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.)



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Oct. 2 2014 8:07 AM The Dark Side of Techtopia
Dear Prudence
Oct. 2 2014 6:00 AM Can’t Stomach It I was shamed for getting gastric bypass surgery. Should I keep the procedure a secret?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 2 2014 7:30 AM What Put the Man in the Moon in the Moon?
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?