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Home-from-War War Stories: Myth, Media & the Ken Burns Vietnam Series


Home-from-War War Stories: Myth, Media & the Ken Burns Vietnam Series

Jerry Lembcke

Stories of Vietnam veterans treated badly by war protesters proliferated in the years surrounding the Persian Gulf War of 1991. They were the inspiration for the "yellow ribbon campaign" intended to signal that Gulf War veterans would be treated differently. My book inquiring into the origins and veracity of the stories about disparaged Vietnam veterans came out in 1998. Little did I imagine at the time that, 20 years later, versions of the same stories would be figuring in remembrances appearing upon the 50th anniversaries of some important dates of the war in Vietnam.


The persistence of media myth is a kind of self hypnosis. Some myths seem to derive from the continual exposure to Hollywood scripts where we always get the ending that fits the story. So it is that if you are against the protestors or rather want to show support for the soldiers, it makes sense in a Hollywood script, that you portray the protestors as bad in some way. The narrative that protestors were very supportive of returning soldiers doesn’t fit the script. Most returning soldiers were draftees who had had little choice of going or not and protestors knew it.

Secondly, media myths need time to ferment I suppose. Years later the myths become pervasive. Meanwhile, where are the newspaper articles from the time claiming these stories to have happened? Why is it that persistent media myths are never supported by facts or research but the tellers insist that these stories happened. They didn’t happen which is why there aren’t hundreds of stories of incidents at the time.

Some myths need to follow a script and when they do, some people believe them because they have been trained by the media to expect that scene in a script.


Lembcke knows full well that his thesis has been thoroughly disproven yet he persists. Clearly he cares more about his claims then he does about truth. Rather than fill this comment with endless links, I’ll can’t link to the article that I wrote, that includes links to the evidence refuting him, because of the rules. You can go to vvfh dot org and look for Myth 27 for the proof.

Not only were there contemporaneous news articles regarding the poor treatment of returning veterans, there was a TV interview with a man (Delmar PIckett - 1971) who was spit on. As for Lembcke’s claim that the planes flew returning veterans to bases, not commercial airports, he ignores the fact that they then were bussed to commercial airports to fly home, and that is where the maltreatment occurred.

His claim that “there are no news reports or photographs from the war years that document his memory that “throngs of hippies” greeted veterans.” is provably false. In fact, a New York Congressman who was part of the antiwar movement wrote an oped imploring protestors to stop spitting, because he believed it tarnished their image.

To describe how bad it was, even the VFW rejected Vietnam Veterans.


I am a hippie from that generation and I never heard of this happening. If it did happen my guess it was from paid operatives who were agent provocateurs for the pro-war movement better known as republicans. They caused violence at quite a few anti-war gatherings. I remember Nixon recruiting hard hats from construction companies going to these demonstrations beating up non-violent protestors while the police looked the other way and the news media portraying peaceful protestors as trouble makers. I also remember going to huge protests and watching the news report that smaller numbers were there. Lots of lying was going on from the White House and media. The days of really fake news.


Unasked here is the question of just why the myth is propagated.

As with other myths (aka “lies”) such as the Gulf of Tonkin attack and Saddam’s WMDs, the corpress colludes with the warmongers in the knowledge that knowledge is power, and ignorance the currency with which it is purchased by the powerful.

That’s the “allure”.


I was an anti-war protester throughout the Vietnam war era. I was so badly treated I finally decided to leave the country, although I eventually came back in 1970 because protest was more acceptable then. We all had veterans in our families and in college classes. We invited them to tell us the truth about what was going on, and many joined in with us. I remember hippies and veterans sharing drugs together. Peace people don’t attack anyone, much less people who were drafted into war. I never heard about any mistreatment of veterans until years later. This was totally untrue as it would have been all over the news if true. The press was very hostile to peace protesters and looking for negatives. I read that the film Rambo had a scene in it of peace people spitting on returning soldiers and that the myths spread from there.
Katherine van Wormer
Professor of Social Work


War and its disastrous consequences evoke mythologizing to cover the death and destruction…make everything nice and tidy but the military action in VietNam changed the narrative. Embedded journalists were able to send true stories and accompanying footage of the atrocities committed that appeared on TV sets every day and night. (GWB took that lesson to heart by not allowing any footage to be shown of coffins full of bodies of Iraq “war” victims arriving at Dover AFB in Delaware, which was commonplace during VietNam.) By the same token, the press stateside had to denigrate the burgeoning anti-war movement and protests by accusing the protestors of punishing the returning veterans and the myth grew exponentially. My brother was a wounded Medic in VietNam who served two tours of duty and he was welcomed home with banners and praise. The press throughout the years of the VietNam debacle was schizophrenic: report the atrocities that stoked the Peace Movement and Anti-War Protests on the one hand and then fabricate falsehoods about the Anti-War protestors and their alleged poor treatment of returning vets.

What a painful time to live through: so much good laced with so much tragedy.

And now we are in the throes of the worst presidency/Executive, Congress/Legislative, and Judiciary ever in our nation’s history. Will we recover?


You are all full of you know what. I arrived home at a military base but we were bused to a civilian.airport to fly home. The article points out correctly that we flew into a military airport but fails to note that we also used a civilian airport. My bus was met at the gate by hateful signs and things were thrown at the bus. At the civilian airport I was again accosted and again when I arrived home. I was stationed in Wash DC and again accosted. My story is common with my veteran friends and my comnrades. Quit trying to reinvent history to justify you actions.


This is revisionist history, pure and simple. As one other commenter pointed out, for those who care to do some research, this guy’s thesis has been thoroughly debunked. Why he is still being given a forum is beyond me. Editors, you have a responsibility. Do your homework. I spent 6 months looking into these claims, and published what I found in a post called Confronting Revisionist History - On the Vietnam Veteran Experience, on jasonespada dot com.


This is PsyOp to distract from the Truth, concerning Our Government’s invasion of a Sovereign Country, which has been researched and published, yet hidden as best as can have been accomplished.

Undermined by his own Ambassador to Viet Nam, Blueblood Henry Cabot Lodge, an Across the Aisle appointment by President Kennedy, events reached the point that, eventually, through negotiation with Soviet Premier Khrushchev, the President documented his decision to not only withdraw all of his inherited presence from Viet Nam, but to END the COLD WAR, and disband the CIA, summarily firing its founder, Allen Dulles.

Dulles marshaled his allies from the Agency, the Military and FBI, coordinating the assassination of the President, and the reversal of his decision to leave Viet Nam, merely days later, without so much as a Fact Finding Commission or Position Paper, beginning our past Half Century of Wars of Aggression.

It is HIGHLY DOUBTFUL that these Documented Facts will be included in this, yet another PsyOp, worked on the American Populace, through its Captured Media.


I lived in a big town in ND at that time. Due to a high draft number and the fact that there were many young guys eager to go, I never joined. But I never protested either.

We saw a mix of draftees and volunteers coming back. No one I knew or hung around with had any problem with veterans…maybe because ALL our dads were WWII vets, and we looked at military service as a part of life. Heck, at NDSU we all took ROTC as a Phy. Ed. credit.

Most guys didn’t talk much about ‘Nam when they got back. I do remember one small town guy who worked on our construction crew who did. One day at lunch he told us with a nervous giggle that when their chopper was heading back to base they used to fire the machine guns at the "Gooks’ hootches." He said it was comical to see them run, and when the tracer bullets hit the grass hootches, they would burst into flame. I was shocked, and I think I said something, but we were young and mostly just accepted things. That was 1973.

So no, I never saw anyone spat upon, nor ostracized in any way.


In Weimar Germany, there was a myth of WW1 vets returning home & being spit on by Hausfrauen & Mädchen. This myth, like many other male fantasies, was extremely useful to the militarists & fascists who quickly took over the nation.

As always, history is instructive.


I was not accosted when I arrived at Seattle-Tacoma Airport for my flight home - a few hours after returning from 'Nam. Note: we had to fly in uniform if we wanted a military discount on our ticket to fly. I was Regular Army, was serving three years duty rather than two years if one was a draftee. So if you were drafted, your army number began with US, rather than RA. I’d wanted to have had a US number given all of the dissent then extant in the nation’s military. So I bought a belt with a large embossed ‘US’ buckle, like the 19th century cavalry uniforms. One day several years later I was walking towards the US embassy in Santiago. That was after Nixon and Kissinger had killed democracy down there in Chile. Two guys walking towards me noticed that buckle. I finally managed to get spit on, thanks to Dick and Henry.


Very interesting that the NSAM which LBJ signed a few days after JFK was killed, the document which countermanded JFK’s NSAM ordering a start to withrawal of our advisory forces from ‘Nam. That NSAM HAD BEEN DRAWN UP IN THE PENTAGON BEFORE JFK departed for Dallas. Good ol’ Robert McNamara had been implementing JFK’s order and happily got on board with LBJ change in plans. Nine months later, he purposefully did not give LBJ the full story when reports of a purported attack in the Gulf of Tonkin arrived. LBJ then signed on the bottom line and the die was cast. The countermanding NSAM had not been prepared as directed by or influenced by anyone in the White House or at the State Department. Very interesting.




I was in-country for 2 of my 4 years in uniform, so I traveled in uniform a number of times 68-70, came home between deployments in 71, and discharged at Travis. As my parents lived near(ish) Travis at the time, I had occasion to drive returning friends to SFO on their trips. Even out of uniform, our haircuts stood out in the crowd of the day, especially in the Bay Area, not once did I encounter a hostile reception of any kind.

As a matter of fact, I am still in touch with dozens of friends, have been in veteran anti-war groups as well as peer help groups, and with the advent of Facebook / Twitter, I’ve also signed on to a number of Vietnam and other veteran groups; I have yet to encounter anyone who claims to have actually been personally spit upon.

The best treatment I got following the service was from age-related peers and wise folk with very white hair. From them, it helped me with healing to begin. In contrast, “the public,” whose reactions more closely resembled fear or suspicion, there was no acceptance, little help, and getting a conventional job was NOT in the cards.

IF spitting did occur, and I don’t care about absolutists who are fixated on the word “never,” it was a rare event, and I have yet to hear any certainty from those who ‘hear about’ or are certain about vague proof, that it was only perpetuated by “hippies.”


How about your sources Mr. HowlingCoyote?


James W. Douglass’s extensively footnoted 2008 work of historical nonfiction “JFK and the Unspeakable - Why He Died and Why it Matters” (He Chose Peace, They Marked Him for Death).

Book Stores generally won’t stock it, but it’s available online, or if you ask a Book Store to order it for you.

To paraphrase Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s reply on another topic : “The Research has been Done, the Facts are In, there are No Theories here.”

Has the Answers.


But, you were not spit upon. Hostilities directed by protesters against military bases at installations or official vehicles leaving a base is not the same as hostilities directed at you personally.

I was not required to be bused or fly in uniform, only if choosing to travel using a military discount or on official business. See my extended comment below.

You are stuck on the word “none.” What you saw around a military base wasn’t about you.


James W. Douglass 2008 heavily footnoted work of historical nonfiction “JFK and the Unspeakable - Why He Died and Why it Matters” (He Chose Peace - They Marked Him for Death)