Spitting Report, Part II: Of Civilian Airports and Attempted Debunkings.--

Spitting Report, Part II:
Landing at Civilian Airports and Other Problems With Attempted Debunkings.


In my first, somewhat speculative post on the stories about servicemen and veterans being spat upon during the Vietnam era, I suggested that perhaps Professor Jerry Lembcke had not fully understood the limitations of LEXIS/NEXIS, the most popular service for news searches (a problem NEXIS shares with WESTLAW). Because in NEXIS the full texts of most of the major newspapers start about 1982, NEXIS is effective for searching 1983 to the present, but is usually not useful for pre-1979 events and is of only marginal utility for 1979-82 searches.

My next post (on newspaper evidence of spitting 1967-72) was the first of several more formal reports on the issue of spitting. Perhaps Lembcke’s most central evidentiary claim is that, if spitting on servicemen was fairly common in the Vietnam era, there would be at least some evidence of it in accounts of the period—if not news reports of spitting on soldiers at least some discussions of it. Lembcke claims that there were no contemporaneous accounts of spitting and no discussions of it, except for one retrospective account in a 1973 book by Robert Jay Lifton and an ambiguous mention by Cardinal John J. O’Connor in a 1968 book. Lembcke claimed that stories of spitting started appearing in the press about 1980.

I found and documented many contemporaneous news accounts of spitting on servicemen in the 1967-72 period. I found many other more generalized discussions of spitting on servicemen in news stories, columns, and letters to the editor (most of which I didn’t bother to cite). Thus, one of Lembcke’s main reasons for doubting the many 1987-2007 extant oral histories of being spat upon is simply false.

Today’s post considers several issues, including Professor Jerry Lembcke’s claims that “no returning soldiers landed at San Francisco Airport,” and that “GIs landed at military airbases, not civilian airports.”

I show that the San Francisco International Airport, where some of the spitting incidents are alleged to have occurred, was authorized as one of the four main West Coast “ports of debarkation” where servicemen returned on direct flights from overseas (among the others was Travis Air Force Base). Not only did Army Regulations in the late 1960s and early 1970s designate the San Francisco International Airport to receive direct flights of military personnel, they required the Oakland Army Terminal to staff a returnee team located at the San Francisco Airport to meet and process servicemen arriving directly from Vietnam and the Far East. Further, the particular spitting story that Lembcke has most often attempted to debunk involved a soldier on emergency leave, a status that typically allowed soldiers to fly on commercial flights directly to US commercial airports at Army expense (see discussion below). Thus, another reason that Lembcke raises for doubting spitting stories is also flatly false.