Boston.com News Boston Globe Opinion Op-ed Debunking a spitting image
STORIES ABOUT spat-upon Vietnam veterans are like mercury: Smash one and six more appear. It's hard to say where they come from. For a book I wrote in 1998 I looked back to the time when the spit was supposedly flying, the late 1960s and early 1970s. I found nothing. No news reports or even claims that someone was being spat on.
What I did find is that around 1980, scores of Vietnam-generation men were saying they were greeted by spitters when they came home from Vietnam. There is an element of urban legend in the stories in that their point of origin in time and place is obscure, and, yet, they have very similar details. The story told by the man who spat on Jane Fonda at a book signing in Kansas City recently is typical. Michael Smith said he came back through Los Angeles airport where ''people were lined up to spit on us."
Like many stories of the spat-upon veteran genre, Smith's lacks credulity. GIs landed at military airbases, not civilian airports, and protesters could not have gotten onto the bases and anywhere near deplaning troops.
There may have been exceptions, of course, but in those cases how would protesters have known in advance that a plane was being diverted to a civilian site? And even then, returnees would have been immediately bused to nearby military installations and processed for reassignment or discharge.