STOLEN VALOR: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History

by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley

For 30 years, we have heard that we (Vietnam veterans) are losers. We are so spaced out on drugs and haunted by nightmares of killing babies that we can not hold a job or a relationship. We are a large portion of the prison and homeless population. Most of us suffer from PTSD and exposure to Agent Orange so we are unpredictably dangerous and should be avoided. TV, movies, some veterans groups, and even the Veterans Administration have reinforced this.

Guess what. It is not true.

Most of us have had a gut feeling for a long time that this was not true because it did not individually fit, but because we have avoided other Vietnam veterans we had no confirmation. After all, no self-respecting Vietnam veteran would want to be associated with these losers we hear about from the news media.

Like most of us, Vietnam veteran B.G. Burkett grew up hearing about the heroics of World War II and experienced first hand the respect our fathers, uncles, cousins and neighbors received from our families, communities and country. Most of our heroes were combat veterans, some of which we had met or we knew personally. When our turn came to serve our country, we did it willingly and with pride. But things were different for us. The post Vietnam society we endure is nothing at all like the post World War II society.

Burkett spends 692 pages dispelling the myths of the Vietnam War and its veterans. He describes in great detail how our valor was stolen based on his meticulous research done over ten years. With the help of award winning investigative reporter Glenna Whitley, Burkett describes how the fakes, wannabes, and exaggerators have tainted and tarnished our reputations with the willing help of the news media. Sloppy and poorly researched stories have allowed phony Vietnam veterans to establish a post Vietnam culture that painted an untrue picture for the world public. Burkett's research indicates that as many as 90% of these news-media-appointed representatives never even served in Vietnam!

Glenna Whitley writes in the Preface: "But 'Stolen Valor' is the story of hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans who served their country honorably only to see their efforts and sacrifice denigrated and tarnished. I thank them for their willingness to serve, and I believe Burkett's work will stand as an important watershed in the understanding of the Vietnam War and its impact on those who fought it."

According to Whitley, "The fact is, Vietnam veterans-real Vietnam veterans-are among the most successful generation of warriors in the nation's history. The popular image of the permanently traumatized Vietnam vet, perpetuated by fakes adept at capitalizing on the public image, is so wrong that it almost amounts to a parody."

Burkett has uncovered a much larger story, an immense public fraud almost completely overlooked by the press and historians and other alleged experts on the Vietnam War. As related by Whitley: "Those who fought it were neither particularly young nor disadvantaged nor overwhelmingly black or brown, nor apt to abuse drugs in the jungle or to return home as emotionally devastated misfits. Just the opposite, in fact, has been the case. Vietnam vets have fared as well or better than any other generation of warriors and continue to make important, positive contributions to the nation. In effect, they have been slandered. Burkett's massive investigations reveal a silent conspiracy among both individuals and institutions eager to advance their various agendas and indifferent to the truth, which long since became the first casualty of the Vietnam War.

The myth of the Vietnam veteran as a social misfit, Burkett believes, has been perpetuated by the liars and wannabes who have seized on Vietnam either as an excuse for their problems or as a way to add color to their otherwise drab lives. In their efforts, the fakers have been aided and abetted by the VA, veteran’s advocates, and the mental health care industry. Not only do they denigrate fighting men who were among the finest America ever produced, but also the monetary cost has been enormous for American taxpayers. Even today, the Veterans Administration often does not check the records of those who claim to suffer from maladies caused by Vietnam, even though it is patently clear from Burkett's research that many of those who make the claims never came within spitting distance of Southeast Asia.

But the deeper harm may be to our understanding of our own history. The image of those who fought in Vietnam as poorly educated, reluctant draftees-predominantly poor whites and minorities-is not true.

During the Vietnam War, seven million men volunteered for the military; only two million were drafted. Burkett's research indicates that 75 percent of those who served in Vietnam itself were volunteers.

They were the best-educated and most egalitarian military forces in America's history. In WWII, only 45 percent of the troops had a high school diploma. During the Vietnam War, almost 80 percent of those who enlisted had high school diplomas, and the percentage was higher for draftees-even though, at the time, only 65 percent of military-age youths had a high school degree. Throughout the Vietnam era, the median education level of the enlisted man was about 13 years. Proportionately, three times as many college graduates served in Vietnam than in WWII.

They were hardly teenagers, despite the common belief that youngsters were sent to Vietnam as cannon fodder. An analysis of data from the Department of Defense shows that the average age of the more than 58,000 men killed in Vietnam was almost 23 years old

The stereotype holds that those who died in Vietnam were disproportionately black and Hispanic. About five percent of those killed in action were identified as Hispanic and 12.5 percent were black making both minorities slightly under-represented in their proportion of draft-age males in the national population. (When asked by Burkett, most people guess that 'thousands' of 18-year-old black draftees died in Vietnam. In reality, only seven of the killed-in-action matches that description.)

Another common negative image of the soldier in Vietnam is that he smoked pot and shot up with heroin to dull the horrors of combat. However, except for the last couple of years of the war, drug usage among American troops in Vietnam was lower than for American troops stationed outside the war zone. And when drug abuse rates started to rise in 1971 and 1972, almost 90 percent of the men who fought in Vietnam had already come and gone. A study after the war showed the use of illegal drugs among those who went to war and those who stayed at home to be about the same.

Of the 5,000 men who deserted the U.S. military for various causes during the 10 years of the war, only about 250 did so while attached to units in Vietnam. Only 24 deserters attributed their action to the desire to 'avoid hazardous duty.' And 97 percent of Vietnam veterans received honorable discharges, exactly the same rate for the military in the peaceful 10 years prior to the war.

After the war ended, reports began to circulate of veterans so depraved from their war experiences that they turned to crime, with estimates of the number of incarcerated Vietnam veterans as high as one-quarter of the prison population. But these estimates relied on the self-reporting of criminals. In every major study of Vietnam veterans where military records were verified, a statistically insignificant number of prisoners were found to be Vietnam veterans.

A corollary to the prison myth is the belief that substantial numbers of Vietnam veterans are unemployed. But a study by the Labor Department in 1994 showed that the unemployment rate for Vietnam veterans was 3.9 percent, significantly lower for male veterans of all eras (4.9 percent) and the overall unemployment rate for males (6 percent).

Since the war, panhandlers have buttressed the stereotype of the homeless Vietnam vet with signs like 'Vietnam Vet: Will Work for Food.' But the few studies using military records show that the percentage of Vietnam veterans among the homeless is very small.

The same is true for the belief that Vietnam vets have high rates of suicide. More Vietnam veterans, it is often reported, have died by their own hand than did in combat. Not true. A 1988 study by the Centers for Disease Control found that the suicide rates of Vietnam veterans aren't any different than those of the general population.

Contrary to these perceptions, Vietnam veterans as a group have higher achievement levels than their peers who did not serve in the military. Those who remained in uniform reshaped the American military after the Southeast Asian disaster and mobilized to win the Gulf War with lightning speed. Disproportionate numbers of Vietnam veterans-such as Dallas' own Sam Johnson and Arizona's John McCain, both POWs-serve in Congress. Florida's former congressman (and POW) Pete Peterson is now U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam. Vice President Al Gore is a Vietnam veteran, as is Gen. Colin Powell, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dallas City Manager John Ware is a Vietnam veteran, as is civic leader Roger Staubach, along with scores of our top corporate CEOs. The stereotypes may persist, but meanwhile, real Vietnam vets are helping to run the country."

Burkett's research has been featured on "20/20," Reader's Digest and Vietnam magazine. He has exposed public officials, murderers and veteran organization officials as fakes and wannabes. He illustrates how billions of dollars of tax money has been and is being squandered on fakes and exaggerators. This book is a milestone in post Vietnam War society and should be required reading for everyone impacted by the Vietnam War, especially Vietnam veterans.

Burkett feels a public list of the heroes of the Vietnam War would greatly diminish those claiming phony heroism. As a result for the first time, a list of Distinguished Service Cross recipients are listed in an appendix to this book as well as a list of Medal of Honor, Air Force Cross and Navy Cross recipients. The appendix also includes a list of U.S. Military POWs who returned alive.

What does Burkett want out of this?

He wants an apology. "I want an apology from America to every man and woman who served in Vietnam and to every family who lost a son or a daughter, an apology not for their service or their loss, but for the indifference and disrespect heaped on Vietnam veterans, living or dead, after the war.

It would be nice if the apology was in the form of a joint resolution of Congress and read by the President of the United States at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on an appropriate date. It matters little if the president is a war hero or a draft dodger. Others could be invited to participate: Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, and Joan Baez come to mind, as do members of Congress and the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the period, not to mention Ramsey Clark and Robert McNamara.

Present to accept the apology could be the living Medal of Honor recipients from Vietnam. Guests of honor could be the next of kin of the men and women on The Wall."

Publishing and distributing this book has been a problem for Burkett. It exposes people and tells some things that organizations that have been taking money "on behalf of veterans" do NOT want to be known about themselves. It is viewed by the publishing industry as controversial and subject to law suits so some distributors have refused to carry the book and show it in their directories as being canceled. My local bookstore is one of those. It is NOT canceled. The most reliable source is the publisher, Verity Press, Inc., P.O. Box 50366, Dallas, TX 75250. 800-253-6789. Web site From Verity (which means truth), the book cost is $31.95, plus $4.95 postage and handling (Texas residents add 8.25% sales tax). Optional: Add $3 for copy of Stolen Valor signed by author B.G. Burkett.

The last paragraph of the Acknowledgments by Burkett: "For many authors, the completion of a book creates a sense of triumph and finality. I harbor no such illusion. The publication of this book is a declaration of war against deceit and falsehood. I have no doubt those who embrace such concepts are numerous and will respond."

In this war to retake our valor, I'm in!

Gary Roush
242 ASHC Muleskinners
Cu Chi, Republic of South Vietnam
May 1968 – May 1969