Exposing Fraudulent War Heroes

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Dec. 2, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.




JOHN GIBSON, HOST: My next guest has been honored for exposing the dishonorable. Vietnam veterans who lie about their service. B.G. Burkett (search) served in Vietnam himself. Yesterday, he received the distinguished Civilian Service Award (search) from former President Bush. Mr. Burkett joins me now from College Station, Texas. Mr. Burkett, the big question — what did you do to win the Civilian Service medal?

B.G. BURKETT, AUTHOR OF STOLEN VALOR: Well, the former president of the United States, and the secretary of the Army and our military leaders put a high premium on the truth. And they saw that in my work and they saw that in the book that I co-authored with Glenna Whitley called Stolen Valor.

GIBSON: What was it that you were exposing?

BURKETT: Well, there's been a myth that has perpetuated itself the last 30-some-odd years that Vietnam veterans, the men who fought there, were unemployed, unemployable, drug-addicted criminals, unable to conform to society and its rules and it's just — it's completely bunk.

GIBSON: Because your research has showed what?

BURKETT: Well, for instance, Vietnam veterans have one of the lowest unemployment rates in America. Their unemployment rate is lower than those who didn't go in the service from our peer group. They have one of the highest per capita incomes. They have the highest educational rate. Seventy one percent of Vietnam veterans went back to school on the GI Bill, highest home ownership rate. Very few are incarcerated for any crimes. Everything that you typically believe — they weren't drafted and forced to go to Vietnam. In fact, 75 percent of them were volunteers, which is more than twice the volunteer rate of World War II veterans.

GIBSON: Who did you discover was or were lying about their record in Vietnam?

BURKETT: Well, there are actually tens of thousands. The Veterans' Administration, for instance, pays money for those who make up stories about being traumatized in Vietnam. You make up a halfway convincing story, you can get $36,000 a year tax-free inflation indexed. And most of the facilities never check a military record to confirm whether the man was even in Vietnam. I've checked over 2,000 news stories since 1986, CBS documentaries, biographies that have been Military Book Club selection of the month, and 75 percent of the ones I've checked, have been bogus. The men have been lying.

GIBSON: What do they lie about?

BURKETT: Well, Congressman Wes Cooley (search) is an example. Now he happened to be claiming that he was a Korean War vet, served in a special forces unit. Used to beat his opponents with his military record. I proved, in fact, he was in basic training when the Korean War ended. Brian Dennehy (search), the actor, award-winning actor, would get tough-man parts, early in his career largely based on his combat in Vietnam. And I proved the man was never in combat, never served in Vietnam. Joe Yandle (search) in Boston was let out of prison on a murder sentence, life without parole, commuted by the governor, because he convinced everyone he was a Vietnam War hero and Vietnam made him do it. I proved that he was in the brig when he claimed he was fighting... he never served in Vietnam. And everything that the governor had, the investigators had, Yandle himself had forged.

GIBSON: How difficult is it to arrive at the truth about somebody's service records? Is it just a matter of going and looking it up?

BURKETT: Well, it is not quite that easy. It's a Freedom of Information request. And when you do that, of course, you're dealing with the bureaucracy, which tends to be slow and cumbersome. But the data is there. You can get — and I didn't realize this until back in the late '80s that you can actually get a military record, that it was available to you under the Free Information Act. There are certain parts of it that are covered by the Privacy Act. You can't get medical records, and next of kin and home addresses. But I can get all the chronological data about a man's records, all these decorations, the dates of his assignments, the dates of his promotions, that type of thing.

GIBSON: Mr. Burkett, thank you very much. Appreciate it and congratulations on your award.

BURKETT: Well, thank you, sir.

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