caved in and he has admitted to all the major charges and what were hopefully going to is going to be the final hearing sentencing but they want myself there and another FBI agent I worked with, of course, in case he starts back pedaling.
This concept of these individuals over the years, and what I discovered, there is a social phenomenon, but this is not am isolated case. I have worked with the Medal of Honor Society, I worked with Mitchell Page before he died, worked with the SEALs, I worked with the Swift Boats, you know every one of those organizations have exposed hundreds if not thousands of individuals that have claimed to have served in their particular organizations. I mean the SEALs, only about a thousand during the entirety of the war they had ever served in Vietnam and they have exposed thousands of individuals doing this. I have checked 2000 national stories in the print press. I have checked books, the military books, a military book by Warner Smith, called Covert Warrior by Presidio. I provided Presidio this guys military record, total bunk. They had the book at the press already in printing, they said the heck with it, I think it is not going to go far, but they promote the hell of it, then sell it to the military book club, I gave the military book club, his military record. This guy claimed all his covert operations in South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, even one mission in South China. I get his military record and he had gone to flight school at Pensacola and he had flunked out or was kicked out and went to Officer Maintenance School and served at airstrip in Philippines, just made this thing up whole sick.
Tom Clancy -- there was a guy that flew helicopters out of Jacksonville that became a budding author and he was an high school buddy of Clancys and Clancy wrote the foreword of all these books and right at the printing of the third book, the guy dies of a heart attack and Clancy in that book, does an eulogy at the end of it, goes through all these heroic missions of this guy in Vietnam, same thing, the guy just made it up. It is not hard to make up great stories and put in books when you just get to make them up, but all of that collectively is what has created this negative image of us because in the early years, most of these individuals were victims. I mean they were homeless because, they beat their wives because, they were Vietnam veterans. The shift now has gone and I think, I say this in the book, it is sort of a dividing point was when the Rambo movie came out, you now had a man, a war hero, Medal of Honor recipient, gone berserk so he is hero but he is also a victim of his own war, we have now become sympathetic as opposed to wanton killers that need to be kind of watched in and kept out of main stream society, we are victims now and all these advocacy groups constantly are saying theyre helping the homeless, helping the hundreds or thousands of GIs on the verge of killing themselves. I recently did a study and it is causing some -- I would say did it -- I worked with some psychiatrist in the VA, and, just believe me, I had three failed attempts inside the VA because, boy, you talk about politics coming into play, when you start tampering with the VA and their patient cut-- we were able to pull a hundred Vietnam veteran records, that are getting a 100% post traumatic stress. Thirty six ran backscreen placed _____, plus a lot of other benefits that go along with it. I had guys working from our Memorial backing when, these guys would not be disabled in a wheelchair and yet they would file under the disability cause where they would get their share, wheelchair lift and they would run an apartment moving service on the weekends using the lift. I mean they get a panel truck or something like that and they were just completely off the books, they could get a free computer, some of them had various computer software deals set up with their wife before they had a full time job and they were using the VA computer to start another business. Anyway these hundred at random that gave me without their name, just social security numbers, I ran their records and 39 of them were Vietnam veterans who served in combat and it was easily provable. Now that itself is not conclusive because I lecture at a lot of veterans conventions and I have not gone to a single one of them and with some guy would come up and say, God I love your book. I was a Platoon Sergeant in the First Infantry. Thats the best damned book I have read about Vietnam but you made me feel guilty as hell, and I said why is that, and he said, well! I got to tell you, I am getting 100% disability for post traumatic stress. Have you got post traumatic stress? Hell no, they are giving away free money, why should those bastards who werent there get it when the real guys are not getting it? And of course you can buy manuals that tell you how to do it. In the VA now, a lot of regions are sending solicitation letters. I mean if they have got your name, they will send you a letter saying, had you been checked for Agent Orange or post traumatic stress?
Anyway back to this study, 50 additional guys, 40 something, 48 or 49, were Vietnam veterans but they were decidedly in non-combat jobs, I mean if they got stressed, it was because they didnt have any enough chlorine in the swimming pool ____. The rest of them either were not in Vietnam. Some of them had never been in the military, and that blew the mind of the psychiatrist in that facility to treat. Now we submitted that study and very academically done under the psychiatrist had been very well published previously, we submitted it to the American Journal of Psychiatry and of course, they have a peer group that reviews these studies. Guess what, there were some people from the VA on the peer review group that immediately rejected this study. So we went back and we actually were able to beef it up because they were able to get some of the clinical stuff where we could determine what they had told the psychiatrist which was not really in the first with just this study even better. We now submitted it to the British Journal of Psychiatry which we think it is going to be published there, and immediately, word got out. Word got out that this thing was out there and this psychiatrist was called in and it looked like his job was on the line. Now fortunately, there is new Deputy Secretary in there, a guy named Gordon Mansfield. I met Gordon Mansfield recently at the Legion of Valor dinner at their convention, Gordon was a Company Commander in Vietnam, lost both legs, had been head of the Paralyzed Veterans Association and he cares. He wants to root out these people that are taking money from legitimate veterans.
I am going to talk about this a couple of more minutes and I opening to questions.
You know all of this image thing, I have John Kerrey in my book and it is kind of interesting because I have done over 500 radio interviews since this book came out a little over 5 years ago, and boy, when Kerrey declared, there was a resurgence of interviews because a lot of these guys remembered that Kerrey is in my book and if I had known he was going to run for president, Kerrey would have been in one or two chapters in my book, I think in VVA, VVAW and all this kind of thing. In any event, stop and think back to your own experience, most of you Vietnam, you came home and like I am talking, I got home in 1969 went to Graduate school, right in the middle of the anti-war movement. We did not wear our uniforms, we were advised not to go off post. A lot of guys worried about getting their hair cut short, because even if we did not work, we identified as a GI but the American public just had sort of anecdotal evidence about Vietnam veterans. They would hear about fragging, but it was just you know, they were not many names past this. They would hear about suicide which -- by the way, I do not know if you noticed but in Iraq and Afghanistan, 35 individuals have killed themselves, suicide which is 3.5% of those who have died, that is a rate about seven times higher than that which occurred in Vietnam. Vietnam veterans suicide rate is one quarter of the rate of World War II veterans. It is one-half the rate of US medical doctors but in World War II, in Europe, 1300 GIs killed themselves in 11 months by suicide.
I just remembered another World War II statistics I forgot and I mentioned this to several you at lunch. Atrocities is what we always nailed with My Lai etc, but as I mentioned, it was anecdotal until My Lai and then after My Lai it became every man does that. I checked World War II and it kind of shocked me, between Normandy and the Armistice, there were almost 1000 American GIs tried for capital crimes in Europe. Mostly atrocities against civilians or execution of POWs. 443 of those men were condemned to death. 96 were executed. 300 American GIs were executed in World War II. You dont see that in history books. You know like, when you go into archives and you start digging through the JAG files, those cases are in there. The reason, I believe, first of all that was the last war in which the American Press was on the American side. I mean we had somebody mention today about the press going to the government saying how can we cooperate, how can the movie industry cooperate, obviously that is not what they did during Vietnam but the aftermath of the war, we were trying Nuremberg Nazis and believe me, you read some of these case files and you could have just about match American atrocities to a most Nazi atrocity other than killing 6 million Jews, I mean whether they wiped out of French Hamlet, in reprisal, etc, they did that in World War II.
Real quick on Kerrey. When Kerrey got in that organization and dropped into Washington, that was the first time, the American public collectively saw Vietnam veterans, suddenly that is what we have been hearing about and they are in there in pony tails and bandanas and you can smell the marijuana smoke and you know this is the most disheveled bunch of bums you have ever seen, obviously they are not working, or are on some kind of disability because they are there during the business day and this cemented the image in the American minds and more importantly, it cemented that image in the mind of the Press and Hollywood started picking up that theme. They actually kind of picked it up before that and we had Michael Lanning talk about how Hollywood went with that image and it is unbelievable, you know what has happened, how the American belief about Vietnam, and to me it is tremendously sad because this has all been passed down generationally.
This will be the last comment before I open up for questions. I lectured a lot at colleges and high schools and I typically get up and do what I am doing now, I am not a public speaker, I just look at the clock and I talk until I quit, but if I have got a blackboard behind me, I will turn around this group and I have done many auditoriums like this, I will write, not at the moment, I will write these things on the board, these phrases, rapist, Mayor of your city, Nobel Prize recipient, child molester. Then over on the right, I will write World War II veteran, Vietnam veteran and I will say okay class, we are going to take a vote, we are going to pick this word Rapist, you are going to go how many, you are going to tell me whether you want it to go under World War II veteran or Vietnam veteran. Lets take a vote, and often it is not unanimous, but I have never had a negative term put under World War II, I have never had a positive term put under Vietnam veterans and these kids are the unwashed. I mean they were not there, they didnt form their mind set during the antiwar movement or anything else but it is totally engrained in them that this is who we were collectively and this is what America did during the Vietnam War and that is the tragedy. You know, the Gulf War, nobody ever made a comment about this, but every single officer in that war and it was a hammer crushing a fly which is what we have had some talk about that today though that the gradualization, every one of those officers from the rank of Colonel up through Schwartzkopf was a Vietnam veteran but nobody ever made that connection.
I am going to quit talking and I have got to get out of here pretty quickly anyway.
Fred Rice: You said several times that you checked the records and you checked hundreds and thousands, I am sure, I am sure you dont go and fill out an individual form each time, how do you get that many records that quickly because there is a couple of guys I would like to check on locally too that I am really suspicious of?
Burkett: Lot of times, I dont get them quickly, but one of the things that has happened which happens to any others is, if you deal with an organization repeatedly, and I probably, you think about it, I have probably put in, even now, I have probably put in 1 FOIA request a day. I can fax it. I mean I know who to send it to, a lot of the people in these facilities whether it is the FBI or wherever it is, I work a lot for the FBI, I am doing a lot with the FBI, I am doing a lot with the Justice Department, lot of their Vietnam military cases they come to me ..
Fred Rice: They go to St. Louis?
Burkett: No, no I show them how to do that, they can get it directly obviously, I mean if I get a case, an FBI case, I dont do the leg work at that point, I take the FBI and then I walked in through, okay what we need to get down to the morning reports, here whatever we get that, you need to witness reports, heres where you get that, I personally go after it, it is just a blank standard sentence, I have got the blank form letter now, but it just says under the Freedom of Information Act, please give me the releasable information in the military record of the full name, of course all their data bank has got first name, middle initial, last name, branch of service, and then here is the hard part, typically you have to have the Social Security Number or the service number, but I have got a network now that tends to make that much easier because there are data banks out there, these private detectives have them and You want to be afraid of Big Brother? -- Worry about the network -- the CIA ought to call them before they call an agent. In my county and in Texas, you can go to the county seat and anything on that individual in the computer and like if hes got a divorce in there, his social security number is in there. If he has a voter record, typically he does not have to put social security number but probably 80% of the people do. A lot of times, I have may just know that he is from New Jersey and I know the prefixes for New Jersey and so, you know. I am not successful 100% of the time getting records, but I have now got what I would call the Network and you know, I am helping a lot of people and those people tend to help me.
Fred Rice: Quick comment to confirm that I was one of Professor Capps guest speakers at the University of California in Santa Barbara. I stood outside the door and my daughter got me invited there. She was a student there at that time, she said it is time to go in. I walked in and I damn near died. I looked up in this hall, a huge lecture hall, with 800 students in there, and not a one of them had a clue about anything about Vietnam and I went through a lot of the statistics that may have come from you. I think this was in 1991 that I spoke up there, about the time the Gulf War was there. My son was in the Gulf flying Cobras at that time and I give a lot of statistics about Vietnam. The kids jaws, in that audience, just dropped. They didnt have a clue about anything correct about Vietnam, so you are absolutely right.
Burkett: Ive had one or two episodes of students where they have decided to do a paper on Vietnam and their father may be a Vietnam veteran and they give the kid my book, sometime they even travel up the University of Texas, they come spend an afternoon with me, we go through a lot of stuff and when they go back, the professor gives them flack for information that they put in this paper, I mean it is a fight. They dont want that stuff, that is not what they expect.
Question: First I would like you to commend that I wanted to meet you for a longtime ever since I read your book but my question is a little personal. I have been sitting here and thinking about everything you have done. Have you had any death threats?
Burkett: I have had a couple of very early on when I mentioned those guys in Texas that had felony conviction, they had a whole cadre of fellow felons they were running together most of them claiming to be veterans and I got a couple of threats, phone threats etc, but that was really before I had gone public. Once you tend to go public, you gather supporters and it gets harder for somebody to do something. Having said that, I gave a speech in Syracuse for a US Congressmen, they met me at the airport and two plain clothes deputies immediately kind of ushered me into a bulletproof car, took me to a hotel, put me in a secure room at the top, put a deputy in the lobby and said that they had a phoned-in death threat, I gave that talk in a Kevlar vest and I had four deputies in the front table and they were like eight of us on a table like this but the two on either side of and were both armed plain clothes deputies, I mean nothing. There was a guy confronted me as we went out the door that scared me, he didnt let him, because he jumped out from behind the door, it was a Vietnam veteran and they immediately kind of corralled him. He was mad because his buddy was the one that I got in federally convicted.
Just two days ago, Sam Johnson, who I know, had a long discussion with him and he brought that subject up and he said that he had heard threats against me, physical threats against me which did not cheer me up any but nobody personally has. If you go on the internet out there, there is a whole group of guys that tend to not to just attack me but attack anybody that saying the kind of things we are saying in here, so anyway.
Question: Keep up the good work.
Burkett: Thank you.
Max Friedman: What record groups were you looking at, at the Archives. You were looking at JAG, which was record group 125, what was it?
Burkett: JAG records, I work with them sparingly because only when I need a court martial record of some Vietnam veteran possibly and those tend to be couple of different, and, frankly, a lot of times now, when I need something I will just call one or two individuals that are kind of know where everything is, where would I find and they give me a phone number and somebodys name, and then they put in a word for me and they will go get it. The JAG record of World War II things, what we ended up discovering initially, discovering there was a JAG summary right after the war, they did a summary of what JAG did during the war and it was a statistical summary of all the kinds of cases, the conviction rates, the ultimate sentences and all that, it was a pretty thick report and once I discovered that, I was able to go to another guy that I knew warehoused a lot of the World War II records and some of the JAG stuff and I asked him about these cases, and he said oh yeah, we have got them, I can give you every case of every guy who was executed and we pulled some and one of the interesting things about that is a large number of, way out of proportion, were Black, I mean which would make a story in itself, so.
R. J. Del Vecchio: On the statistics, I have heard for many years, the proper statistics who was not really singled out such as blacks, but I once heard that if you did a careful analysis the one group that actually was represented at a statistically higher level among casualties, were not only Caucasians but Catholic Caucasians?
Burkett: That is true.
Question: Kerry is not really all the way Catholic?
Burkett: He was Jewish until he became Catholic. Voted for it then he voted against it.
Steve Sherman: Jug sets a really good example for us because he is taking something [in which] there is absolutely a stone wall in front of him, a picture of who the Vietnam veteran is. Nobody cares. Nobody thinks it is important and he has made people see the importance of it and he is a model for all of us in what we do here.
Burkett: You know, one thing that has happened and I would hesitate to even mention it. I recently spoke to a couple of guys in Hollywood two years ago and I to self publishers there, I could not get anybody publish it and start an own publishing company and off we went and of course we won the Colby Award for the outstanding military book that we beat out Black Hawk Down. You know, every time I start saying one sentence, I think of another. By the way, in We Were Soldiers Once and Young, there was guy named Krisher who ultimately became President of the First Cav Association -- phony as hell. He was not in that battle and Galloway discovered it by the time the paperback was at the printer. A guy named Krisher, he is in there. He is dragging in casualties. He is getting ammo. He actually started the Ia Drang Valley Association and then became President of First Cav Association and I checked his military record, he had been in the unit but he was discharged four months before that battle. Which goes to show nobody can spot a phony, I mean you know, you may spot the obvious but there are thousands out there and some of them have been out there for ever. I just nailed a guy in Southern Indiana that had been the hero for 40 years up there, he was an Ace Marine Corps, shot down 19 Jap Zeroes, had two Navy Crosses and was President at World War II commemoration connected with the national memorial who was total bunk. The guy was an aircraft mechanic, that taught at a school I think in Alabama and never left the state.
Fred Rice: I dont think this is going to happen this fast, but the same phenomenon is starting to a lesser degree with Veterans in the Gulf War and the current war. There was a picture in the local Legion newspaper, the state Legion newspaper up in New Hampshire, of a young man who had come back to visit his father, he had like 10 or 12 years in, he was a Spec Four. He had something like 20 ribbons and it showed a picture of him with fouragers all over the place and he had three marksman, expert and sharp shooter badges with three ladders under each one, now you known damn well, nobody in todays Army had qualified for that many things that came out in the categories just right. That is the one reason I want to find out, how do you get somebodys military records because I want to find him and if that kid is lying I want to expose him.
Burkett: I have got a website Stolen Valor.com and there is actually a page on it, you are sure to got to get a record. Again it is fairly easy, it is just going to take you to the long time.
I didnt really finish the statement about Hollywood. They bought the book and two producers out there said, what are you going to do with this, I mean, I can image a documentary and the guy says, you cant make any money out of documentary. Of course they did not know Michael Moore. They are going to make dramatic series out of the says, and I said how the hell you are going to do that, they say Well! It is going to be a modern version, Delta Force team at Fort McPhearson and a lot of Vietnam connections, the majors father who was lost in Vietnam. They are going to have all these missions around the country and then the other setting is a news service in Atlanta with reporters chasing military stories and you know there is drama in each setting and they trip over each other and all of your phony stories are going to get fed into this script. I have seen it, it is a great thing, patriotic as hell, I mean you hear the Star Spangled Banner and everything else. They go out and shop that. The powers that be in Hollywood say, hey, dramatic series, you know, we going reality and the only dramatic series are extension of already successful dramatic series, they have come back now and they almost finished developing a military most wanted but it is an exposÚ of these phonies in the same way that had military most wanted goes after people and of course we do things like the Brian Dennehys and all these cases that I mentioned except that it would be developed on the air and there would be little bit part of history why does it matter, what is the Navy Cross and why is this SOB running for public office claiming he has them.
Tim Loperis?: One thing, I just wondering if you could comment on one thing that struck me. You mentioned that actually that the white population had disproportionately suffered the casualties in Vietnam. I just was struck by a local paper in St. Louis that did a study of the casualties in the current War on Terror that though the United States is what 75 to 76% urban, two-thirds of the deaths have been in small town USA, was that also true in the Vietnam war and another wars?
Burkett: Well a little bit and it was hard, in one of the things that there was study done by MIT with some military types and what they discovered is that 26% of the casualties came from the upper third, 30% came from the lower third and the rest came from the middle class, the middle third, so again, and we all know, a lot of people I know, one of the incentives for me, I knew I was going to go but it was a great additional incentive, the fact that I had the GI bill, my father was military, he didnt have a bunch of money and keep sending me to school forever, so there was an economic incentive to do this. One of things when I talked to lot of people that are in manpower, it was a tendency you know, blacks have a harder time because of their educational level tends to be lower, their health aspects tend to be lower, they tend to go into acquire a skill which means if they are not going to be wild -- Learning how to fire machine gun is not going to help them but if they learn to drive a bulldozer or become an electrician, etc, -- so they tend to not be as heavily represented in combat. The white guys tend to have generational combat veterans in their background and they kind of go on the line of what father did, grandfather did, that type of thing and if you look at the elite units, there is a disproportionate number of whites in the Green Berets, SEALS, and that type of thing.
Steve Sherman: Pardon me for introducing politics into here, but when you talk about urban versus rural areas, it is my impression that the Party out of power right now has a thing about not sending their kids to be in uniform and you are more likely to find somebody from the so called Red States in uniform and among the casualties figures you are likely to find there a scion of the Democratic Party?
Burkett: The other thing is rural areas tend to be farm communities too and it is tougher to get a job in those areas. I mean you got some guy whos got three sons and I am not going to take over Dads farm and it is a way to get out of the town, get an education, get the GI bill and you got more opportunities in the cities and you have . . .
Audience: Are you still a stockbroker?
Burkett: Yes. Actually I took a leave of absence because I taking a lot of static due to a lot of this outside activity, so we are in a kind of a neutrality between the wars, I guess is the best way to phrase it.
Mike Benge: Correct me on part of this, because I dont quite remember all it, except one of the Iraq POWs who got released and then he came home and I think it was his stepfather that was on TV with him and he claimed to be a Vietnam POW and he was exposed but he was not a POW, am I right on that?
Burkett: I had nothing to do with that. I will tell you one of the cases that I was peripherally involved in was this Navy SEAL, who had touted his whole war record, to his two sons forever, and they were going to follow in Dads footsteps. They are now on active duty, they are now both Navy SEALs. Dad never stepped foot in Navy SEALs. Anyway thank you.