Vietnam vet Delmar Pickett Jr. stands by his spit story from 35 years ago.

Media criticism.
March 7 2007 6:33 PM

Delmar Pickett Jr. Stands by His Spit Story

The Vietnam vet maintains he was gobbed at 35 years ago.

Vietnam veteran Delmar Pickett Jr.

Vietnam veteran Delmar Pickett Jr. stands by the story he told CBS News reporter Morton Dean 35 years ago, which you can view in my March 6 "Press Box." Reached by phone at his home in Wichita, Kan., he speaks of being spat upon inside the Seattle airport while in uniform.

Pickett's personal history challenges the work of Jerry Lembcke, the author of the 1998 book Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, who holds that the spat-upon-vet story is an "urban myth" that took root in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It also challenges the half-dozen columns I've written since 2000 in support of Lembcke's thesis.


In the Dec. 27, 1971, CBS News segment, Pickett tells reporter Dean, "Man, I got into the airport and these two dudes walked up—one of them spit at me."

Today, he remembers the incident in greater detail and a little differently. Pickett says he mustered out of the Army at Fort Lewis, Wash., but wore his uniform to the airport because he didn't have any other clothes for his flight to Denver.

The date was April 23, 1971, Pickett says. He and four other GIs dressed in uniform were walking down a corridor from the main terminal to the gate and came upon four young men who were standing along the wall. One of the young men, who Pickett says looked to be 19 years old, had long hair, and was wearing a shabby T-shirt, said something to the GIs—something about "killers"—and then spat, missing Pickett.

"I handed my hat and duffel bag to one of my guys and headed straight for that guy. He started backing up," Pickett says, and all four civilians beat a retreat. "They were heading down through that tunnel." Pickett says he was "combat tough" the day he was spat at. "I could have turned him into a pretzel."

This account doesn't completely square with the version Pickett gave CBS News long ago. In it, two men walk up to him and one spits at him. Asked to explain the discrepancy between the two accounts, Pickett offers that it might have been two men after all. Or it might have been two men and two women. He also says he gave CBS News just "a bare outline" of the incident.

At no point does Pickett display any defensiveness about his inconsistencies. Indeed, he's philosophical about the limited powers of human beings to recall the past with any precision.

"Memory tends to blur," Pickett says. "Things you think happened didn't. Things you think didn't, did. Time softens everything."

Pickett's story shares themes with that of Jim Minarik. In a June 2, 1971, Washington Post article, Minarik says that hours after his Dec. 10, 1968, discharge from the Army, two people spat on him as he walked an Oakland, Calif., street. Both are actually civilians when the spitting happens, but both are in uniform. Both take place in locations where soldiers are commonly encountered. I've failed in my efforts to locate Minarik so I could interview him about the incident. Where are you, Jim Minarik? Send me e-mail so we can talk. (See this "Press Box" for more about his story.)


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Sept. 21 2014 11:00 AM Sometimes You Just Need to Print Your Photos the Old-Fashioned Way 
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.