Skip to comments.One Vet's Valor (B. G. Burkett is a myth-buster, a truth-teller, and a hero)
Posted on 09/29/2004 4:54:31 AM PDT by Niks
Over the past 20 years, determined Vietnam veteran B. G. "Jug" Burkett has succeeded in challenging hundreds of phony military records — but he has not succeeded in holding the media accountable when they carelessly rely on bogus service stories to make political points. Burkett is now getting some welcome reinforcements: the corps of amateur experts whose instant analysis demolished the credibility of CBS's purported Bush National Guard records. (B. G. Burkett is not to be confused with Bill Burkett, the man who gave the phony documents to CBS.) "The Dan Rathers of the world can no longer put up a story and have everyone nod approvingly," he declares. "The Internet has changed the landscape."
Burkett's crusade to debunk pervasive myths about his fellow veterans has made him a post-Vietnam War hero. In 1986, he fired off a letter to his local TV station — and to the chairman of the board of CBS — to protest the affiliate's egregious failure to correct the record about a mass killer's purported Vietnam service; he received no reply. It was Burkett's first experience with the media's stubborn disregard for the truth when it conflicted with their preferred storyline. Over the next two decades, such blow-offs would become a routine occurrence for this dedicated one-man truth squad.
A month before Burkett's first letter, he had agreed to help raise money for a memorial to honor the Texans who were killed or missing in action in Vietnam. One veteran warned him that it wouldn't be easy, recounting that when he had approached one of the wealthiest men in Dallas for a donation, the response was, "Why the hell should I give any money to those bums?" Burkett himself is a successful financial adviser, and the veterans of his acquaintance are equally successful in life; but he quickly learned that the Vietnam veteran of national stereotype was a far different creature. In his 1998 book, Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History, he recounts that "the public's perception of Vietnam veterans became abundantly clear. They were losers, bums, drug addicts, drunks, derelicts — societal offal who had come back from the war plagued by nightmares and flashbacks that left them with the potential to go berserk at any moment." They were like Patrick Henry Sherrill.
On August 20, 1986, Sherrill killed 14 employees in a post office in Edmond, Okla., before turning the gun on himself. The local news reported that Sherrill was a Vietnam veteran, and repeated that assertion even after a Navy spokesman had said it wasn't true and Burkett had contacted the news room and told them about the Navy's statement. Sherrill had served stateside in the Marine Corps in the mid-Sixties. Burkett concluded that the only thing most people would likely remember was that a "Vietnam vet" had killed 14 people, and noted the terrible irony that went largely unreported: Two of the seven men killed by Sherrill were real Vietnam veterans, one the grandson of Knute Rockne.
Two years later, another "violent Vietnam veteran kills" story exploded in Texas and Burkett filed a FOIA request for the killer's records. He learned that he had entered the service 17 months after the last combat troops had left Vietnam. This information was available to any reporter who cared to check but, as Burkett was also learning, reporters didn't care. The local paper's publisher responded to Burkett's letter pointing out the error with a condescending note about the "special problems" faced by Vietnam veterans and refused to correct the story. The refusal launched Burkett on a mission that would result in his becoming an expert witness in military-criminal cases, an indispensable research asset for academics and journalists, a uniquely knowledgeable media critic, and, with Texas journalist Glenna Whitley, co-author of the acclaimed Stolen Valor.
To assist in his fundraising for the Texas memorial, Burkett bought computer tapes listing all American casualties and POWs in Vietnam from the National Archives. He was told that no one had ever requested these data before. By 1989, the Texas memorial had been funded and Burkett was embarked on a far bigger project. He was filing daily FOIA requests and had become an informal clearinghouse with nationwide contacts who shared information on phony war stories. When he found documentation that veterans cited in news stories had lied about their war service, he would contact the journalist and offer to provide a copy of the veteran's military record. "Whether they were with the New York Times or the Podunk Press," Burkett recalls, "journalists rarely attempted to verify the stories they wrote on veterans' personal histories. Few wanted to acknowledge they had been fooled."
At a conference in the spring of 2000, Mark Bowden, the author of Black Hawk Down, was incredulous when he heard Burkett's accounts of the media hostility he routinely encountered when he attempted to correct the kind of reporting that contributed to the slander of Vietnam veterans. Bowden found it hard to believe that his fellow journalists would ignore Burkett's documented facts, thereby helping to spread "enduring falsehoods about the Vietnam War." But — in an article titled "Lies and More Lies," in the October 2000 issue of Brill's Content — Bowden concluded that was exactly what had happened.
In addition to debunking individual stories, Burkett also began collecting research data to counter the media's stereotype of Vietnam veterans. "The press portrayed us as victims, marched off to war, maimed, poisoned, drug-ridden from our trauma, then dumped back on society." Referring to the anti-war protests in the early 1970s, Burkett notes that "John Kerry did more than anybody to create that image when he brought those bums to Washington."
Burkett's exhaustive research thoroughly debunked the myth represented by Kerry's ragtag band of angry, disaffected protesters. When compared with their non-veteran peers, Vietnam veterans do not have higher incidences of drug abuse, unemployment, suicide, divorce, or homelessness. "In every category for which I could find statistics," writes Burkett, "Vietnam veterans were as successful or more successful than men their age who did not go to Vietnam." Vietnam veterans on average have higher incomes than non-veterans and are more likely to have a college education and own a home. In contrast to John Kerry's portrayal of disillusioned victims, a Washington Post survey taken in 1985 — the tenth anniversary of the fall of Saigon — found that 91 percent of those who served in Vietnam were "glad they served their country."
Burkett thought he was signing on for a short project, but he ended up exposing more than 1,200 bogus Vietnam War records, including those of prominent activists, celebrated war heroes, criminals, politicians, and even a well-known actor. For years, Brian Dennehy publicly maintained he was a Vietnam combat veteran, telling a New York Times reporter in 1989 about his combat wounds, and holding forth about the brutal realities of combat in a 1993 Playboy interview. Burkett's examination of Dennehy's military records showed that during his four years on active duty his only overseas assignment was in Okinawa in 1962, and there was no record of his having ever been wounded.
Last year, Burkett was awarded the Army's highest decoration for civilians, the Distinguished Civilian Service Award. The decoration represents the debt owed Burkett by the 2.7 million veterans who served in Vietnam whose honorable records and reputations he has tirelessly defended. At the award ceremony, an undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs explained that in addition to restoring their good name to Vietnam veterans, Burkett "exposed a mass distortion of history that cost taxpayers billions of dollars" in undeserved veterans benefits. The government pays up to $3,000 a month to Vietnam veterans with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bogus documents have qualified an unknown number of phony veterans for these benefits. Burkett explains that he recently helped conduct a VA study of 100 such alleged PTSD victims chosen at random. They found that "only 39 percent were in remotely close contact with combat, and some were never in the military." Over a lifetime, phonies can collect a million dollars each in VA benefits.
One of Burkett's most shocking accounts of the media bias responsible for the distorted image of Vietnam veterans involves a 1988 CBS documentary, The Wall Within, hosted by Dan Rather. The hour-long special featured horrific accounts of murder and mayhem witnessed by six purported Vietnam veterans with post-war histories of drug abuse, alcoholism, homelessness, and despair. The atrocities and ruined lives were apparently "too good to check": By consulting records that CBS failed to research, Burkett found that only one of the veterans had actually served in combat. Burkett contacted CBS with his documentation and the Veterans Administration shared its data refuting CBS's assertions about the high incidence of homelessness and mental illness among Vietnam veterans. The producers defiantly stood by their bogus story and the president of CBS defended the broadcast. After recounting the sorry episode of journalistic malpractice, Burkett wrote: "Why won't Rather and CBS admit their 'documentary' was a fraud, that it perpetuated an unwarranted, false picture of men who fought in Vietnam?"
Sixteen years ago, the indefatigable B. G. Burkett was fighting a lonely battle to hold the media accountable. With reinforcements in the blogosphere and new media, CBS finally has to say, "We're sorry."
Someday the American public is going to wake up to the fact that the Old Media types have been conducting propoganda and lying to us for years.
bump. Good find.
Great article! Thanks.
"One of Burkett's most shocking accounts of the media bias responsible for the distorted image of Vietnam veterans involves a 1988 CBS documentary, The Wall Within, hosted by Dan Rather. The hour-long special featured horrific accounts of murder and mayhem witnessed by six purported Vietnam veterans with post-war histories of drug abuse, alcoholism, homelessness, and despair. The atrocities and ruined lives were apparently "too good to check": By consulting records that CBS failed to research, Burkett found that only one of the veterans had actually served in combat. Burkett contacted CBS with his documentation and the Veterans Administration shared its data refuting CBS's assertions about the high incidence of homelessness and mental illness among Vietnam veterans. The producers defiantly stood by their bogus story and the president of CBS defended the broadcast. After recounting the sorry episode of journalistic malpractice, Burkett wrote: "Why won't Rather and CBS admit their 'documentary' was a fraud, that it perpetuated an unwarranted, false picture of men who fought in Vietnam?" "
Hopefully this whole CBS thang will open the eyes of the masses who believe whatever is spewed out of the news.
I keep my copy of "Stolen Valor" handy- I like the appendices listing MOH winners and POWs returned alive. Every time I read about a supposed POW speaking out about anything, "S. V." is the first place I check.
You can watch the video of him speaking at the Vietnam Vets "Kerry Lied rally" by clicking on the link below. Powerful stuff.
Bump for FR's military family.
Great post. And very informative.
(What's with all of these- "—"?)
Those of us who did not fight in Iraq must not make the mistake that so many American noncombatants in the Vietnam era made: we must not allow ourselves to be cowed by the fact that they served and we did not.
They are traitors every bit as much as Senator Kerry and his VVAW fellow travelers.
IVAW is associated with VVAW, with the Workers' World Party, with International A.N.S.W.E.R. and other groups which hate this country and try to destroy it.
We need to denounce them and when they say "Oh yeah? I served and you didn't!" we need to respond: "Military service does not excuse treason. It does not excuse associating with America's enemies, with groups like International A.N.S.W.E.R. who were rooting for you to die when you served. It does not excuse stabbing the soldiers who are still serving in Iraq in the back. Benedict Arnold was a soldier too."
I imagine that the little college students won't be directed to this article by their red diaper doper baby professors...
On, Off, or grab it for a Media Shenanigans/Schadenfreude/PNMCH ping:
This concept only got brief treatment in the article, but it is an essential point.
John Kerry is the person most singularly responsible for that false image of Vietnam Veterans. John Kerry is the one who slandered the heroes of that generation. John Kerry is the one who most Stole their Valor. John Kerry's perjured congressional testimony is what most damaged the American public's perception of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. Every hippy who spit on a Vet justified it to himself with John Kerry's lies.
Just a thought...
Is it too far out to assume that part of Rather's cover for his duplicity was knowing that B.G. Burkett and Bill Burkett would be easily confused and so, for the casual fact checker, lend credibility to this RAT's bona fides in passing information on veteran's service?
Since crappy journalism is Dan's stock and trade, and it is widely known that he will use false information and bad testimony to construct his smears, isn't it reasonable that he would also concoct cover in a premeditated fashion to conceal his deceit?
OTOH, that would require some forethought...
Thanks for posting it, Niks.
Help support the Swiftees.
Kerry lied while good men died!
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