Equal Justice Under Law
Background  Case Calendar  More Options
Critiques of the Judiciary
"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act."
-- George Orwell

Soaring Above the Clouds
A passion for justice propelled former Air Force pilot Charles W. Heckman to break through the barriers of discrimination faced by veterans of an unpopular war.


Part 1
After coming home from Vietnam, the battle for survival began

As our servicemen and women come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, they will need to know that powerful persons in the government do not mean them well. Those of us who served in Vietnam must tell them the truth about what they have to expect. What is reported here was learned through hard experience. This is my account of what it is like for an American veteran to try to pursue a career in science after returning from the Vietnam War.

Many of my fellow veterans have become convinced that their government is out to kill them, apparently to save the money that the law says it owes us for benefits. The costs that government planners fear most are those for medical care as the surviving Vietnam Era veterans become older. However, pure malice also seems to be involved since employment discrimination has barred millions of veterans from getting the kinds of civilian jobs that would include medical coverage, thereby removing their dependence on the Department of Veterans' Affairs and saving the government the cost of their care.

Although the majority of Americans seem to be genuinely thankful to veterans for keeping them safe from the murderous extremists who killed so many people around the world during the 20th century as well as those who seem to be menacing the country now, they can do little to assist the former servicemen and women with their problems because they are not in a position to provide first-class employment, and they are ignorant of the problems veterans face due to an apparently deliberate distortion of the facts by the mass media. A militant minority, however, will harm veterans every time the chance presents itself because of their ideologies, and many non-veterans with a say in the hiring processes of government agencies and large private companies do not want to open opportunities to veterans out of fear of future competition after a patriotic and highly-motivated veteran produces more or advances faster than his non-veteran co-workers.

This is the first in a series of articles outlining some of the real problems veterans have faced since the mood of the country took a radical turn during the Vietnam War. After my own service in that war, I pursued a career as a scientist. Because this proved to be impossible in the United States after I returned home from the war, I left the country and performed research in Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia sponsored by foreign and international institutes and organizations. Meanwhile, I persisted in applying for employment in the United States, and after filing several employment discrimination lawsuits, I began assembling documents on the general problem that Congress tried several times to solve by passing laws. Unfortunately for veterans, Americans have not been very law abiding since the 1960s, and the judicial system and executive agencies have conspired to see that the laws were not upheld.

These articles can be considered an abstract of a book I am completing, so I am omitting all references. These will be in the book together with many details for which sufficient space is not available here. These articles also omit any reference to matters for which the Department of Veterans' Affairs is responsible. For the uninitiated, veterans' problems involve only this department, but the most damage done to veterans is caused by other departments and agencies, including the United States Departments of Labor, Justice and the Office of Personnel Management. Although a considerable number of veterans have died from untreated, service-connected illnesses or been impoverished by delays in processing applications for pensions, these problems have been well publicized and will not be further discussed. These articles focus on the problems faced by millions of veterans who have come home from war without serious physical or mental disabilities and needed only a means of earning a living to survive.

After the Vietnam War, veterans found themselves barred from many professions in the United States. Prominent among these were the academic professions, including the sciences. There were few exceptions, and most veterans who managed to achieve some degree of success in the natural sciences did so against considerable opposition.

During the same period of time, the scientific professions in America experienced an unprecedented decline in ethics. The natural sciences had been developed at the end of the Middle Ages by very religious people, who reasoned that because seeking the truth is good, the use of empirical methods to learn the truth about our material universe was a holy pursuit. It follows that deliberate deception was the greatest act of professional betrayal that a scientist can commit. By the 1980s, however, science in the United States had degenerated from the pursuit of truth to the pursuit of money to such an extent that the most prestigious British scientific journal, Nature, published an article about the latest American cheating scandal with the title, "Is Science a Pack of Lies?" In spite of considerable publicity about the serious decline of ethics among American scientists, the problem continued to get worse.

Discrimination against American veterans and the deterioration of the natural sciences in the United States combined to cost me the chance to practice my profession in America and caused my family severe financial hardship. However, it gave me a rare view of the scientific establishment in the United States, which few outsiders get to see. A small but determined rear guard of scientists with devotion to their chosen fields of study are fighting against an overwhelming coalition of bureaucrats masquerading as scientists and powerful special interest groups. Their objective was to plunder the wealth of the United States, and to do this they needed to find scientists to lie for them. Those scientists who refused to cooperate had to be driven from their profession by depriving them of subsistence. More and more, horror stories about the consequences that whistleblowers have to face spread by word of mouth and over the Internet, serving not to produce a demand for reform but as examples to others of what happens to those who insist on telling the truth. Victory in the kangaroo courts set up to entangle whistleblowers in endless administrative proceedings always went to the corrupt bureaucrats in the end. For 16 years, this process has been continuing while the White House has been occupied by men who were of draft age during the Vietnam War but chose to utilize deferments reserved for the privileged to avoid military service.

After graduating from college in 1963, I was awarded a commission in the U.S. Air Force through the ROTC program. Because I had been selected as a distinguished graduate based on my achievements in college, I received a regular commission after beginning my active duty. During my first year of service, I completed pilot training. Then, I was assigned to fly C-130s at Naha Air Base on Okinawa. During the next 18 months, I flew regularly in Southeast Asia, carrying troops and supplies into Vietnam and neighboring countries. I also flew on missions to drop toys and leaflets over North Vietnam and to direct air strikes against military targets in North Vietnam and Laos.

After completing my tour of duty on Okinawa, I was assigned as a forward air controller in Vietnam, where I extended my tour of duty twice so that I could leave the Air Force as soon as I returned to the United States. My experiences with the Air Force bureaucracy quickly disabused me of any thoughts of making a career in that branch of the service, and I recognized the unfortunate fact that I would have to decide whether I would do my best in combat and help destroy some of the armaments being shipped south by the Communists along the Ho Chi Minh Trail or do all of the things necessary to advance my career, such as "getting my ticket punched" in a variety of different non-combat jobs, buttering up whoever was writing my effectiveness reports, and putting myself in for assorted combat decorations. I chose to do my best in combat, and I believe that my efforts resulted in the destruction of enough enemy munitions to have saved the lives of a considerable number of American, allied, and South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. In one case, I know that I saved the lives of about a dozen American marines in Quang Tri Province when I called off a mortar barrage over the radio after it had been ordered on a position through which the marines were walking.

In November, 1968, the charter flight that returned me home landed at Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, California, and I received my honorable discharge as a captain. While in the Air Force, more than 1800 of my 3200 flying hours were classified as combat hours. I received orders awarding me the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 28 Oak Leaf Clusters, and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star. The Air Force did not deem me important enough to actually deliver these awards, except for one Air Medal. I never asked for them and never will.

My experience gave me a different perspective on the war than that of other veterans who had seen only a small part of the war zone. I had taken part in transporting regular American combat units and their equipment into the country, flown for several months over Khe Sanh during the siege, seen the Tet offensive at Danang, and flown over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. I witnessed first hand the movement of tons of supplies produced by the formidable armament industry of the Communist Bloc and recognized the fact that the war we were fighting was no insurgency. I saw our goals as correct but our methods as fundamentally flawed and wondered whether the American civilian and military leaders were completely out of touch with reality.

After studying Vietnamese in my spare time for about six months, I could converse enough to get a cross-section of opinion about the war. While many Vietnamese did not like the Americans in their country, they wanted the Communists even less. There were also Vietnamese who were outspokenly pro-American, and many of these had come from the North. The most prevalent opinion was that American forces were undesirable in their country because of the behavior of individual servicemen, but we were absolutely needed to protect them from the catastrophe that the Communists would cause. Although Americans were coming to Vietnam with the preconceived idea that the South Vietnamese were not willing to fight for their own freedom, I observed on many occasions that they were able to hold their own against formidable North Vietnamese units armed with better weapons. Their combat service was not limited to one year, and many had spent a lifetime fighting against the Communists or fighting first against the French and then against the Communists. In fact, almost a million South Vietnamese sacrificed their lives fighting our common enemy. After I returned to Southeast Asia later as a civilian, my suspicions were confirmed when I learned that most of the enemy soldiers had been involuntary conscripts. The leading Communist functionaries sent their children to school in France or in a Communist Bloc country to keep them out of harms way. Many of the North Vietnamese draftees who would otherwise have deserted remained to fight to the death against us because the Communists frequently let their soldiers know that parents and siblings of anyone accused of failing to carry out orders would face arrest and punishment for the actions of their sons or brothers. This is a powerful weapon of compulsion in a society with strong family values.

My opinion of the anti-war movement and its supporters in the American press was extremely negative because I knew that the Communists had murdered millions of people all over the world and would murder millions more each time they took over another country. Most Americans I knew felt the same way I did. However, for reasons never clear to me, there was an extremely active core of anti-Vietnam War activists within the faculties of many colleges and universities, and they exploited the fear of the draft by many students to organize mobs of "demonstrators" not averse to using violence against anyone who disagreed with them and vandalism to gain public attention. The mainstream press and television networks encouraged them as much as they could. Reading their publications after the bitter fruits of the Communist victory had ripened, it was easy to see that their propaganda was based largely on lies together with snippets of the truth to make it more credible. It is also apparent how incompetent our federal government was in explaining the causes of the war to the American people and even to some of the servicemen. This indicates that the leaders who were supposed to be responsible for organizing the war effort did not understand much about what was going on themselves.

While Americans have the basic right to express their opinions, the anti-Vietnam War movement spread its propaganda at the cost of the taxpayers. Large amounts of federal money were flowing into the university system, allegedly for education and research, under laws passed after the "Sputnik scare." This money was used instead to radicalize American students and organize mobs to promote causes hostile to the principles of a free society. One lasting result was the continued warfare against American veterans, first physical and then economic.

I had continued to fly combat missions until the last day before I was scheduled to leave Pleiku for Danang to catch the flight to California in November 1968, and the time between my last combat sortie in Vietnam and my arrival as a civilian in New York was only a few days. There had been no time to prepare for what I would do next. After determining that nobody was eagerly waiting to offer me a good job, I took several examinations necessary to continue my education and signed up for unemployment insurance.

Applications for the spring semester had been closed before I left Vietnam, so I began to write for application forms. My interest was in systematic biology and ecology of reptiles and amphibians, and Cornell was the only university in New York State that had a department devoted to systematics and ecology. To apply, I went there personally to submit an application. At the admissions office for the graduate school, I was told that it was already a few days beyond the deadline for filing, but applications were still being accepted. I was advised to contact the graduate advisor for the department, Dr. John Peleg Barlowe.

After explaining the situation to him, he told me in no uncertain terms that he did not want me to apply. He said, "You can file an application next year—maybe!" He stressed the "maybe." I had also noted that he showed a particularly negative reaction after I told him that I had recently returned from Vietnam. Having been away from the United States for most of the past four years, I had not been aware of the hatred that had been incited against those of us who were fighting. I was to learn that even the enemy soldiers who were shooting at us had less against us personally than our own prosperous countrymen and women, many of whom the Communists would have lined up before a firing squad if they had ever succeeded in taking control.

I recognized the difference between being rejected from Cornell and being told not to apply. The difference is great because rejecting an applicant might have to be justified by some deficiency in qualifications, while telling someone not to apply indicates pure discrimination. Since the graduate advisor had never seen an application from me, I could assume that he knew absolutely nothing about my abilities, and the only thing of consequence that I had told him was that I had recently served in Vietnam.

While Dr. Barlowe was talking on the telephone, I glanced at the pile of applications on his desk, which he had set aside as those chosen to receive fellowships. Because I can read upside down, I was able to see that the applicant who filed the form at the top of the pile reported a score of 780 on the biology achievement part of the Graduate Record Examination. I later learned that this score placed him at the 90th percentile level. I left Cornell without applying.

Not long after the conversation with Dr. Barlowe, I received a notice from the Educational Testing Service that I had scored 890 on the biology achievement examination of the Graduate Record Examination. A score of 880 was the 99th percentile level. I had also taken the examination for the New York State Regents War Service scholarship, and I was notified that I had been awarded one. This did not help me much because the bureaucrats at the New York States Board of Regents found a technicality to deny me the New York State Incentive Award, which everyone is supposed to receive without any requirement for an examination and which would have paid almost as much as the scholarship. The appeals of this decision that I sent to the Board of Regents were not even answered. Over the years, the New York State Board of Regents earned a reputation for being rabidly anti-veteran.

Eventually, I enrolled at St. John's University, which accepted my application more than three months beyond its deadline. It required me to take the other parts of the Graduate Record Examination, known as the verbal and the quantitative ability tests. My score on the verbal ability examination placed me between the 98th and 99th percentile levels, and that on the qualitative ability examination placed me at the 96th percentile level. After taking 36 credit hours for my M.S. degree, I had earned 1 B and 11 As. That was before "grade inflation," when not many As were awarded. I had also been selected for a teaching and a research assistantship, so I gained experience supervising laboratory courses and did not have to pay tuition fees. That was extremely fortunate for me because there was a long delay in the payment of my veterans' education assistance allowance, and I would not have had enough money by the payment deadline if I had been required to pay tuition. I later learned that many veterans had to involuntarily quit their college studies because the Veterans' Administration routinely delayed payment of the allowance to which the veterans were entitled until after the last date for payment of tuition and fees.

During my studies for Master of Science, I took a two-year leave of absence because I was offered a job flying for a civilian company in Southeast Asia. As it turned out, the company that hired me began downsizing as soon as I arrived, so I worked for a local company for very low pay. However, I wanted to stay to complete a research project that I intended to use for my dissertation, which was also accepted for publication by an international journal under the title, "Seasonal Succession of Species in a Rice Paddy in Vientiane, Laos." I received my degree in 1973.

St. John's had a biology program oriented toward biochemistry and molecular biology. That was not the field I wished to pursue. However, I had already learned that the anti-Vietnam War establishment running many of the universities in the United States would block my education and professional advancement whenever it could. Its adherents were ensconced at the best endowed universities in the United States. I therefore began to file applications to continue my studies in Europe. A few years after I was told not to apply at Cornell, I read in one of the major American news magazines that this university was receiving more money from the federal government than all other colleges and universites in New York State, combined. To support myself, I spent a year flying as an airline captain in Cambodia, which was on the verge of collapse. I saw the horrible suffering of the people as the United States abandoned them, even denying them vital supplies, and I later reported my experiences in the book, The Phnom Penh Airlift: Confessions of a Pig Pilot, published by McFarlane in Jefferson, North Carolina, in 1990.

In August 1974, I returned to New York to marry a girl I had met in Laos, who had gone to Utah to earn her Associate of Science degree. I then enrolled to study for my doctoral degree at the University of Hamburg in Germany, where she joined me after graduation. We spent one year in Thailand, where I completed my doctoral research under the terms of an international agreement between the Bundesforschungsanstalt für Fischerei in Hamburg and the Thai Fishery Department. My dissertation was submitted in German and published in English as a book, Rice Field Ecology in Northeastern Thailand, in The Netherlands.

In 1974, I also began an 18-year battle with the United States Department of Justice over my wife's citizenship. It ended with the decision by a judge in our favor after litigation lasting six years. My wife should have been naturalized three years after our marriage, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) deliberately created problems for us. I later noted that Colombian drug lords were receiving their green cards from the same office without delay; and while the Department of Justice was spending tens of thousands of tax dollars to fight me in the courts so that it could keep my wife from becoming a citizen, it allowed members of the Weathermen — a group of terrorists famous for bombing government buildings to protest the Vietnam War — to escape prosecution and prison for their crimes. Maybe it was a coincidence that Congresswoman Bella Abzug's district was only a few blocks from the federal building in which the INS has its offices. Recently, I visited the website established by a retired lieutenant colonel, whose wife worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in New York, and discovered that bribery was commonplace. After she reported it, she was fired.

After receiving my Doktor der Naturwissenschaften degree from the University of Hamburg in 1979, I began working on research projects in Germany. My opportunities were limited because I was not a German citizen and, because of the five years I had spent in the United States Air Force, I was older than the age preferred for entry into a permanent faculty position at most German universities. Germany has no laws against age discrimination, and some of its states have maximum ages for initial employment. I was told in a letter after applying for one position with the University of Cologne that it would be illegal to hire me because of my age, and I was denied consideration for a professorship at universities in Argentina and Uruguay under German sponsorship because of my citizenship.

In spite of the lack of an opportunity for a permanent position, I continued to receive research grants limited to one or two years, and I performed research along the Elbe Estuary until 1990. During that period, I wrote many research papers that were published in internationally recognized scientific journals, including several of monograph length.

In 1990, I was sent to Brazil by the Max-Planck Institute für Limnology. For more than four years, I led a group performing research in the Pantanal, a huge wetland near the geographical center of South America. Through this project, many Brazilian and German researchers prepared dissertations for their master's and PhD degrees. The results of the work are summarized in my book, The Pantanal of Pocone, published by Kluwer in The Netherlands. In 1995 and 1996, I was sent from Germany as an exchange scientist to another institute in Brazil.

Naturally, it would seem reasonable to expect that military service in the Vietnam War would become less important with time, and my best opportunity would eventually be in the United States. However, this was not the case. As long as non-veterans whose self-esteem was damaged by their fear of serving in Vietnam continue to hold influential positions, being a veteran will continue to be disqualifying for obtaining employment in the United States. By the time the anti-veteran establishment retires and relinquishes power, the veterans will have died off or become too old to work. The damage done to the veterans is therefore permanent, and the same kind of damage is being done to the veterans serving abroad now because of the bad publicity the press and television moguls have been giving servicemen and veterans since 1965. Their contemporaries who do not serve in uniform are progressing rapidly up the career ladder, while those defending the country at the risk of their lives will be frozen out of American society, repeating the pattern of discrimination established during the 1960s.

The reprisal for military service in "unpopular wars" even continues into the next generation. Because of my situation, I was unable to assist my own three children with money for their education, but they all managed to do well on their own, mainly because attendance at universities in Europe depends mainly on the performance of students in high school rather than on the bank accounts of the parents. In one way, they were fortunate in being able to get a good primary education in Europe, which is not available in the United States unless the parents have a great deal of money to spend for private schools. The same people who stubbornly refused veterans the chance to work as teachers and professors in the United States have also irreparably destroyed quality public education and made higher education unaffordable for most Americans.

After a series of incidents reflecting the willingness of federal bureaucrats to cheat and even commit crimes to keep veterans from working in the United States, I filed a lawsuit against the Executive Branch of the federal government in 1985. This brought me into contact with another aspect of federal corruption: the dysfunction of the Judicial Branch.

When I filed the lawsuit against the federal government, I also filed a discrimination lawsuit against the State University of New York, College at Brockport, and its research foundation. Both lawsuits were filed pro se, that is, without a lawyer. Although both the State of New York and a lawyer for the private research foundation attempted to utilize every trick to make the lawsuit difficult and succeeded in having the judge dismiss all complaints under veterans' law, my claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act forced the university to offer me a better settlement than I would have been entitled to if I had won before a jury. In contrast, my lawsuit against the Executive Branch went nowhere and was eventually dismissed without a jury trial.

In dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Thomas Platt made statements that were later ruled to be wrong by the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, but in my case they upheld Judge Platt's decision in an unpublished affirmation.

In 1997, I again experienced after-effects of my service to the United States in Vietnam, when two scientists of the United States Forest Service in Alaska offered me $20,000 to withdraw from a federal civil service selection. The way veterans were denied their legal rights to employment services and protection from discrimination will be described in the next article. In a subsequent article, my own appeals process against the Forest Service will be described.

Copyright 2008, National Writers Syndicate

From: National Writers Syndicate, http://nationalwriterssyndicate.com/content/view/371/2/, accessed 02/06/08.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.
The statements and opinions expressed in "Robbing Veterans of Their Future" are those of the author, Charles W. Heckman, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dr. Bernofsky.


(1)    (2)    (3)    (4)    (5)   
Help Balance the Scales of Justice!
Help Balance the Scales of Justice!
Web site created November, 1998     This section last modified February, 2008
|  Home/Search  |  Site Map  |  About Bernofsky  |  Curriculum Vitae  |  Lawsuits  |  Case Calendar  |

|  Judicial Misconduct  |  Judicial Reform  |  Contact  |  Interviews  |  Disclaimer  |
This Web site is not associated with Tulane University or its affiliates

© 1998-2013 Carl Bernofsky - All rights reserved
send me an e-mail