What Really Needs to be Said About Purple Heart, Purple Haze


Purple Heart, Purple Haze [Source Link]

By Simon Maxwell Apter: “By honoring the psychological wounds of soldiers–not shaming them–the armed forces might give fighting men and women the respect they deserve.”

28303358_400 Not intended to be a turnoff, because I almost was until I read beyond the first paragraph, I must say upfront that I have an problem with both Apter’s and Maraniss’s accurate use of an incident that allegedly occurred during Vietnam involving General Westmoreland’s attitude toward soldier that were not wounded in combat as being slackers and fakers. My first reaction was questioning the accuracy of this report even if I believed Westmoreland had such an attitude. Heck that attitude about severity of wounds still
(Front cover of book by Mike Hager) exists today, and it is not limited to flag or general officers, the Military Order of the Purple Heart and like Americanism organization are a case in point.

It is the rest of the story that really matters and is accurate. See the end of the article for my views on what really did happen with the so-called Westmoreland yelling Fakers incident in Nam. If you are a Nam Vet be sure to read my commentary, because the book Mr. Apter refers to is being made into a major motion picture to be released in 2010.

Robert L. Hanafin

Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Staff Writer, VT     

What really needs to be said about, Purple Heart, Purple Haze.

I agree with Mr. Apter’s views on the Pentagon and the apathetic attitude towards those with PTSD that enhance the stigma rather than deal with it head on. “Now that the Pentagon has ruled explicitly to exclude victims of post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD) from eligibility for the Purple Heart medal–unless, of course, they have PTSD in addition to some other bleeding or broken or punctured malady–it seems that…callousness, out of touch forty years ago, still pervades the armed forces. Unless you bleed–really bleed–then you’re a "faker."

I believe he could have used a better choice of words than band of brothers given the 21st century Armed Forces has had in increase of female troops at least five fold since Vietnam, but that’s part of the story he leaves out. The "band of brothers" within the armed forces is taking a decidedly unbrotherly view of the debate over the Purple Heart, as comrades in combat have taken to implicitly rating their "brothers’" wounds: if there’s not enough gore involved, then the awarding of the medal becomes the subject of tawdry pettiness. “ Apter says.
Well, this is the attitude that I’m referring to and cases in point are the Swift boating of John Kerry, and the Purple Heart Band Aid incident at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Highlighting this callous attitude are unfounded views like "Every badge hunter and his brother will have this distinguished award in their sights," Army Captain Matthew Nichols wrote in a letter to…Stars and Stripes last spring, when the specter of thousands of emotionally wounded teenaged and twenty something veterans became an issue too pressing to ignore" according to Mr. Apter.

cover_01This is of course part of the Stolen Valor argument or claim that fake veterans and medal hunters fell out of the sky during and after Vietnam. That attitude maintains quite falesly that fakers are continuing to fall outta the skie over Iraq and Afghanistan.
stolen_valor_act.htm_cmp_artsy100_vbtn Give me a break Captain, that’s what Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act for to prevent such a flood of Link above to info on fakes via prosecution the Stolen Valor Act. what more do you we "really" want? What were the real political motives behind both the book Stolen Valor and the Congressional Act that BTW was promoted by a right of center (they prefer to be called moderate) Democrat. Go figure. Major Hanafin.

kerry_medal_50. Mr. Apter notes that, “Joe Palagyi, national adjutant of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, equated psychological trauma to "almost getting wounded."

Well that of course rings of John Kerry almost earned his medals, or worse yet did not earn them at all, and encourages distasteful purple heart band aids, let’s not forget Max Cleland’s wound being self inflicted plus Max being a Muslin lover, last but not least John McCain got special treatment and collaborated with the enemy during captivity – ALL STOLEN VALOR LIES FOR POLITICAL GAIN – NOTHING MORE NOTHING LESS!!! (Major Hanafin)

As Mr. Apter says, “in other words, if a soldier’s postwar life is emotionally shattered directly because of his service to his or her country, then it’s their own damn unsoldierly fault; any heroism or quick thinking that led to one’s almost–as opposed to actually–getting wounded is not triumphant but rather a gateway to mockery.”

The Stolen Valor book, attitude, political strategy, and lingering attitude among some older Veterans does more contributing to STIGMA than dealing with it.

Timing and Attitude

Mr. Apter does have an insightful view of timing and attitude from a professional medical-mental health viewpoint. “The Department of Defense’s ruling comes at an odd time. By 2007, only two states–Idaho and Wyoming–didn’t maintain some sort of mental health parity law (complete, limited or otherwise), and companies like GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) were using thirty-second advertising spots to promote–and then promise the cure for–a raft of psychological afflictions. In GSK’s case, a frequently aired campaign glossed the symptoms of social anxiety disorder and then promoted Paxil as a remedy. Those Dickensian stigmas associated with psychological disease, it would seem, were receding: you wouldn’t make fun of a fellow on crutches; why make fun of one on Klonopin? Moreover, in a sidebar to the ’08-’09 economic crisis, the $700 billion bailout package passed by Congress in October also included the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act, which, when implemented nationally in 2010, will require insurers to treat (and pay for) mental afflictions on a par with physical afflictions. Even insurers in Idaho and Wyoming will have to pay for a couple of Effexor or Clonazepam prescriptions here and there.”

stigma_surgeon_logo_50_50 But despite having its own in-house military Mental Health professionals, Apter notes that, “the armed forces don’t take such a tolerant view of mental hygiene. The problem, according to the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a Pentagon-supported group, is that awarding the decoration for psychological afflictions would "debase" the medal, like a kid watering down the lemonade so he can make more profit. After all, how would an amputee feel if he had to share his honor with someone who’s merely suffering from a shattered psyche? It simply wouldn’t be fair. Then again, it’s not really fair to have our veterans searching for solace in suicide, either, which is what’s happening at an increasingly alarming rate among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. A 2007 CBS News investigation deemed suicide to be "epidemic" among returning veterans, which found their suicide rates to be twice that of non-veterans.”

Here too I have a slight problem with Apter’s passion and accuracy, I do not believe that the MOPH is a Pentagon-supported group. That claim is misleading unless Mr. Apter clarifies what he means by Pentagon-supported? The American Legion, VFW, MOPH, may have access to give input and feedback to DOD, and even provide support to the Pentagon via Americanism (Nationalistic Patriotism or extremism) and serious support for troops as long as they are combat troops, but no Veterans Service Organization is financially or otherwise supported by the Pentagon. The closest they have come to being so is America Supports Bush.mil, and we all know how credible that organization still is. Major Hanafin.

Speaking of which, let’s throw a monkey wrench in MOPH’s definition and attitude toward the Purple Heart. Their traditionalist contention tends to be one has to have been in contact or combat with the enemy and suffered wounds as a result. THIS IS FOR OUR FEMALE READERS OUT THERE. Technically under than definition, women in the Armed Forces should not and cannot be awarded the Purple Heart. How many women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have been awarded the purple heart as an exception to the rule? Very few, but some.

ptsdleft Our society, and the Pentagon for that matter (to include the Army, andof course the Marines) makes it a policy that women in the Armed Forces are not placed in combat units. (Armor comes to mind guess due to the close quarters with males or whatever reason, in fact rationale may be valid. That’s not the point.) Thus, despite the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan having relatively few if any non-combat zones or safe areas for women, and tanks are only good for static roadblocks per se due to the collateral civilian damage they can do, the MOPH must either exclude women from receiving the Purple Heart or change their views to reflect the 21st century realities of combat. Realities that given the overwhelming presence of women, VSOs of 19th and 20th century macho mentality cannot relate to.

Every argument we’ve heard, really excuses, about either granting or denying dignified recognition of PTSD or wounds for that matter have totally ignored the fact that women continue to play a more significant role in our volunteer Armed Forces, than anytime in history of the nation, and in combat however defined despite technicalities that downplay their role. Put another way, I believe it’s only a matter of time before we see by necessity, not desire, women in Armor Units inside tanks along side male comrades at arms. Not because our society desires it or even if the Army endorses it, but because the units have no choice but to admit that women "can do" combat. Hell, they are doing it in Iraq and Afghanistan as I type this, and they are doing it well despite lingering stereotypes.

Back to other technicalities, Apter notes that, “PTSD and depression, according to the Pentagon, are not intentionally caused by the enemy and are therefore not the types of wounds that DoD likes to celebrate”. (Major Hanafin prefers the term dignify not celebrate now Apter is being a little bit callous)

“While quiet depression doesn’t quite appeal to classic ideals of heroism in the way that, say, shredded viscera or an amputated limb can, it’s a slippery argument to make when a widely cited report says 20 percent of American fighting forces suffer from PTSD or severe depression.” Apter says, but I will not dignify his Devil’s Arithmetic, and application of it to comparing PTSD with the Boeing 757-223– that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11. I no more want to exploit 911, especially as it applies to the Pentagon, than those on the far right who desired to exploit it but failed to do so awarding America the first African-American President in history. God does have a righteous and fair sense of humor when dealing with hypocrisy, something it would behoove the Obama administration to remember ala Afghanistan. Major Hanafin


In closing, Apter notes and I passionately agree that a wounded soldier, (male or female) whether he or she suffers from PTSD or from an RPG-shattered face, or both, is a wounded soldier-PERIOD!

By shining honor, and not stigma and shame, onto the psychological wounds of victimized soldiers, the armed forces can perhaps begin to update their decidedly 19th and 20th century old-fashioned vision of sacrifice and give fighting men and women of the 21st century ALL the credit and respect they deserve.

stigma_fireman_logo_50_50_01 I would add, that the most respectful heritage we as Veterans who have gone before can pass onto the next generation is to not hold the same traditionalist and old fashion attitudes, bias, and prejudices that we did ala Purple Heart Band-Aids and questioning (politically Swift Boating) which Veterans deserved which medal, and which one’s FAKED IT for political hay. Most important when is any Veterans Service Organization or advocacy group going to really get serious about PTSD and start attacking STIGMA with the same passion that they go after an amendment to the consitution to protect Old Glory from desecration (Americanism)?
It’s way past time for both the Pentagon and VSO to begin a destigmatization program by taking funding out of selling patriotism and instead seriously dealing with the STIGMA of PTSD! It’s time for at least a poster and media campaign, especially to our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq that THINK BEYOND THE STIGMA!

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

About Simon Maxwell Apter

Simon Maxwell Apter is assistant editor at Lapham’s Quarterly.

Major Hanafin’s views on the Westmoreland incident at the 93rd Evac Hospital in Vietnam

When I read that Westmoreland was quoted as saying upon visiting the 93rd Evac Hospital in South Vietnam was that this sounded too much like the Patton slapping incident of WWII. Westmoreland has been quoted saying about troops not wounded by direct enemy combat was, "I don’t want to see medical wards. I don’t want to see those fakers." Put another way, if there’s not enough blood and gore send them back to the front (boonies), sandbox or mountains as is the case today.

pattonslap_50 Well upon closer examination of this incident, I thought that if such an incident involving two Commanding Generals occurred in the exact same unit during different war periods (WWII & Vietnam) not only was this too much of a coincidence, but there would have been beau coup documented evidence comparing the two incidents, especially in unit histories or the media of the time.

The website of the 93rd has a detailed and balanced narrative of the Patton Slapping Incident of WWII infamy that was depicted in the Motion Picture Patton and was historically well documented. I found nothing at all mentioning such an incident involving General Westmoreland though I found evidence of his visit during that timeframe.

250pxthey_marched_into_sunlight_50 I could only find the same source quoted by Mr. Apter that is David Maraniss’s, They Marched Into Sunlight.[Link] that will be released as a major motion picture next year (2010) and goes into production soon or is by the time you read this Internet Movie Database link.

The book and movie are about the juxtaposition in history of one day in October 1967, when two events, the loss of 61 American soldiers in a Viet Cong ambush and a student protest against Dow Chemical, galvanize opposition to the Vietnam War on college campuses. I don’t know if there is intent to portray the Westmoreland faker incident in the movie, but suffice it to say that incident is based on but two pages (pgs. 466-468) out of Maraniss’s book with little follow-up evidence over the years to support it.

news_1414_1_50 That said, I strongly believe that General Westmoreland may have visited a MASH if you will, and displayed such an attitude toward wounded troops in medical wards that were not combat wounds per se, but upon examination of the 93rd Evac Reunion Website, and contacting 14 members of the 93rd who were assigned to the field hospital on the date in question when Westmoreland paid his visit, the overwhelming response I got by email was that the event was a fabrication. However, I found the most insightful response to be from a Chaplain assigned to the 92rd on that day. His response was that Westmoreland displayed an callous attitude toward troops who had other illnesses or wounds not directly related to combat as exhibited by this incident, but when pressed he would not tell me if Westmoreland had actually yelled or said such things to doctors and nurses. My assessment is that someone took historic fact, the Patton slapping incident, and applied it to a Vietnam setting. I would of at least used a different MASH unit than the one where the Patton incident actually happened.

“In October 22, 1967, General William C. Westmoreland paid a surprise visit to the 93rd Evacuation Hospital near Long Binh, South Vietnam. He had come to distribute Purple Hearts. To his chagrin, he arrived first at a medical ward where soldiers were convalescing from various tropical diseases and infections. "Medical wards!" the General yelled. "I don’t want to see medical wards. I don’t want to see those fakers." Westmoreland’s classless quote is recalled by doctors and nurses at the 93rd who were then treating those "fakers…." David Maraniss’s They Marched Into Sunlight, pgs. 466-468.

That said, I do share Maraniss’s view that the “message was simple: When it came to the suffering of US soldiers, bombs and bullets were honorable; mosquitoes and microbes were not.” However, articulating an attitude or message that’s TRUTH is not the same thing as quoting something that may have never happened. Unless documented evidence can be provided that General Westmoreland actually said and did those things on the date in question saying so does more to harm the message we are trying to relay than help PTSD patients.

I find the rest of Mr. Apter’s article to be most accurate and insightful once I got past the entry point to dig deeper. I will not dignify anything said about Westmoreland without proof, and I’m apathetic toward General Westmoreland.

Bobby Hanafin
The Mustang Major


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Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I've posted on Veterans Today, I've had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner. My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me. Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000. I've been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I'm now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house. I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.