PART TWO: Spitting Image: this Legacy of Vietnam is a MYTH

spitting_person_picture_spit_120 In his book, Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, Professor Jerry Lembcke who served in Vietnam notes that "One of the most resilient images of the Vietnam era is that of the anti-war protester – often a woman – spitting on the uniformed Veteran just off the plane. The lingering potency of this icon was evident during the Gulf War, when war supporters invoked it to discredit their opposition.

[In fact, the continuous use of this myth by pro-war supporters and politicians is so useful that it is still used to discredit opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. VT. Ed.     

This part of our Three Part expose of the most favored myth to come out of national, political, social, cultural, and even Veterans’ divisions over the Vietnam War is part review of Lembcke’s book plus to show younger Vets and military families the connections between Vietnam War myths and Global War on Terror myths.

The tie that binds is that believers in this myth will not only be found in the Republican Party but across the political spectrum because both conservatives and liberals have used the myth to their advantage with Vets either caught in the middle or collaborating in making myth reality.

Robert L. Hanafin
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Veterans Today News Network &
Our Troops News Ladder shapeimage_72


Jerry Lembcke demonstrated what we know to be true, and in fact challenge any believers in this myth to straighten us out by providing the main ingredient to make myth reality – solid proof. Jerry was the first sincere scholarly researcher to show that not a single incident of this sort has been convincingly documented. Rather, the anti-war Left saw in Veterans a natural ally, and the relationship between anti-war forces and most Veterans was defined by mutual support. The entry of Vietnam Vets or any Veterans into the anti-war movement would have had the impact of suppressing such spitting incidents.

That said, we challenge any believer in this myth to show documented proof (photos or news paper archives) that show any Vietnam Era or War Veteran being spit on as they return from any overseas tour during the Vietnam War. We mean actually spitting on them NOT shunning them or putting them down as most mainstream VSOs did back in the day. This of course could be spun into a form of spitting on Veterans.

Indeed it was reported that one Soldier wrote angrily to Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew that the only Americans who seemed concerned about the Soldier’s welfare were the anti-war activists. While Veterans were sometimes made to feel uncomfortable about their service, this sense of unease was, Lembcke argues, more often rooted in the political practices of the Right. Tracing a range of conflicts in the twentieth century, Lembcke the Sociology Professor illustrates how regimes engaged in unpopular conflicts often vilify their domestic opponents for "stabbing the boys in the back."

[This is what Part Three will be about: The Conservative Stab in the Back Myth. VT. Ed.]

Lembcke concluding with something that even conservative Veterans can relate to and shun, an account of the powerful role played by Hollywood in cementing the myth of the betrayed veteran through such films as Coming Home, Taxi Driver, and Rambo, Jerry Lembcke’s book stands as one of the most important, original, and controversial works of socio-cultural history in recent years.

20051021pentagonvietnamLibrary Journal notes that images of antiwar protesters, almost always women [as shown in this photo of an anti-war protest at the Pentagon during the Vietnam War], spitting on returning Vietnam veterans have become a shameful part of America’s collective memory.

Lembcke a Sociology Professor at Holy Cross University, MA, and a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), presented a well researched and rational indictment of this myth — an illusion [frankly among many illusions] created by the Nixon-Agnew administration and an unwitting press to attribute America’s loss in Vietnam to internal dissension [today the ploy is used to protray dissension to mean only LIBERALS did it. The ploy is still used to stiffle dissent to the war(s) in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now that they are Democrat war(s) we look for the use of such myths across party lines. VT. Ed]

In fact, the antiwar movement and many Vietnam Veterans were closely aligned, and the only documented incidents show members of the VFW and American Legion spitting on their less successful Vietnam peers. [Spitting Image, pgs. 54 & 78 plus sources cited]

But Lembcke’s most controversial conclusion is that posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD] was as much a political creation — a means of discrediting returning vets who protested the war as unhinged — as it was a medical condition. The image of the psycho-vet was furthered through such Hollywood productions as ‘The Deer Hunter’ and ‘Coming Home.’ This forceful investigation challenges the reader to reexamine assumptions about the dark side of American culture that glorifies war more than peace.

[This angle on PTSD is reflected in B.G. Burkett’s Stolen Valor when he takes VVAW and later Vietnam Victims of America (VVA) to task for their advocacy of the recognition of PTSD. VT. Ed]



Jerry Lembcke is Associate Professor of Sociology at Holy Cross College in Massachusetts. In 1969 he was a Chaplain’s Assistant assigned to the 41st Artillery Group in Vietnam.

If our readers, especially those who passionately believe that Vietnam Veterans were spit on in significant numbers, will provide us links to documented evidence, hell even one sample of actual documented evidence, of a Vietnam Veteran being spit upon (police report, photo, news paper article,) we will forward such evidence to Dr. Lembcke and other scholars who have challenged THE MYTH in such scholarly detail and demand that they revise thier findings accordingly.

Robert L. Hanafin
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Veterans Advocacy Editor

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13 Responses to "PART TWO: Spitting Image: this Legacy of Vietnam is a MYTH"

  1. TeeMac  November 14, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    I am sure my dad who was a Vietnam veteran knew you Major. He was a biker and told me many stories about his coming back from Vietnam. He said he never came home he just came back. He never mentioned getting spit at but of how the veterans of the VFW and the other service clubs did not want his kind. He also talked of how the goverment wanted the blame of Vietnam put on the men who fought the war and how the citizens of this country obliged happily. He said the blame went as far as not being able to find jobs and being horassed by what he called the pig republic. Was he bitter? Major, he died bitter from the effects of Agent Orange but fought for Vietnam veterans benefits daily while he was alive. I think he would approve of your writing here Major and would probably end this with hang tough.

    • Miss My Brother Bammo!  November 14, 2009 at 2:25 pm

      "He was a biker and told me many stories about his coming back from Vietnam."


      If your Dad happened to be Bammo McCarthy from Vermont who passed away only a few short years ago.

      Bammo was my second closest older brother to die from Vietnam related illnesses including PTSD, broken heart disease, a massive heart attack, and cancer thanks to Agent Orange.

      Both of my elder brothers were among the earliest contingent of Veterans to go to Nam and survive either prior to of during the Tet offensive.

      TeeMac, I at 59 a few days ago, was among the youngest to go to and survive Vietnam.

      There are many things the youngest generation of Vets of Iraq and Afghanistan share with us Vietnam Vets, too many to get bogged down with.

      However, the one that is undebateable is that there was almost a generation gap between those young Vets who became old men in less than a year and young Vets who went in knowng we did not have the support of the American people even the illusion of support our youngster get TODAY.

      Both Randy "Doc" Barnes and Bammo McCarthy (the Biker) were mentors to me who would have been my NCOs in Nam had I not been one when I got there.

      They both were a decade older than me and died most likely what will be a decade or two before me.

      Both also felt the passionate zeal to oppose the war, in fact far more than I did, and I will forever appreciate and honor their names because THEY KEPT MY NAME OFF THE WALL THAT HEALS!

      Frankly, I passonately believe that the long term after effects of Vietnam should entitle any man or woman alive today who dies from anything vaguely related to that war should take their place among the names on that wall.

      It is your hang tough that leads me to believe your Dad was Bammo Tom McCarthy of Vermont. Because in our last communications Tom would always sign off with Hang Tough Bobby.

      In fact, he was among my many mentors encouraging me to do what I do today come hell or high water, what the suckers gonna do send me to Iraq, Afghanistan, or back to Nam?

      As a Christian, a real Christian, I say screw them they can have their CRUSADE as long as somebody else does the fighting and dying while they do the praying.

      The Eagles had a song out long ago called The Last Resort.

      Given the pressure to not blame our troops for the Middle and SW Asian quaqmires they can’t win, because no one has defined victory for them or to them, our government filled with those who refuse to serve or have the fruit of their loins serve blaming our troops will be their Last Resort, you mark my words.

      However, our government, or at least political system (of chaos) will orchestrate to make it appear the left of liberals blame our troops as our government sets the tone.

      I for one will not be fooled by encouragement to the public to blame our troops, and I pray our troops, especially those who think suicide will one day place blame right where it belongs in Washington, DC, and in the case of Guard units their state capitals AGAIN filled with ultra-conservatives great at making war but not willing to fight and die in them.

      Two points of focus are very clear in my mind.

      The Global War on Terror is a War on Islam by Zionist Christians and Jews. Our Armed Forces in a pawn in that game on going since the creation of the State of Israel. I encourage our troops to embrace being on a Crusade then the clouds of doubt will depart, and they will know what needs to be done.

      For there is a vast difference between fighting and dying for one’s people’s freedoms and any, bar none, any religious CRUSADE.

      Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired

  2. Robert Ryan  September 20, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    might not have been spit on, but was called one of Johnson’s baby killers in the SF Airport. I like most of us who went to Vietnam have come to terms with the protests during our service. We did served our country like any other veteran, and when we were called to duty we went.

  3. Mutt  September 4, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Christ- this site dosnt need an editor, it needs a bucketloader.
    Since I got Hanafin riled up about this to the point he published what was originally a letter to the editor to set straight this …..”.wheres my parade” whinefest- I want to kick in a couple of links – my original edit was (ahem) more cogent.
    Lotsa long words & no pictures, so you Freepers will need a grown up to read them to you.
    this article is backup to Lembke’s book- and you dont have to dive too deep into the wingnut Right to see the Dolchstoss cult is alive and well. Its well worth a read, and really makes sense- call it force multiplication- when you then realize the Right is owned and paid for, in large part, by a complete loon, a guy who claims to be god- Moon. He funds the Republican to the tune of billions, a lot he earned as an arms peddler and his paper, the Washington Moonie Times is right up there with World Net Daily as gospel.

    But how does it explain the so called Librul Mediers going along with the story?
    Well, it aint liberal & it aint news-its what Walter Lippman said it was in the ’20’s- a “transmission belt for official ideas and opinions”.

    If I continue Ill need a editor my own self.

  4. DA White  August 26, 2009 at 11:45 am

    The anti-war movement was made up of people who were scared to go. The war movement was made up of people who wanted to make money. I don’t believe that a combat veteran would allow anyone to spit on them. I do know that the veterans were treated like shit, even by our own people. I was in the 106th army hostipal in Japan and they did not discrimate, they treated everyone like shit. I did not have a lot of respect for the South Vietamese as they only had 2 classes of people, the haves and the have nots. The liars state that North Vietnam was fighting the Americans and the South Vietamese, conviently leaving out the fact that the Soviets and China both sided with the North Vietamese. The dark shadow over the anti-war faction was the complete disreguard of the millions of lives lost in Vietnam and Cambodia after the fall of South Vietnam.

    • Additonal Research and Balanced View  August 26, 2009 at 1:52 pm

      The following links back up Chuck’s and my contentions that this is and was more myth than reality for Vietnam Veterans….. [] [] []

      We Are What We Remember []

      b0093_400 Also, Vietnam veterans have finally so many years later taken it upon themselves to share the experiences that have eaten away at our hearts for so long. Many veterans wish to convey the truth that has eluded America for too long. Vietnam Veterans were and remain as split on their war as the nation was as a whole, and spit on or not, Veterans were beyond a doubt scapegoats for both a frustrated nation and frustrated government who eventually lost Vietnam, not the troops fighting and dying in the war. Bobby Hanafin

       Frederick Downs Jr., another Vietnam veteran, and scholarly researcher shares his disillusioned homecoming experience in Aftermath: A Soldier’s Return From Vietnam. [] Downs is a veteran who explains the disenchanted feeling many Veterans experienced upon their return home, wondering if his country will ever welcome him back or if he will remain a stigma on America’s mind.

      [I believe this may be what Marine MacDonald is referring to as he feels I’m questioning him being a Marine, nope MacDonald I’m questioning your reaction, and if you say the experience of your home coming gives you PTSD that I can buy, but not because you were spit on. VT. Ed] 

      booksah_400Another scholarly work, the book Strangers At Home [] was used to disprove the myth that Vietnam Veteran harassment was committed only by hippies, showing how pro-war Veterans from the previous generation many members of the American Legion and VFW deserve some of the blame also. A personal interview with a Vietnam veteran named Dan Mouer was used to lend some insight as to why some Vietnam Veterans were harassed and others were not. Mouer feels that the experience was relevant to the time when Veterans returned. Mouer argues that after the My Lai incident and the Tet offensive, anti-veteran sentiment rose throughout the country. The idea of returning Vietnam veterans both experiencing mistreatment and being spat upon are widely held beliefs about the Vietnam legacy.

      [I believe this may be what Tom Barnes is referring to or really witnessed. Keeping in mind that in the same timeframe that Tom is talking about I was proudly wearing my Air Force uniform on the campus of the University of Maryland, College Park. Anti-war student organizations were still active on campus, but the attitude of not wearing one’s uniform was one created within the Pentagon that to me was like an inferiority complex. As the years went by, and I can’t speak for the Marines or Coast Guard, but the policy of DOD was for military personnel to proudly wear our Class As but not our utility uniforms in public to show OUR PRIDE, shove it down America’s throat if we had to. VT. Ed]

      Undoubtedly, many of the Vietnam Veterans who returned home to the United States were abused by angry members of the American public.

      On the contrary, there is also the conflicting notion that the harassment of Vietnam Veterans is a myth: a conjured up urban legend of sorts. What actually happened to the Veterans upon their return? Were they spat upon and disrespected as many claim to have been? Although many Veterans affirm harassment through firsthand accounts, [hell, I can confirm that. VT. Ed] there are numerous other Veterans who enjoyed a friendly homecoming filled with respect and honor.

      [I’d have to qualify this statement, a Vietnam Veteran was only given a respectful and honored welcome home, sometimes even by the Legion or VFW only IF said Veterans either felt or said nothing negative about their war or if said Veteran held the same views about the Vietnam War as WWII Veterans and Hard Hats did. VT. Ed].

      Why do Veterans of the same war have differing accounts of their homecoming legacy? The answer to this question involves the time span when the soldiers returned; different Veterans may have been subjected to different experiences.

      [This has been the theme of my argument about the Myth of the Spat on Vietnam Veteran all along. How a Veteran was welcomed home, if at all given the apathy that is even worse today toward the war(s) and our troops, depended on when they came home, how they came home, and where they came home. The west Coast was a hotbed of anti-war activism, and the part played by non-Veterans in the anti-war movement who could not relate to Vietnam Veterans could only be bridged by Vietnam Veterans who at least questioned their war if not outright opposed it on the streets. VT. Ed]

      The country’s inability to cope with defeat.

      The argument has been made that mistreatment of Vietnam veterans has been a myth created by the country’s inability to cope with defeat. The United States, the most powerful country in the world, had lost the war in Vietnam; nobody wanted to believe it.

      The country’s ego had been dealt a blow that would prove to be difficult to overcome; America needed a scapegoat, and the anti-war protestors proved to be the perfect victim. Jerry Lee Lembke, a former Vietnam veteran, explains in his book, The Spitting Image, that "the stories of abused veterans provide an alibi for the country, a way for America to explain why it lost the war. The larger narrative woven by these stories is that America lost, not because it was beaten by an underdeveloped nation of Asians, but because our mission was sold-out on the home front.

      We were defeated by the enemy within, not the enemy abroad"(Lembke, 184). After the country’s defeat, a long healing process began. [A process BTW that despite the Wall that Heals is well putting it mildly still a long healing process and given the divide among Vietnam Vets will most likely never be healed. VT. Ed]

      While the blame for our involvement in Vietnam should have been placed on the government; instead, the attention was turned toward the "victim", the returning veteran.

      [Even the right-wing Vets those that worked for the Nixon administration, contributed to the Vietnam Veteran as victim myth when Burkett jokingly and mockingly referred to Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) as Vietnam Victims of America as Stolen Valor challenge every Vietnam related illness the VVA and VVAW had championed. VT. Ed]

      Lembke bolsters this argument, "assessing blame for those wrongs was part of the process by which the country put the war behind it and moved on. But the laying of blame for the loss of the war and the mistreatment of veterans at the feet of the anti-war movement was misdirected"(185).

      [Today, we are going to see political motivation from both Republicans and Democrats to once again place the blame for any retreat from Iraq or Afghanistan at the feet of an anti-war movement that given there is NO DRAFT and no national commitment to win our government will be passionately looking for scapegoats regardless which party is in power or who owns the war(s) when we leave Iraq and Afghanistan, and one day we will once again under the pretext of Peace with Honor. VT. Ed]

      Lembke, who seems to be the authority on the "myth argument", contends that the image of the spat-upon veteran gained momentum in the early 1990’s when the Gulf War was starting to unfold. As a way to insure support for the Gulf War veterans, the Bush administration used the image of the spat-upon veteran as a way to bolster support for the war: "Bush’s strategy was to turn the tables on his opponents by using their anti-war position against them.

      Implicit in this strategy, previously employed by the Nixon administration in the closing years of the Vietnam War, was the assumption that peace could best be achieved through strength: those who were against the war in Vietnam were undermining the strength of America and thus prolonging the war.

      Applied to the Gulf War, the reasoning went that those who were opposed to the Administration’s policies were objectively speaking, pro-war and by extension Would have to be held accountable for the deaths of American soldiers in the Gulf"’ (19).

      An interesting trend develops along with the myth: the idea that the public, the American people, are to blame for the soldiers’ deaths because of a lack of support back home. Bush used this tactic to garner support for his Gulf War policies. Lembke also argues that blaming the protestors on the homefront was a way to cope with the loss of Vietnam.

      During the Gulf War, many organizations cropped up to lend support to the soldiers in Iraq. [This of course would be repeated in more elaborate form during both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars but no longer under the DOD propaganda program VT. Ed]

      These groups, including Operation Eagle based out of Shrewsbury, Ma, collected valuable items that the troops needed in the Iraqi desert. Operation Eagle and other groups such as Operation Yellow ribbon, [You see readers the Yellow Ribbon ploy to stifle dissent was not an original idea of the Bush administration or Donald Rumsfeld it originated during the Gulf War as one more way to get around the Vietnam Syndrome. VT. Ed]

      These organizations also began to cultivate support in the local school systems. The message of these groups was clear; they did not want what happened to the Vietnam veterans upon their homecoming to happen to the Gulf War veterans. A volunteer for Operation Yellow Ribbon supports this argument saying that, "the first reason, the first time I came out, the reason was, is, because of what happened to the Vietnam vets. I felt that they were treated so badly and they fought for their country and they were treated so bad that I tried to make up for it in this way…"(23).

      The belief that the veterans were mistreated ran deep among the supporters back home. Not only did the people back home worry about this issue, but the Soldiers also feared how their mission was being perceived in America. Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran, commented in a 1990 New York Times article that "the aura of Vietnam hangs over these kids, their parents were in it. They’ve seen all these movies. They worry, they wonder" (Apple). Without realizing it, Murtha brings up a key component of the myth; the idea that Hollywood has blown the myth past its historical reality.

      Murtha refers to the fact that the Gulf War soldiers were worried about their involvement in Iraq due to what they had seen in the movies. Hollywood has played a major role in re-writing history; it has retold the story of the Vietnam veteran, fueling the mythical argument. The mythical theorists would argue that Hollywood "was the most important medium through which the history of the Vietnam War was rewritten as a story of veterans coming home.

      Mediated by film, American memories of the war in Vietnam changed during the 1970s and 1980s to the point that the details of the war itself were forgotten and memories of the abuse of veterans were constructed"(Lembke, 180).

      This is not to say that many veterans were not mistreated upon their return home. What Hollywood has done, however, is pick a characteristic of the war that, until this point, was never really stressed, turning it into one of the most discussed aspects of the Vietnam War. Hollywood has taken it upon themselves to magnify and exaggerate an aspect of the War that many believe happened only a handful of times.

      [If we are not careful both Hollywood and mainstream media can swing with the breeze of political or corporate winds to do the same thing to Iraq and Afghanistan Vets, and what Vietnam Vets fear most happening to a younger generation will become a self fulfilling prophecy given WE HAVE YET TO LEARN THE REAL LESSONS OF VIETNAM!!! VT. Ed]

      I believe that Lembke’s strongest arguement is that there seems to be no real documentation of the spat-upon veteran. Essentially, there are no photographs to support the claims of many veterans that they were in fact mistreated.

      Lembke states that "the icon of homefront betrayal, the spat-upon veteran, is a figment of the imagination that has been popularized through storytelling"(141).

      Also, news stories about spat-upon veterans were not very widespread.

      Many of the veterans’ accounts of harassment came after the fact. However, this argument made by the theorists is lacking.

      The reason why many of the veteran’s accounts did not come out until many years later is because nobody was willing to talk to them about their experiences.

      Dan Mouer, a Vietnam veteran, shares his feelings towards this subject; "…I found people who just had no clue what I had been doing in Vietnam, nor did they have any sensitivity to the issues of someone who had been at war. My mother recently told me that I never wanted to talk about the war, while my memory is that nobody else wanted to hear about it"(Personal Interview, Mouer).

      [Now regardless what your views are on Vietnam or the Spit on Veterans thinks about this scenario that happens every day across America after a young Iraq or Afghanistan Veteran is greeted at the Air Port. Fill in the Blank, an Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran, shares his feelings (30 years from now) about this subject; because given that less than one percent of our population is EXPECTED to serve or ECONOMICALLY find no other choice…I found people who just had no clue what I had been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan nor did they really want to talk about it. Hell, they have no sensitivity to the issues someone who had been at war. My father recently told me that I never wanted to talk about the Iraq war, while the truth is nobody else wants to hear about it." VT Ed]

      The homecoming period of the veterans was very tumultuous, characterized by political instability, a loss of innocence with the deaths of Kennedy and King, and overall growing pains as a nation. When many look back at the period, they see rapid change typified by anger and disillusionment.

      The mythical theorists argue that this also seems to be fueling the myth. Lembke, again, shares his insight on the subject, stating that "the memory was accurate. But the details of who was doing what to whom, how and why, fade with time. Depending on who is doing the remembering, and with what desired level of precision, the accuracy of detail might be less important than the overall portrayal of the hostility of the times; who was spitting on whom might be less important than the fact that someone was spitting on someone"(Lembke, 77).

      As time passes, the memories fade; relating to the storytelling aspect of the myth. As time goes on, details no longer matter, romanticizing the myth beyond its reality.

      [This is why even to our fellow editor Tom Barnes I’m so concerned about documented undeniable hard evidence, and I know if this happened in significant numbers it would be out there. VT. Ed]

      However let me make it very clear to both Tom and Brother MacDonald that there is something in the word myth, however, suggesting that the abusive treatment towards the Veterans never existed.

      To hint that this harassment never happened, is an insult to the Veterans who suffered through the experience. There are too many genuine first hand accounts shared by veterans suggesting that the incidents indeed happened.

      This was Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene’s motivation when he wrote his book titled Homecoming, sharing the firsthand accounts of Vietnam veterans, both good and bad. Greene has "no doubt that many returning veterans truly were spat upon-literally-as a part of their welcome home. There were simply too many letters, going into too fine a detail, to deny the fact. {He} was profoundly moved by how, all these years later, so many men remembered exactly where and when they were spat-upon, and how the pain has stayed with them"(Greene, 11).

      An argument often made by mythical theorists is that the homecoming stories of spat-upon veterans are all too similar. The incident always seems to happen in the same location, an airport, always committed by hippies. This leads many to believe that the stories are almost too identical to be authentic, that veterans are in effect exaggerating what actually happened. The stories are, therefore, somewhat generic and lacking the intimate detail that would be reminiscent of a true, first hand experience.

      As previously noted, Bob Greene examined that very issue, finding that the experiences were in fact real, not contrived or universalized. Part of the reason that many Americans are in denial over the fact that Vietnam veterans were spat on is because they could not face the fact that their country was capable of such atrocities. The veterans who fought in Vietnam put their lives on the line for America; that may not mean much to some but they put in their time, serving the people of the United States of America. To get such a derogatory response is disgusting and hence, a source of denial, running deep through the American conscience.

      In his book Homecoming, Bob Greene includes many genuine experiences serving as a type of therapy for many veterans. They opened up their hearts sharing some of their anger and frustration with a country that had done them wrong. An account by Tony J., a Vietnam veteran who would like to keep his identity a secret, helps to bring these words to life:

      "Well, I had to take this fellows body to his wife-she was nineteen years old…I was helping the mortician take the casket out of the hearse. Of course I was in my dress uniform, medals and all that, and the American flag was over the casket and some guy walked by when we had it about halfway and the fool spit on it and said, ‘Good, he deserved to die"(Greene, 30).

      Many veterans who received this type of treatment feel an intense anger and hurt that burns deep within. In a number of these accounts, veterans have displayed their hatred towards the government and proclaimed that neither they, nor their sons, will ever fight for America again. While many veterans expected a peaceful return upon arriving home, they were met with disillusionment and anger, the very thing they had tried to escape while in Vietnam. Many wondered if they would ever again be accepted into America’s arms, or if they would continue to be the country’s scapegoat.

      Frederick Downs, a Vietnam veteran, asks himself this very question in his book Aftermath: A Soldier’s Return From Vietnam: "I wondered if my country would ever welcome us back. Welcome all of us in body and spirit. Or would we always remain a flaw in America’s vision of itself"(Downs, 222).

      To claim that the harassing incidents were a myth is to say that they never happened when in fact, they did. First hand accounts of veterans cannot be discredited while speculation over the incidents can be. A myth is a story that is fabricated, an account that has no basis of reality; the veterans’ accounts are by no means fabricated. What reason would the veterans have for lying? By making the argument that the incidents were a myth is to call the harassed veterans, liars.

      After reading this account by David McTamaney of Newburgh, New York, it seems hard to find that this a myth: "…a youing guy, about twenty or so, wearing a headband and a leather vest, stepped back and looked at me. ‘Have you been in Vietnam?’ he asked innocently. ‘Yeah,’ I said ‘I just got back, and I’m heading back to Al-‘ He never let me finish. He leaned back, made a couple of swishing motions with his mouth and spit in my face. I jumped backward, but his spittle hit me on my bare arm. I took a step forward realizing that he couldn’t escape, and felt my heart begin to pump faster…I dragged all my stuff into the toilet stall, locked the door, put my face in my hands, and cried for the first time in months" (23).

      The hurt in this quote is neither make-believe, nor is it fairy-tale material; rather, it is real emotion felt by a man who was disrespected upon his return home. This last quote comes from the heart and puts the idea that the myth holds true to rest.

      These experiences served to alienate the veterans, keeping them out of touch with their fellow Americans. Upon their return home, the sense that the veterans had nobody to identify with was strong, and these horrible incidents did not help the situation; "never before had America’s fighting men returned home so quietly and so unwelcomed.

      Much has been made of the fact that there were no ‘victory parades’ for the veterans of Vietnam, but little consideration has been given to the consequences of this fact for the soldiers’ personal identity. Many found their status of "veteran" a stigma rather than a source of pride"(Figley and Leventman, 103-4).

      The role played by the VFW and American Legion was not a myth.

      Vietnam veterans did not return home the way many other veterans of foreign wars returned. Their experiences were different, serving as another source of alienation for the vets. What people do not realize is that many of the Vietnam vets were harassed by older veterans of foreign wars, the few who were supposed to identify with and understand them. Figley and Leventman also share this sentiment, because "the men {they} interview often spoke of their fear of hostility and blame from their peers for having participated in the war and the lack of respect accorded them by older veterans who reproached them for not having won ‘their’ war"(104).

      The stereotype that hippies were responsible for these vicious acts of harassment is not true. The older veterans did not seem to understand the younger generation of veterans. Many veterans returned home and joined the peace movement, which did not sit well with the pro-war veterans of yesteryear.

      Jerry Lembke bolsters this claim by saying: "members of such groups as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion shunned Vietnam veterans because of their long hair, love beads, and peace symbols that many wore. In the Veterans Administration hospitals, wounded Vietnam veterans were treated as second-class citizens by the World War II veterans who worked in and ran the hospitals. The ‘class of 46,” as the Vietnam-era vets dubbed the old-timers, thought Vietnam had not been a ‘real war’"(Lembke, 78).

      It is clear from these citations that if anything is a myth, it is the idea that hippies committed all of these hateful acts. Undoubtedly, there were some hippies who spit on veterans or made hurtful comments, but to say that all hippies did so is an unfair generalization.

      [That said it is just as unfair to say that all WWII Veterans or even members of the VFW and American Legion shunned Vietnam Veterans or Vietnam Vets would not be leaders in those organizations today. VT. Ed]

      By claiming that the myth is false by no means suggests that the harassment was felt by all; this is incorrect.

      Many of the veterans came home in quiet manners, suffering no animosity on their parts. However, just because some veterans claimed never to have suffered such experiences do not mean that the incidents never happened. There have been just as many peaceful accounts as painful accounts. Upon reflecting on over a thousand responses of veteran harassment, Bob Greene comments in Homecoming that "on the other hand, many veterans reported stories of kindness and compassion upon their return from Vietnam. Most of this group of veterans said that they believe some of their fellow soldiers were spat upon…"(Greene, 11).

      There is no finite conclusion regarding veteran harassment; some were spat-upon and verbally abused while others received peaceful returns home. What explains the contrasting accounts regarding the Vietnam homecoming?

      Although there seems to be no clear answer to this question, the best possible explanation is given by Dan Mouer, a Vietnam veteran who returned home in 1967:

      "I think the major variables in experience are place and time. After 1969- that is, after Tet and, especially, after revelation of the My Lai incident- I think anti-military and anti-veteran sentiments rose considerably. I returned home in 1967, and the anti-war sentiments were pretty well confined to a limited bunch of folks. I tended to agree with them, in that I was upset that my friends were still in Vietnam in danger while the rest of the country didn’t seem to give a damn"(Personal Interview, Mouer).

      Mr. Mouer feels that the country became inflamed upon the revelations of Tet and My Lai, translating into animosity towards the Veterans. Undoubtedly, the country was upset because they felt like they were lied to after Tet and people were ashamed of their country after My Lai. It may be possible that the anger and embarrassment caused by these two incidents were taken out on the soldiers upon their return. The returning veterans became symbols of the War, symbols that nobody wanted to be reminded of or heard from; as a result the country’s anger was taken out on the Veterans.

      [Believe it or not, I believe that our troops today are more vulnerable to this sort of national frustration combined with an economic melt down, and it is something that WE older Veterans must unite against. We must make sure that no one, politician, liberals, conservatives, fascists, whatever, turns our national short comings onto our troops. VT. ED]

      Although there are many good points raised by the mythical theorists, ultimately the argument crumbles. The reason for this originates in the word myth. To suggest something is a myth is to suggest that it never happened; however, it did happen.

      Many veterans suffered from America’s wrath, still feeling the effects today. T[Thus the image of the Crying Vietnam Veteran] we have been disrespected in ways that are hard to imagine, and there can be no denial of the facts. Vietnam veterans received both good and bad homecomings; yet, there is no consensus regarding this subject. However, according to one vet, the experience was relevant to place and time, making this seem as good as any explanation available.

      This is an issue with many gray areas; there are no neat and clean answers. Yes, veterans were harassed; consequently, the myth argument vanishes into thin air.

      This is not really a counter view to the myth, because until there is hard evidence questions remain and the myth argument does not vanish into thin air but is used for political motives by those who never served. That my friends today is the vast majority of American people.


    • duffster  August 26, 2009 at 4:22 pm

      Most of the people I knew in the anti-war movement were Vietnam veterans, mostly grunts with the leaders being Special Forces.

      As for the spitting part..we are together on this.  All bull from phony vets.

      As for the deaths in Vn and Cam…you are right also.

      As for who didn’t go….Bush didn’t go….and thousands like him who never protested anything.

      So, I would say that more Republicans were terrified of serving and more anti-war activists were combat veterans, thousands in fact.

      All of our statements are generalizations.

      I never met a single Marine combat vet who supported the war.


  5. duffster  August 26, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Any Marine who would be spit on and not kill the Republican for VFW SOB who did it deserves it.

    There were never hippies in airports, never police working WITH hippies…

    This is all paranoid delusion.

    Tin Foil Hat time.


  6. Tom Barnes  August 26, 2009 at 9:04 am

    I graduated from high school in late May or early June (I forget which) in 1970.  I went on to college and never got drafted for Viet Nam.  I enlisted in the USMC(r) on 10 July 1973 and then was discharge in a general RIF in October 1974.  I enlisted in the USCG active duty on 21 Apr 1975 and retired as a CWO3 on 1 Sept 1999.  I am a totally disabled veteran.

    When I was a sophomore in high school one of my favorite things to do was to drive down from Glenside, PA where I lived (just outside Philly on the NW side) and go down to Tinicum Marsh just outside Philly where the Phila. Airport is located.  I loved to watch the planes take off and land.

    One Sunday, three of us went down there to watch the planes.  A commercial plane was disembarking and two very young sailors in dress whites got off (no ribbons on their chest…I assume now that they were just out of Boot Camp).  They could not have been any older than 20, one was much younger than that.  When they left the disembarkation tunnel from the plane and entered the airport, two taller young teenage thugs approached them both and spit huge gobs on their uniforms.  The spit ran off.  They hesitated for a minute to decide what to do and then simply took their handkerchiefs and wiped off the spit.  The young thugs were not really hippies or activists.  They were thugs simply acting out on a general feeling that sailors and soldiers at that time were deserving of being spit upon.  I literally stopped in my tracks and felt ashamed at that moment for being a Philadelphian.

    I was 14 or fifteen at that time.  These guys were all about five years older than me, maybe a little more.  I was literally stunned at what I saw.  The sailors decided not to retaliate because anti-Viet Nam feeling at that time ran very high among working class Philadelphians who were being drafted (I assume) in high numbers.  These two sailors were Philadelphians (I assume again) and just wanted to get home to their families. This would have been Sept or Oct of 1967.

    This, and the day my cousin Ricky Hebert came back from Viet Nam stoned out of his mind, are my overriding impressions of my civilian experience of the Viet Nam war.  I remember very, very few wonderful or patriotic things about that war from the perspective of a high school and college student.  Vinnie Wargo, an older guy from my parish school/Catholic high school who was in my sister Maureen’s class, was a marine who was killed and awarded the Silver Star posthumously.  He rescued a fellow marine from a mine field and had his legs blown off in the bargain.  He bled to death in a rice paddie in 1968 or 1969. He was a young lance corporal exercising leadership.  His father was a major in the army medical corps and his Silver Star was awarded to his father on the stage at Bishop McDevitt High School with the whole student body in attendance.

    I vaguely remember Vinnie Wargo as a macho but very nice kid.  He was a strong personality but had a kindness about him that was unforgettable.

    No, as best I can remember, spitting on soldiers and sailors most certainly DID happen.  And it happened a lot.  Even once when I was a marine reservist in 1973 (summer) and was in uniform with other marine reservists walking toward the Marine Barracks at 8th and I streets in Washington D.C. to see a performance by the Marine Drill Team we were being screamed at by the locals and the term "baby killer" was most definitely being used.

    These stories are not myths as far as I can remember.  They were real.  People called servicemen and women baby killers and people spat on them.  I can personally testify to that.

    CWO3 Tom Barnes, USCG (Ret.)

    • Well that makes Two Vets  August 26, 2009 at 11:42 am

      Well that makes two, a Vet who give testimony he was spit on, and a Vet that gives testimony that he witnessed Vets (or Sailors) getting spit on, and rationale as to why there is no hard evidence.

      Sorry, Tom but the jury is still out on this one.

      Unless you can point to hard evidence, I stand by the story.

      That said, Lembke’s research is not the only book out on the subject.

      Do you know of any research that has been done on Spit On Veterans that provides documented evidence that this actually occurred as you say in significant numbers.

      I’ve looked, other editors know how deep Bobby Hanafin digs before posting an article. Frankly, I have a response to every Veteran who says he/she has been spit on or called baby killers.

      That said, I do not doubt that Vietnam Veterans were called baby killers, hell our troops who guard GITMO what would the American people eventually call them? Of course, not baby killers but I hate to think how uniformed military guards at GITMO will be viewed IF the Obama administration digs deeper into torture???

      BTW-Tom is a co-editor at Veterans Today, so I do respect Tom’s and any other editors views and feelings, but I’m not going to take their experience at face value.

      Both Tom and Marine MacDonald seriously believe they were literally spit on or witnessed others being spit on, I don’t question that view or feeling, I felt that I’d been spit on but GOT OVER IT or I sure as hell would never have staid in the Armed Forces.

      However, the bottom line is that until hard evidence is presented by the moderate to right-wing hell even the left-wing to prove we were spit upon in significant numbers, I personally never experienced it or anti-troops sentiment.

      There is a vast difference between supporting the Vietnam War and supporting our troops. If not then we are back to square one and not only do we now have to bless Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we have to believe or service to the nation was so shameful that we were spit upon.

      Tom I can’t believe that regardless who tells me unless you provide hard evidence.


      Bobby Hanafin

  7. You Want to Give Me a PARADE?  August 26, 2009 at 7:51 am

    As mentioned in Part One of this three part series, Vietnam Veteran Chuck "Mutt" Winant had this to say about the Spat on Vietnam Veteran Myth.

    Ok, MacDonald, you got spit on that’s one Vietnam Vet thus far, and a Marine at that.

    However the obligation is on you and others who believe as you that this is not true: 

                "Among the many half baked lies about America’s war against Viet Nam is the "they spit on us" myth that has served so well to deter many from any actual examination of the War. In the article "Viet Nam Veterans Now Get Warm Welcome", Aug 17, I’m now told I had bottles and eggs thrown at me. 

                Never happened.

                You know, after seeing what my country was up to in Viet Nam, the LAST thing I cared about was getting a parade, I’m hardly alone in this.

                Oh, we were "spit on", all right- by the Veterans hospitals, foul dungeons where many died from medical neglect, by a VA which stonewalled any investigations into Agent Orange, and had but one bed, nationally, for heroin addiction.

    [MacDonald as a Marine returing from Nam, I assuming it was Nam since you left from Thailand, did you happen to experience any of the above or you never had use for the VA Hospital system? You will never file a claim for Agent Orange cause you also believe that to be a myth, and you certainly never had or will have PTSD, thus will never apply for that either. Those of us who did well are weaklings, then respond what did you do to the animal, the maggot  that spit on you when you came home? VT. Ed]

                We were spit on by a series of thuggish Saigon regimes, the last of which- Thieu/Ky, got rich off trafficking in that heroin.

    [Today another shame to come out of South East Asia is that we have to transplant the Hmong of Cambodia because they are being persecuted for being traitors to their country by joining the CIA funded Hmong Army of poppie farmers and their kin. In order to hide this shame America still has to give these people a place to live mostly on welfare in our inner-cities instead of a plan to encourage them to farm something other than poppies here in California or elsewhere. We took a people who made a living off the drug trade, people with the skills to FARM, and due to the potential competion they might be for California farmers, instead of encouraging and helping them make a living as farmers WE encourage them to seek Social Security in the form of SSI. Fortunately the women go to college while the young men go to prison, so their people will surive somehow. I proud to say even a few young men make it into our Armed Forces to escape poverty. VT. Ed]

                We were spit on by our own Veteran Services, when returning vets, denied health care, PTSD counseling, or drug treatment were given bad paper discharges for speaking out- just like today’s returning vets!

                Who could forget the hosing we got from the VFW and Legion, who used their political weight to limit the new crop of younger Veterans from getting the benefits they enjoyed- shades of John McCain, voting down every VA bill that expanded Veterans rights & benefits. When anti War Viet vets joined VFW & Legion posts, those posts were dropped from the rolls.

    [How long did it take you to join the American Legion or VFW MacDonald, did you join right away? Did they accept you because you were spit on? Get my drift MARINE? Ironically the growing number of leaders and members of mainstream VSOs happen to be the young Vietnam Veterans the VFW and Legion once shunned. However, that would also account for where all the Stolen Valor, Nixon supporting Vietnam Veterans went. VT. Ed.]

                Then we were spit on by the political generals of the Pentagon, David Hackworth’s’ "Perfumed Princes"- who put their careers ahead of what was good for the country as well as the troops. And we were spit on by pro war flag waving no nothings, who reacted in rage & sometimes violence against Viet Nam vets who dared speak the obvious about that unspeakable war.

    [You guys base most of your so-called liberal myths on the testimony of Richard M. Nixon, and of course let’s not forget General Westmoreland. Hopefully, you feel the same way about Robert MacNamara as most other Vietnam Veterans who want to dance on his grave. Pretty much like most Iraq and Afghanistan Vets will want to dance on Donald Rumsfeld’s and Dick Cheney’s grave a few decades from now. VT. Ed]

                People who opposed that war stood behind us, and with us. They were on OUR side. Anti-War vets, like Viet Nam Veterans Against the War fought all those forces to bring to light the realities of Agent Orange, PTSD, going so far as to seize unused wings of VA hospitals, setting up our own PTSD treatment centers, and forcing the military to upgrade thousands of bad discharges.

                A parade? You want to buy me off with a f–king PARADE? – tell you what.  You want to honor my voluntary tour in Viet Nam, derail these latest public wars for private profit, devote however many billions it will take to do right by our wounded, and the damage we inflicted,  and have those responsible for these disasters brought to trial.          

    Chuck "Mutt" Winant, La Mesa, Ca. []

  8. AND  August 26, 2009 at 7:33 am


    What did you do?

    How did you respond?

    Was it one women, two, ten, frankly how many anti-war protestors were there regardless of sex? This is the kind of info you would have been expected to respond to in any police report back in the day.

    More importantly, were you the only Marine on that flight?

    How many other Marines or even troopers were with you on that flight?

    Did you smack her?

    Would you smack her today?

    Would you or did you defend your honor and the honor of the Corps. Reason I ask this is that regardless of sex, age, long hair or intimidating hard hat, anyone spitting on me I don’t recognize as human let alone a female – period, and I’m not a Marine?

    Now, I’m not going to be insentive enough to dumb enough to ask you if you killed anyone in Nam – DUMB, DUMB, DUMB, but hell man you are a Marine, always will be til the day you die. I respect that. I know for a fact too many Marines who did kill people in Nam, and do I believe they would walk away after being spit on – I don’t think so.

    Bobby Hanafin
    The Mustang Major

    I also am somewhat a Gentlemen, as in An Officer and a Gentlemen, however if anyone spits on me, man, woman, child, I draw the line, and I was Army. Had anyone spit on me returning through San Francisco to Oakland with a whole flight full of GIs to back me, I’d smack the shit out of them. And being 21 to 24 too – No bones about it. I’d do it then, and I’d do it now. Hell, I’d do it even more then.

    Something tells me given the number of Marines I got to know from Nam and on Okinawa shortly after the war when you guys began owning the Island from the Army, and though I was a Fly Boy, if I’d been a Marine, I would have been even quicker to smack the hell outta her, throw all her liberal hippie boyfriends all over that terminal building, get them and me arrested. This is not being Rambo, this is being PROUD that I served screw them. Hell, do you really want us to believe that police back in the day would have sided with liberals – COME ON NOW BRO.

    I’m not doubting you got spit on, what I’m really questioning is how you reacted, if you did nothing cause you are a Gent fine that at least beats not having any hard evidence.

    We are looking for evidence, now if this were a court of law and you had to take an oath on the bible that you were spit upon and it were entered as exhibit 101 meaning one more beyond 100 cases of Vietnam Veterans testifying under oath they’ve been spit upon THAT WOULD BE HARD EVIDENCE.

    No, I’m not calling you a liar, simply asking you to provide hard evidence.

  9. The Mustang Major  August 26, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Vietnam Veterans Say This Is A Must Read []
    October 29, 2001: The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam by Jerry Lembcke-July-1998-New York Univ. Press.  

    Lembcke dissected dozens of stories of ‘Nam’ vets being spat on by the anti-war movement at home, (usually, legend has it, by a young woman in the San Francisco airport). But even more importantly he eloquently exposes and breaks down who the myth serves [poliitcally, socially, and culturally], and the importance of accurate recollection; ironically if the real Vietnam War had been remembered, the Iraq War might not have been fought.  

    We need to take away the power of political, social, nationalistic, and cultural institutions [VFW and American Legion come to mind] to mythologize our experiences. We need to show how myths are used by political/social/nationalistic institutions to manipulate the decision making process. Especially when myths of war are manipulated by politicians who never served [Weapons of Mass Destrucion in Iraq historically will remain one of the most disasterous myths in U.S. History leading to the loss of countless American GIs and Iraqi civilians. VT Ed]

    And we need to begin by dispelling the power of myths like that of the spat-upon Vietnam veteran by debunking them. Unlike the obligation of us Veterans to prove we are disabled with documented evidence from our military medical records [in most cases for older Vets practically impossible], gathering evidence of the spat upon Veteran is relatively easy given that mainstream media, colleges, Universities, the National Archives and so on maintain documented archives of media coverage of the period. Regardless if we view media as biased in favor of war (and they are for WAR makes and sells well NEWS], or media has a liberal bias the fact remains that archives are maintained on anti-war protests and incidents between anti-war protestors and our troops returning from Vietnam. It is the obligation of those promoting THE MYTH to provide such evidence they have been well DISABLED.  

    Many Americans today know that GIs were mistreated upon their return from Vietnam. Their images of Vietnam veterans run from the hapless sad sack to the freaky serial killer; for them post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] is a virtual synonym for the Vietnam veteran. But they have rarely heard of fragging, the practice of Soldiers killing their own officers. Even buying the right-wing contention that fragging was rare in Vietnam, even they admit it occurred. The incidents THANK GOD may not be as low or insignificant as Iraq or Afghanistan but regardless if it was ONE or a HUNDRED, one is one too many.  

    However, fraggin ain’t nothing, it don’t mean a damn thing, except to the officer. It is the true story of the widespread rebellion of troops in Vietnam and the affinity of GIs and Veterans for the politics of the left that has been lost in the myth of the spat-upon Vietnam veteran.

    Lembke’s book is a must read for anyone fighting to keep the real legacies of the Vietnam War alive and the priorities of all Veterans focused on what really matters to us as a group. Lembcke goes into the history of how important past wars, their Veterans, and the common summation of the public, are invaluable in building for support for the next war.

    [During the Guld War General Colin Powell remained concerned about the Vietnam Syndrome that the American people would never again sustain a Vietnam experience, and how did the right get around the Vietnam Syndrome? They changed the rules of recording history by revising it, and politicians of both parties ensured not making the same mistake again of demanding all out commitment to war from the American people. With access to the All Volunteer Force, those who once feared the Vietnam Syndrome got around it by not demanding self-sacrifice from the American people. THE DRAFT is an evil demon to all sides of the political spectrum for they all know it would mean the end of the war(s) and another myth can be sustained by the left that THE DRAFT ended in 1972 as American tax payers still fund the Selective Service System TODAY??? VT. Ed]

    Lembke also presented a great filmography and references for further study. How Vietnam is to be remembered looms large on the agenda of the turn-of-the-century legacy studies on most colleges and universities TODAY. The links between failure to learn the lessons of Vietnam leading to Iraq and Afghanistan are also being studied and debated by people who in large part never played a role. However, a generation of professors and scholars (right, left, and moderate) will be retiring soon that remember Vietnam as a war that was lost because of betrayal at home, Vietnam becomes a modern day Alamo that must be avenged, a pretext for more war and generations of more Veterans. [This was written prior to 911 but the history lesson is reinforced even more by national reaction post-911 including the government’s intentional ploy to not demand national self sacrifice thus do an end run around the Vietnam Syndrome. One cannot help but feeling that the central reason that both Colin Powell and General Eric Shinseki were force from their jobs as Secretary of State and Chief of Staff of the Army due to their concerns about the Vietnam Syndrome and politicians intent to do an end run around it by not demanding national commitment to winning any war(s).

    On  the other hand Vietnam is remembered as a war in which Soldiers and pacifists joined hands to fight for peace, Vietnam symbolizes popular resistance to corrupted political authority and the dominant images of what it means to be a good American.

    [In fact, the corruption that invested the previous administration goes far beyond as former Nixon aid, John Dean said, "Anything the Nixon Administration could do WRONG!"VT. ED]

    By challenging myths like that of the Spat-upon Vietnam veteran, we the people reclaim our role in the writing of our own history, the construction of our own memory, and the making of our own identity not what political strategist on the left or right want us to THINK.

    This is not to say that both Vietnam and Vietnam Era Veterans did not and do not feel spat upon in a ‘symbolic’ sense and many today including me still do. It is how we interpret and feel about the reason why we were spit upon that only differ, and the fact that very few, if any, actual incidents of being spat upon actually occurred.

    Bobby Hanafin
    The Mustang Major

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