Incident at Muc Wa

Vietnam, lies, and the media

Stolen Valor
Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation was Robbed of its Heroes and its History
(B.G. Burkett & Glenna Whitley)

Where to begin? Well, for openers, Burkett filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the military records of the famously liberal Dan Rather, then anchor of the CBS Evening News. Recalling how Rather spent much of the 1990 campaign beating up on Dan Quayle for avoiding the Vietnam draft as a member of the National Guard, Burkett gleefully discovered that Rather himself hid out from the Korean War as a member of the Reserves. When he graduated from college in 1954, after the war was safely over, Rather joined the Marines and was discharged as medically unfit after four months. Of course, this didn't stop Rather from proudly identifying himself as an ex-Marine!

This by way of preface to a CBS documentary called "The Wall Within," in which Rather and his camera team prowled the Washington woods in search of "trip-wire vets" who were so crazed by their Vietnam experience that they could not safely live in society. Guess what? They were bogus. Of the CBS poster boys for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD), most never served in Vietnam, and those who did were in non-combat roles. Some of them didn't even live in the woods. (It's not just CBS, of course. David Brinkley, Linda Ellerbee, and other television notables also take their lumps.)

Vietnam wannabe And so it goes! After a few chapters, what surprises the reader is the chance occasion when a story turns out to be true. Are there any genuine Viet-vet horror stories out there? Take the gent on the left, whose photograh appeared in hundreds of newspapers across the country, sobbing manfully at the Traveling Wall on Memorial Day 1996, while outfitted in the standard-issue wannabe uniform of boonie hat, fatigues, and mismatched pins and patches. He's Roni DeJoseph of Brooklyn, who evidently never served in the U.S. military, never mind the Marine division in Vietnam that he claimed as his own.

This is a fascinating book that may come into its own, now that service in and around that war (Bush's stint in the Texas Air Guard, Kerry's in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War) has become a political hot-button. [The review was written in 2000.] It took me a long time to get around to it, largely because the book was self-published. My loss! If you're interested in the Vietnam War, PSTD, and the perennial but mysterious phenomenon of the fake war hero (or the even more amazing phenomenon of the fake anti-war hero, get a copy for yourself. By the time you've read a couple hundred pages--it's a long book--you'll find yourself wondering if anybody is what he says he is. -- Daniel Ford

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty

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