Joe Yandle's Life Was a Lie

This was the story of Joe Yandle: A decorated Vietnam veteran who, like so many others, got hooked on heroin over there. But, as it turns out, some of what was first reported was untrue.

The story said in 1967, while others were trying to avoid the draft, Joe Yandle enlisted in the Marines. He served two tours in Vietnam and came home with a Bronze Star for valor, two Purple Hearts and something else, too, a heroin habit. He had become a full-fledged junkie.
When he came back home, Yandle was supporting a $500-a-day habit. To get the money to buy drugs, he and another Vietnam vet pulled half a dozen stick-ups, their final one at a suburban Boston liquor store.

While Yandle waited in the getaway car, his accomplice went inside and shot and killed the liquor store clerk. Eventually both were sentenced to life in prison, no parole.

"I got involved with the heroin as a way of deadening what was going on around me. I was scared. I was scared to death. It was the most frightening experience of my life," Yandle said while serving time in a Massachusetts prison for murder.

Little by little, Joe Yandle began to straighten himself out. He started a support group for imprisoned veterans of Vietnam. He ran the prison's Toys for Tots program and even managed to earn himself a college degree.

All of which impressed the Massachusetts Pardon Board, which voted in 1992 to recommend that then-Governor William Weld commute his sentence and set him free.

Mike Wallace (CBS)


In October 1995, after spending more than 23 years behind bars, Joe Yandle's sentence was commuted and he walked out of prison a free man. But here the story changes. A man by the name of Jud Burkett, who was investigating phony Vietnam veterans, discovered the truth about Joe Yandle.

"You never served in Vietnam did you?" Wallace asked Yandle.

"No," Yandle replied.

"You sat across from me and told me about being in Vietnam, drugs to dull all going on around you, all lies," Wallace said.

"Yes," Yandle acknowledged.

While Yandle did serve during the Vietnam War, he was stationed in Okinawa.

"What about all those medals?" Wallace asked.

"That was just part of the story, probably the worst aspect of this story, because I stole from the people who earned that stuff and those are the people I need to apologize to," Yandle said.

And now Joe Yandle fears that the lie he told may cause Massachusetts officials to recommend that he be sent back to prison for life.

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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