The November 2010 edition of Reader's Digest featured an article by Michael Crowley entitled "Tin Soldiers: Phony vets, fake heroes—there's an epidemic of lying about military service." Crowley writes about how surprisingly widespread this phenomena is, using examples of people like David Budwah who claimed to be an Iraq and Afghanistan war hero when he actually served as a radio specialist in Japan. But, Crowley says, much more offensive is a politician who does so.
Here's an excerpt [emphasis added]:
What would possess these impostors to spin their disgraceful lies? Some, like Budwah, are looking for special treatment. Others may just want respect. Damian Pace, who never finished his military training but occasionally wore U.S. Army uniforms and badges meant for combat veterans, told a federal investigator in 2009 that he wanted to "look cool."
Those guys may be pathetic, but they're not as pernicious as the politicians who want to win votes by tricking us into thinking they're heroes. One of them was Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who while running for the U.S. Senate last March claimed to a group of veterans that he "served in Vietnam." Not quite: Blumenthal got at least five deferments to avoid that war, before joining the reserves.
Blumenthal's lie is not at all unlike that of Idaho's Congressman Walt Minnick. While Blumenthal spoke those words himself, Walt Minnick let his 2008 campaign Facebook make the false claim that he served his country in Vietnam and then blamed an intern for using the misleading language.
Here's a screenshot of the Facebook page captured in October of 2009:
There's the lie in the Information section right below the part about Walt's life of "strong and principled leadership." As has been pointed out, Walt never served in Vietnam; once his deferments expired and while fighting his hometown draft board—all the way to the Presidential appeal level—Walt joined the ROTC to avoid his impending draft and he says so in his own words. Eighteen months of Walt's two-year Reserve obligation were spent in the Pentagon, the remainder was spent in the Nixon White House.
It should be noted that during the Vietnam era, National Guard and Reserve units weren't used in the way they are today; units were rarely mobilized and draft-eligible men could usually avoid combat by joining these units, swelling their ranks and making it nearly impossible to join without someone with connections pulling strings.
The Vietnam service lie remained on Minnick's official 2008 campaign Facebook page until March 29 of this year when, in response to the original posting of "The Vietnam Service Lie," his campaign manager sent this explanation (the "official FB page" referenced below was set up in February):
That's after he vigorously defended the use of the Facebook page language of "serving his country in Vietnam" in his initial email response a day earlier.
The post was not corrected (although it was updated to include a statement from Foster) because there was nothing to correct. As we know from the Blumenthal example, "serving in Vietnam" is widely interpreted to mean combat service. To say a couple of temporary duty assignments of 10 days or less is equivalent to Vietnam service is a grave injustice to the hundreds of thousands of young combat troops who weren't wealthy enough or well-connected enough to successfully fight a draft board or lucky enough to land a cushy assignment in the Pentagon, and to the tens of thousands who lost their lives serving their country in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
To say that Walt Minnick has never lied about his service is just factually inaccurate, unless you also say that Walt Minnick isn't responsible for the content of his campaign materials. That 2008 campaign Facebook page has since been deleted but the lie it contained made its way into many web biographies.
It first appeared in Minnick's Wikipedia entry on March 3, 2010 where it was edited to read that Minnick was a "veteran who served in Vietnam" by someone with an IP address in Moscow, Idaho using a Road Runner ISP. That claim remained until June 1, 2010 when it was finally changed to reflect Minnick's actual service again by someone with an IP address in Boise with an Integra Telecom ISP.
Since our initial posting in March, Boardroom Insiders has not modified their profile of Minnick, still crediting him with a "tour of duty in Vietnam." However, Walt Minnick's biography at LivPAC, the PAC established by Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, no longer appears among the candidates the PAC is endorsing for 2010. LivPAC was founded to "help elect Democratic Members of Congress who support the policies and principles that will make the U.S. government a partner in building and maintaining livable communities that embody smart growth principles." The PAC endorsed Minnick in 2008, held a fundraiser for him July 15, 2009 and his biography appeared in their candidate endorsements through at least March 28, 2010. It's unclear whether Minnick no longer fits the profile of candidates the PAC is endorsing or if there is some other reason for his removal from the list (an email to the PAC requesting clarification has not been returned) but this was his biography as it appeared in March of 2010:
Although Walt is no longer claiming to have served in Vietnam, these are just a few examples of how that lie has migrated into the public perception and, unlike his recent strenuous objections to a misleading statement from his opponent, Walt has made no apparent attempt to correct the perception. If anything he has continued to perpetuate it with ads like this which, while technically correct in saying he "served his country in the U.S Army during Vietnam," omit important context.
How pernicious is it for a politician to lie about his service, then claim to never have lied while continuing to allow others to perpetuate the lie on his behalf?