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Ron Webb presents to the North Georgia Veterans PHOTO BY DAVID HOWE

Stolen Valor: How bias against the Vietnam War spread through the media

BY DAVID HOWE

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stolen valor cover art“The anti-war movement and media bias against the Vietnam War began with a February 27, 1968 network newscast by Walter Cronkite.” So quoted Ron Webb in his April 10 presentation to the regular lunch meeting of the North Georgia Veterans.

His source was the book “Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History,” authored by B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitely.

In the book, the authors unmask people who used their false and misleading representations of Vietnam War experience to become objects of award-winning television documentaries, best-selling authors, and career successes based on apparent non-existent Vietnam service. Webb said that Burkett cited cases in which violent crimes were falsely labeled “acts of a deranged, homicidal Vietnam vets,” giving rise to and reinforcing negative stereotypes.

Burkett was a decorated Army officer who served in Vietnam in 1968 – 1969 and Whitely was a reporter for the Dallas Morning News.

According to Webb, Burkett was motivated to write the book after completing his Vietnam service when he was accused of being a war criminal, and later on, when his detective work disproved a conclusion that the brutality of a Dallas murder was evidence of the perpetrator’s Vietnam combat experience (the individual never served in Vietnam and was an Army clerk who never saw combat, according to Burkett).

Webb noted Burkett’s conclusion that Cronkite breached journalistic standards of the time when he editorialized during his newscast that the war was a “stalemate’ and “unwinnable.” This followed Cronkite’s personal visit to Vietnam following the 1968 Tet offensive.

Cronkite’s statements contradicted statistics offered by Burkett showing that by all measures, Tet was a devastating defeat for the North. Burkett then observed that soon after this broadcast, CBS and other media organizations began a relentless drumbeat of anti-war sentiment.

Webb recounted a number of other stories from “Stolen Valor.” A shocking closeup photo of a North Vietnamese soldier being shot in the head was widely distributed and touted as an example of the wanton violence of the war. The actual context: the soldier in the photo had just murdered a Saigon Police Commander, his wife and three children, according to Burkett.

A critically acclaimed Dan Rather documentary entitled “The Wall Within” highlighted several Vietnam veterans, like Steve Southards, who claimed to be a Navy SEAL that slaughtered whole villages of men, women and children and disguised them to look like acts of the NVA and North Vietnamese. Southards was found to be a Navy mechanic stationed in the Philippines who spent most of his time in the brig for being AWOL, according to Burkett, and arrived home in a straitjacket, alcohol- and drug-addicted.

George Gruel claimed to be a flight deck operator on the USS Ticonderoga. He related a terrible accident during which a friend was brutally killed and left Gruel unable to work. He collected PTSD benefits from the VA. Burkett said in his book that when the accident happened, Gruel was not on deck, and that the ship had been converted to a submarine warfare ship operating off the California coast.

Mikal Rice said he was Marine Corp infantry and told of numerous attacks on Cam Ranh Bay where he was stationed. Burkett found that in fact he was an MP who never served in combat.

Burkett covered additional stories in which claims were not researched and verified through records generally available to reporters but ignored, resulting in the proliferation in many cases of the stereotype of the deranged homicidal Vietnam veteran.

Webb shared several other stories from the book about better-known individuals like actor Brian Dennehey, future Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry, and Senator Richard Blumenthal, all of whom, according to Burkett, misrepresented or invented inflammatory stories of their Vietnam War service.

Webb stated his personal conclusion that beginning with the influential Cronkite report, the resulting narrative promoted by network media organizations resulted in a prevailing view that the war was immoral, illegal and unnecessary. He says this was largely responsible for the loss of confidence of the American people, the ultimate loss of the war and international repercussions that still impact us today.

Ron Webb served in the U.S. Air Force as an Air Policeman from 1962 to 1966 with a tour in Vietnam in 1965 -1966. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Georgia State University and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Central Michigan University.

Webb served four years with the Georgia State Patrol and six years as a Special Agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. In 1978, he was appointed as a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and served 22 years, attaining executive rank as an Assistant Special Agent in Charge.

Webb is a past president of the North Georgia Veterans and is the founder and current president of the Northeast Georgia Veterans Society, headquartered in Cleveland, Ga.

North Georgia Veterans welcomes active duty and honorably discharged members of all branches of U.S. military service. There is no cost to join. Lunch meetings are held on the second Wednesday each month in Mountains Grille at The Clubhouse at Lake Sconti with reservations required by the Tuesday prior to the meeting. Meetings start at 11:30 a.m. and include a $17 buffet lunch and program. Application and reservations can be made online at ngvets.org.

Ed note: Stolen valor is a term for the behavior of military imposters: individuals who lie about their military service. Stolen valor may also refer to: Stolen Valor, a 1998 book  

Stolen Valor Act of 2005, a United States law. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 (Pub.L. 113–12; H.R. 258) is a United States federal law that was passed by the 113th United States Congress. The law amends the federal criminal code to make it a crime for a person to fraudulently claim having received a valor award specified in the Act, with the intention of obtaining money, property, or other tangible benefit by convincing another that he or she received the award.

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