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Stolen Valor, How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heros and History, by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley

Verity Press, Inc., 1999. 692 pp. . $31.95. ISBN:096670360X .

It is a scene that many of us can readily identify. You are on leave, back home in your non-military hometown. Perhaps you are in the local watering hole, or at a family gathering. A Vietnam Veteran, a friend or perhaps an uncle that you have not seen since well before you joined the military is there also and a miniature reunion takes place. He is anxious to "talk shop" with you, regaling you with stories that had once enthralled you but which somehow ring hollow now. You may not be an expert in military history, but you are familiar with the military now that you have been in for some time yourself. You are fairly certain that nobody was simultaneously in the Special Forces and the US Navy SEALS. Come to think of it, something else doesn't quite sit right. Your old friend, while talking about the trauma of combat, also mentions that he enlisted in the spring of 1967 and arrived in Vietnam just prior to Tet '68. Hmmm, that was January 1968. Basic training…AIT…wait a minute, SF does NOT take privates straight out of AIT no matter how good they are! Not to mention the fact that the Q-Course (and SEAL training on top of that?) takes a wee bit longer than the two months that would remain in 1967 if he was to arrive in Vietnam when he said he did.

Keep it to yourself or expose an old friend, in either case you arrive with a fair certainty at the conclusion that you have met a fraud.

Stolen Valor is about this strange phenomenon. According to the authors the fake Vietnam Veteran syndrome has reached near epidemic proportions in the past twenty years. For a variety of reasons, a desire to appear "manly," garner political support or collect VA benefits there are a large number of men (and a few women) that are representing themselves as combat veterans or war-heros of the Vietnam War. In 592 pages Burkett and Whitley expose hundreds of these "wannabes" explode some of the popularly held myths about the Vietnam War. (The rest of the page count is filled with valuable appendices and notes.) The terrible irony is that the peculiar bias of the popular media has promoted and fed the myth that these "wannabes" are in fact representative of the real Vietnam Veteran. (This book went to print just prior to the "Tailwind" fiasco foisted upon America by CNN and Time magazine, but that is the syndrome described here.) According to popular legend (perpetuated by print and television "journalists") Vietnam veterans suffer from higher than normal rates of drug abuse, homelessness and failed marriages. The image of the Vietnam veteran is not the reality that we know, that of the successful businessman or member of the community. Rather it is that of the scruffy bearded homeless man in camo fatigues adorned with numerous unit pins and assorted division patches crying and leaning against the granite at the Vietnam memorial. Stolen Valor sets out to correct that image.

Perhaps then it is no surprise that the book is self-published by Burkett. Several publishers are in fact exposed for publishing entire books written by fakes. Thus, when it came time to publish, despite years of research and a well-written manuscript, not a single publishing house would touch this material. Accordingly, the best place to find this book is, since distribution is not the strong suite of any book which has been self-published by the author.

The book is marvelously researched and well written, representing more than 15 years of work done by Burkett in exposing frauds purporting to be Vietnam Veterans. It is also a work with a purpose. The authors hope that by shedding light on these fakers they may help a generation (Burkett is himself a veteran who served as an Ordnance officer in Vietnam) reclaim some of their honor. As the primary author he sees this work as a public service, and states that while the money from publication may be nice it is really secondary to his objective. After interviewing him on the phone I believe him

Reviewer: Robert L. Bateman   

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