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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dan Rather, Vietnam Vets, and a False History DVD at a School Near You

Jack Kemp


The following article is largely based a Vietnam veterans’ book, “Stolen Valor” by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. Indeed, they are the ones who made this piece possible. I am just keeping the authors’ words alive in the public consciousness, if I may use a Sixties phrase. This article introduces (or re-introduces) the authors’ work to people who also lived through those times but may have forgotten some of the details – and perhaps a younger audience who doesn’t know this history or this 1998 book. The fact that is was published in Dallas by Verity Press, rather than by a big New York publishing house is more than coincidental. I am not receiving any financial or in-kind compensation for writing this article that, in fact, is a recommendation for “Stolen Valor.” This book has won the William E. Colby Award for Outstanding Military Book – and it is well deserved.

Dan Rather chose to go forward with poorly researched efforts in 2004 to discredit President George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard, the so called “Memogate” affair which cost him and several others their jobs at CBS.,2933,143871,00.html A small Alabama air base office with an outmoded typewriter was supposed to have produce a report with an elevated miniature “th,” a capability only available on an advanced IBM Selectric typewriter, as found in fancy big city offices at that time, was just one of amateurish claims that Dan Rather defended with his showcasing a “witness” who said (both to and for him) that the memos were “fake but true.”

But there was another brazen act of “fake but true” journalism” in Dan Rather’s past.

In 1998, the book “Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heroes and its History” by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley was published. Its fifth chapter was entitled “CBS Hits ‘The Wall Within’” and chronicled the 1988 television documentary hosted by Dan Rather. The program displayed interviews and spoke of the lives of six Vietnam veterans living in the Pacific Northwest. They were allegedly suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to their combat related service, with the heavy implication that Vietnam veterans contained a high amount of servicemen who suffered drug and alcohol addiction, committed many murders, had an inability to hold down a job, were homelessness, suffered despair, etc.

The book further states how this documentary became part everyone’s home and school life NOW as accepted “truth.” That means, in many cases, yours or your neighbor’s children. Page 90 states:

“The documentary was so acclaimed it became part of the CBS video history series on the Vietnam War. Dignified with a formal introduction by Walter Cronkite, once the nation’s premier war correspondent, the series sold for $150. Designated as official ‘history,’ marketed to schools and other institutions, the video now forever perpetuates the image of the Vietnam vet as a walking time bomb.”


The problem was that the CBS documentary’s six veterans’ stories, after being investigated in detail by Burkett and Whitley, turned out to be either false or greatly distorted.

One serviceman shown was named “Steve” who supposedly became a Navy SEAL at age 16, fought behind enemy lines in Vietnam, mentally snapped and came home in a “straight jacket.” (page 88, “Stolen Valor”).

For added drama, Rather asked the following of Steve on camera (pages 88-89, “Stolen Valor”):

“You’re telling me that you went into the village, killed people, burned part of the village, then made it appear that the other side had done this?” Rather asked.


“For propaganda purposes at home.”

“That is correct.”

Dan Rather had been a correspondent in Vietnam in 1965-1966. “He (Dan) had to know that there were no sixteen-year-old Navy SEALs in Vietnam or anywhere else. The minimum enlistment age is seventeen; in modern times, it is extremely difficult to enlist in the military without a valid birth certificate.” (Page 89, “Stolen Valor). And it takes two years of rigorous training to become a SEAL. It seems CBS was unthinkingly making up sensational statements as they went along.

CBS went to great effort to not reveal Steve’s last name, but Accuracy in Media, in condemning CBS portrayal of all Vietnam Vets as “tragedies,” also revealed a last name of “Barbe” for Steve. This lead to the book authors tracking down Steve’s ex-wife and her telling the authors her former husband had served under the last name of “Southards,” as well as sending the writers a copy of Steve’s DD-214 form (a government record showing service and separation from the military).

After filing a Freedom of Information request on Steve, this is what Burkett and Whitley found (page 93):

“But Southards was not a SEAL, nor had he taken any SEAL training. There had been no military trainers creating an “Eighteen-cent-an-hour assassin,” no participation in secret programs to murder Vietnamese civilians.

In reality, Southards was an ‘internal communications repairman,’ assigned to rear area bases, and had no combat decorations. His only special training was a ‘mootino picture operations course (16 mm),’ at Subic Bay in the Philippines. Southards did receive a Navy Unit Commendation Medal, as did all members of his unit…”

After his transfer to the Philippines, Southards spent several months in the brig for going AWOL six times. Little that Southards had told Rather was true except that he had been in the Navy and his first name was Steve.”

One of the authors further notes that (page 94):

“The irony was inescapable. I, a rank amateur, had been able to verify with several phone calls and an FOIA request that the description Steve had given of his military service and his tales of atrocities was fraudulent. Before interviewing Southards, another producer had tried to verify his background and found his ex-wife, as I had. Apparently CBS, while meticulously preparing its trumpeted ‘return to the documentary’ for over a year, had made no effort to obtain Steve’s record independently.”

Rather then told the story George Gruel, who witnessed a spinning propeller cut his close friend in half on the deck of the U.S.S. Ticonderoga. This had traumatized him, he said, giving him PTSD. There was also shown the story of Terry Bradley, “the fighting sergeant” who had “claimed to have skinned alive up to fifty Vietnamese men, women, even babies, in an hour…” (Page 89, “Stolen Valor”).

The authors first investigated the spelling “George Gruel” and found he was not on the Ticonderoga when this propeller accident/death occurred, nor was he listed as one of the twelve witnesses in the written report of the tragedy. There was no record of this spelling of his name even being in the Navy, but a 1994 Readers’ Digest article had the correct spelling of “George Greul,” something the “professionals at CBS” couldn’t ascertain. Greul had served on the U.S.S. Ticonderoga and received the Vietnam Service Medal – but no propeller accident had occurred while he was on the ship sometime within his Navy hitch between February 1969 and December, 1972.

“Greul told McConnell (the Readers’ Digest journalist) the death of his friend (by propeller) occurred between July and October 1971, when the ship was off the coast of Vietnam on ‘secret presidential orders’ to mine Haiphong Harbor. Greul verified that he had been declared 100 percent disabled by the psychological trauma the accident caused; he receives $1,952 a month in service-connected compensation payments from the VA. (page 95)”

I’m no naval warfare expert, but who would send an aircraft carrier, huge and slow turning, into a harbor to lay mines? The authors found “the Ticonderoga had been converted to an anti-submarine warfare carrier in 1970, during Greul’s service. It is impossible to believe Greul’s story is true, in my opinion.

As for Terry Bradley, “the fighting sergeant,” his unit - the 25th Infantry Division - had served too close to Saigon for such an atrocity to go unreported, the book authors’ claim. And Bradley’s records show he was not a combat soldier, but an “ammo handler.” Having a pre-service record of mental problems, “In three-and-a-half years of service, Bradley spent three hundred days either AWOL or in the stockade.” (Page 94). In fact, Dan Rather may have been able to check on this story with his fellow CBS newsman Steve Croft, a 25th Infantry Vietnam veteran who worked for CBS’s news show “West 57th” in New York at that time.

The producers of this story, Paul and Holly Fine, had interviewed eighty-seven Vietnam veterans before they chose “the four of five saddest cases to put on film,” said Mrs. Sarah Lee Pilley, the wife of Marine lieutenant colonel “who had seen heavy combat in Vietnam. But they lost interest when they realized how successful he had become after the war.” (Pages 104-105).

Mrs. Pilley points out what was missing from Dan Rather’s documentary were any stories of Vietnam veterans who made a success of their lives after the war. Some of the other more famous Vietnam vets include former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Dallas Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach, actors Patrick Duffy, Steve Kanaly, Dennis Franz and Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak - all Vietnam veterans. Washington Post publisher Donald Graham, Post editor Lou Marano and foreign correspondent Herb Denton are also Vietnam veterans. (Page 69, Chapter 3 of “Stolen Valor”).

Walter Anderson, a Marine veteran who became editor of Parade Magazine. He wrote the book “The Confidence Course.” Anderson came from a home where his father, an alcoholic who later died in an institution, beat him as a boy for trying to learn how to read (with the help of a black woman neighbor, a Columbia U. grad). The book title comes from his Marine basic training. Anderson also taught a version of his “Confidence Course at colleges and had a night class version (at the Learning Annex, if my memory serves me) in New York City where I privilege of being in his class for many weeks. He is anything but the image of a Vietnam vet that Dan Rather tried to portray on film.

What is left out here is the hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans whose names are recognizable only to their families and their communities where they have succeeded in building solid lives and contributing to America. You know, the type of people Dan Rather went out of his way NOT to find for his revisionist history television “documentary.”

The best conclusion to this piece comes from “Stolen Valor” authors B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley.

In a rare moment of truth - quoted on page 106 - Dan Rather, in a speech at the Radio and Television News Directors Association on September, 10th, 1993, said:

“He warned that other news organizations, including CBS, couldn’t rejoice over the “Dateline NBC” disaster, when NBC producers were caught using tiny rockets to fake a truck crash test. ‘it could happen to us,’ Rather said.

It could happen to Dan Rather – and did twice – because what he described as pressure for ratings was really pressure for sensationalistic ratings that also supported a leftist worldview that “knew” Vietnam veterans were all very troubled individuals and therefore one shouldn’t go into the military. The net effect of this was fact checking on the level of a tabloid with a cover story claiming flying saucers hovered over Elvis Presley’s grave.

FINAL NOTE: The authors have a website, which has a form to “Report a Fake” (veteran or fake combat “hero”) and an investigative team.

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