Senate Democrats and Kerry’s Vietnam crew mates are joining John Kerry in opposing the nomination of Sam Fox to be ambassador to Belgium. AP begins their report saying, “As one of the GOP’s most prominent national fundraisers, Sam Fox should have an easy road to an appealing diplomatic post.” During the hearings Kerry’s questioning made it clear that Fox had no qualifications for the position other than for having raised large amounts of money for Republicans. Under normal circumstances this might have been enough, but Fox made the mistake of donating money to one of the most despicable smear campaigns in modern political history.
Kerry questioned Fox about his contributions to the Swift Boat Liars, with Fox describing Kerry as a hero during the hearings. While right wingers continue to spread unsubstantiated claims which contradict the military record and the testimony of those who witnessed Kerry’s actions, most of those who actually served with John Kerry have substantiated the offical accounts which show that John Kerry deserved his medals. Kerry’s crew mates have sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging members to oppose Fox’s nomination:
With a vote on Fox expected Wednesday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry’s Vietnam crew mates on Tuesday sent a letter urging committee members to oppose Fox’s nomination. A copy of the letter was obtained by the Associated Press.
”In our judgment, those who finance smears and lies of combat veterans don’t deserve to represent America on the world stage,” said the letter signed by James Rassman and 10 other Vietnam Swift Boat veterans who served with Kerry.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said Tuesday he opposes the nomination because Fox ”refused to apologize for his behavior” during his confirmation hearing last month.
”U.S. Ambassadors need to be both responsible and credible, and Mr. Fox’s support for an organization known to have spread falsehoods illustrates neither,” said Dodd, who is seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Among other Democrats on the Committee, Barack Obama was critical of Fox’s actions. Not surprisingly, ex-Democrat Joe Lieberman supported Fox.
Last year I had a series of posts on the Swift Boat Liars and John Kerry’s military record at The Democratic Daily. The posts are reprinted under the fold.
Update: Fox Nomination Withdrawn
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 5th, 2006 @ 10:52 am
With Pamela discussing the Swift Boat Lies once again, a couple of thoughts came to mind. As she notes, many right wing bloggers are continuing to bring this up, repeating the same lies which have repeatedly been disputed. This remains important for a number of reasons. There’s the principle Pamela discusses of standing up against such unfounded attacks on men who served their country. On a political level putting an end to these lies would serve a useful purpose as they distract from the real message. During the 2004 campaign George Bush was able to avoid defending his record by having John Kerry on the defensive for these and other lies.
An unfortunate legacy of the 2004 campaign is that for many people the first thing they think of is the Swift Boat Lies, even when they recognize that they attacks were untrue. This plays into the GOP line that Democrats have no ideas. If we had a clean campaign, instead of constantly hearing of these dishonest attacks, voters would hear about John Kerry’s plans for a strong defense against terrorism. They’d recall Kerry’s plans to reduce health care costs and help small business.
When conservatives continue their attacks, this is all part of a larger plan. Their goal is not just to attack John Kerry, but to distract the voters with the failings of their policies and keep them from hearing the real solutions offered by Democrats.
Recently when doing a google search for on line discussions of the Swift Boat Lies I found that this topic was discussed just where it belonged–at Snopes.com–the site for debunking urban legends.
Snopes has two entries on the Swift Boat Lies. The first evaluates the claim that “John Kerry’s Vietnam War service medals (a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts) were earned under “fishy” circumstances.” It flatly describes this claim as false and offers plenty of information to debunk it.
The second, which provides the opinions of the various Swifties, cannot be totally labeled true or false as it is based on people’s opinions. Despite these being opinions, Snopes finds plenty to debunk:
The important point to note here is that this piece presents only one side of the story:
Although the men quoted above are often identified as “John Kerry’s shipmates,” only one of them, Steven Gardner, actually served under Lt. Kerry’s command on a Swift boat. The other men who served under Kerry’s command continue to speak positively of him:
“In 1969, I was Sen. Kerry’s gun mate atop of the Swift boat in Vietnam. And I just wanted to let everyone know that, contrary to all the rumors that you might hear from the other side, Sen. Kerry’s blood is red, not blue. I know, I’ve seen it.
“If it weren’t for Sen. John Kerry, on the 28th of February 1969, the day he won the Silver Star . . . you and I would not be having this conversation. My name would be on a long, black wall in Washington, D.C. I saw this man save my life.”3
— Fred Short
“I can still see him now, standing in the doorway of the pilothouse, firing his M-16, shouting orders through the smoke and chaos . . . Even wounded, or confronting sights no man should ever have to see, he never lost his cool.
I had to sit on my hands [after a firefight], I was shaking so hard . . . He went to every man on that boat and put his arm around them and asked them how they’re doing. I’ve never had an officer do that before or since. That’s the mettle of the man, John Kerry.”3
— David Alston
“What I saw back then [in Vietnam] was a guy with genuine caring and leadership ability who was aggressive when he had to be. What I see now is a guy who’s not afraid to tackle tough issues. And he knows what the consequences are of putting people’s kids in harm’s way.”
— James Wasser
Many of Kerry’s Vietnam commanders and fellow officers also continue to speak positively of him:
Navy records, fitness reports by Kerry’s commanders and scores of interviews with Swift boat officers and crewmen depict a model officer who fought aggressively in river ambushes and won the respect of many of his crewmates and commanders, even as his doubts about the war grew.
“I don’t like what he said after the war,” said Adrian Lonsdale, who commanded Kerry for three months in 1969. “But he was a good naval officer.”
“I don’t know what conclusions you can draw about someone’s ability to lead from their combat experience, but John’s service was commendable,” said James J. Galvin, a former Swift boat officer . . . “He played by the same rules we all did.”1
How well all of these men knew John Kerry is questionable, and discrepancies between how some of them described Kerry thirty-five years ago and how they describe him today suggest that their opinions are largely based upon political differences rather than objective assessments of Kerry’s military record. For example, Rear Admiral Roy Hoffman is quoted above, yet the Los Angeles Times reported:
. . . Hoffman and Kerry had few direct dealings in Vietnam. A Los Angeles Times examination of Navy archives found that Hoffman praised Kerry’s performance in cabled messages after several river skirmishes.
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 6th, 2006 @ 10:59 am
Historian Douglas Brinkley has probably done more than any one else to describe John Kerry’s heroism in Vietnam, and was one of the first to defend him from the untrue claims of the Swift Boat Liars. On April 17, 2004 Brinkley described in detail the circumstances surrounding Kerry’s first purple heart:
John Kerry’s first Purple Heart
With questions lingering over President Bush’s service in the Guard, conservatives hope to diminish Kerry’s Vietnam heroics — but they can’t erase his real battle record.
By Douglas Brinkley
April 17, 2004 | It was Dec. 2, 1968, and Lt. j.g. John Kerry was on a special nighttime covert mission in Vietnam. He had been ordered into a Viet Cong-infested peninsula north of Cam Ranh Bay to disrupt a smuggling operation. His vessel was a Boston Whaler, a boat that could float after taking 1,000 rounds of automatic weapons fire. Much of the evening was spent apprehending fishermen in a curfew zone. At approximately 2 a.m., however, they proceeded up an inlet with wild jungle on both sides of the boat. As they approached a bay, Kerry’s whaler fired flares into the air. To their horror, not far from them, were a startled group of Viet Cong smugglers trafficking in contraband.
“We opened fire,” Kerry told me in a Jan. 30, 2003, interview. “The light from the flares started to fade, the air was full of explosions. My M-16 jammed, and as I bent down to grab another gun, a stinging piece of heat socked into my arm and just seemed to burn like hell. By this time one of the sailors had started the engine and we ran by the beach strafing it. Then it was quiet.”
Kerry and crewmates blew up the smugglers’ beached sampans and then headed back to Cam Ranh Bay. “I never saw where the piece of shrapnel had come from, and the vision of the men running like gazelles haunted me,” Kerry continued. “It seemed stupid. My gunner didn’t know where the people were when he first started firing. The M-16 bullets had kicked up the sand way to the right of them as he sprayed the beach, slowly walking the line of fire over to where the men had been leaping for cover. I had been shouting directions and trying to un-jam my gun. The third crewman was locked in a personal struggle with the engine, trying to start it. I just shook my head and said, ‘Jesus Christ.’ It made me wonder if a year of training was worth anything.” Kerry, never trying to inflate the incident, called it a “half-ass action.” Nevertheless, the escapade introduced Kerry to the V.C. and earned him his first Purple Heart.
As generally understood, the Purple Heart is given to any U.S. citizen wounded in wartime service to the nation. Giving out Purple Hearts increased in 1968 as the United States Navy started sending swift boats up rivers in the Mekong Delta. Sailors — no longer safe on aircraft carriers or battleships in the Gulf of Tonkin — were starting to bleed, a lot. Vice Adm. Elmo Zumwalt himself would pin the medal on John Kerry at An Thoi about six weeks after the doctor at the Cam Ranh base took the shrapnel out of the young officer’s right arm. “He called me in New York to tell me he had been wounded,” his then girlfriend and later wife, Julia Thorne, remembered. “I was worried sick, scared to death that John or one of my brothers was going to die. He reassured me that he was OK.”
Now it is 2004, John Kerry is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, and a couple of reporters are bringing into question whether he deserved a Purple Heart for that daring action. The Boston Globe and the New York Post have run hurtful stories quoting Kerry’s commanding officer that evening, Lt. Cmdr. Grant Hibbard, now a retiree in Gulf Breeze, Fla., grouching that Kerry’s wound wasn’t large enough. Hibbard was not even on the Boston Whaler when the firefight erupted. Nevertheless, the New York Post quotes Hibbard — a proudly registered Republican — as griping Kerry’s injury “didn’t look like much of a wound to me.”
In the wake of the controversial Bush National Guard story, reporters today, anxious to break a headline, are combing through Kerry’s Vietnam past. The name of the game is to find a conservative ex-Vietnam hand to say something negative about Kerry. It’s an automatic newsmaker, guaranteed to get picked up by Newsmax.com, the Weekly Standard, Rush Limbaugh, the New York Post and other conservative outlets. At issue is an attempt to downgrade Kerry’s Vietnam War heroism. The major anti-Kerry Vietnam War Internet complaint, it seems, echoes Hibbard: that his minor wounds weren’t big enough to warrant Purple Hearts. Unfortunately neither the Boston Globe nor New York Post takes the time to explain to readers that Purple Hearts are not given out to soldiers/sailors for the size of the wound. Only by the grace of God did the hot shrapnel that pierced Kerry’s arm not enter his heart or brain or eye.
For the record, Purple Hearts are given for the following enemy-related injuries:
a) Injury caused by enemy bullet, shrapnel or other projectile created by enemy action.
B) Injury caused by enemy-placed mine or trap.
c) Injury caused by enemy-released chemical, biological or nuclear agent.
d) Injury caused by vehicle or aircraft accident resulting from enemy fire.
e) Concussion injuries caused as a result of enemy-generated explosions.
Examples of injuries or wounds which clearly do not qualify for award of the Purple Heart are as follows:
a) Frostbite or trench foot injuries.
B) Heat stroke.
c) Food poisoning not caused by enemy agents.
d) Chemical, biological, or nuclear agents not released by the enemy.
e) Battle fatigue.
f) Disease not directly caused by enemy agents.
g) Accidents, to include explosive, aircraft, vehicular and other accidental wounding not related to or caused by enemy action.
Given the hurly-burly circumstance of Dec. 2, 1968, Kerry — and the other men on the mission — are not sure whether they were hit by enemy fire or if shrapnel from one of the other men on the Boston Whaler injured Kerry. It could have even been Kerry’s own M-16 backfiring that caused the shrapnel wound. It doesn’t really matter. The requirement makes it clear that you are awarded a Purple Heart for “Injury caused by enemy bullet, shrapnel or other projectile created by enemy action.” Does anybody dispute that Kerry’s wound was created by enemy action? As the stipulation also makes clear, Kerry would have been awarded a Purple Heart even if he never bled, if, for example, he had suffered a concussion from a grenade. So to set the record straight: Kerry deserved his first Purple Heart — period. To say otherwise is to distort the reality of the medal.
Unfortunately, the Boston Globe and New York Post stories omit fully reporting the bylaws. They present Hibbard at face value, downplaying the fact that he is a Republican criticizing a fellow veteran hoping to cause him public embarrassment. According to the Globe, Hibbard — in classic blowhard fashion — said Kerry “had a little scratch on his forearm, and he was holding a piece of shrapnel.” Adding further verbal insult, Hibbard apparently claimed: “I’ve had thorns from a rose that were worse.” The straight-faced Globe reporter, in fact, claims that Hibbard told him that Kerry’s wound resembled a “scrape from a fingernail.” Not included in either newspaper account, however, is Kerry’s medical report from the incident. He shared it with me last year when I was writing “Tour of Duty.” It reads: “3 DEC 1968 U.S. NAVAL SUPPORT FACILITY CAM RANH BAY RVN FPO Shrapnel in left arm above elbow. Shrapnel removed and appl. Bacitracin. Ret. to duty.” Is shrapnel removed from an arm really like a “scrape from a fingernail”? Or a thorn prick? The answer, of course, as any sensible person can surmise, is no.
Which raises the question: Why the medical record omission? Why the cruel attempt publicly to mock Kerry for his wound? Why the media need to play “gotcha” with something as sensitive as a war injury? This Dec. 3 medical report is proof that Kerry had shrapnel taken from his arm. According to Kerry, who should know, the doctor wrapped a clean white bandage around his arm. After the procedure he rightfully put in for a Purple Heart. Kerry clearly met the requirements — as listed above — for deserving one. From the hospital room Kerry returned to duty. That’s apparently when he held the shrapnel out in his palm for Hibbard to see.
The Globe, however, let Hibbard off the hook, no serious questions asked. On the one hand he claimed Kerry was holding his shrapnel and then he also claims it was a scratch. Are we to believe that following his surgical procedure Kerry went to Hibbard and ripped off his battle dressing to show him the wound that looked like a “scrape from a fingernail”? Or is Hibbard simply surmising it was a thorn prick? Worse still, Hibbard now claims that he was opposed to Kerry being awarded the Purple Heart. Really? Then why didn’t he fight against it harder? His superficial answer can be found in the Globe: “I do remember some questions, some correspondence about it. I finally said, ‘Ok, if that’s what happened … do whatever you want.’ After that I don’t know what happened. Obviously, he got it. I don’t know how.” Does this sound like a reliable source? Is that fuzzy-mindedness worth reporting as serious news? Why wasn’t Hibbard asked why he stayed quiet for 35 years?
Let me offer Hibbard an answer to his question. The U.S. Navy chose to award Kerry a Purple Heart because he qualified for it. Only a fool — or an exceedingly modest man — wouldn’t apply for a Purple Heart that was due him. Kerry was neither. But Kerry did not receive it because, as the Post claims, he had “strong ties to the Kennedy machine in Massachusetts (Bobby Kennedy speechwriter Adam Walinsky wrote Kerry’s famous 1971 antiwar Washington speech).” Kerry’s only tie to the “Kennedy machine” was that as a college student he slapped a “Ted Kennedy for U.S. Senate” bumper sticker on his VW and campaigned for a summer around Cape Cod. As for Walinsky writing Kerry’s famous April 22, 1971, speech/testimony — it’s utter nonsense. Walinsky has consistently denied the rumor. At his Boston home Kerry has a file brimming with his various drafts of the speech/testimony. He, in fact, had delivered parts of the speech months beforehand. Why is it so hard to accept the fact that Kerry — like thousands of other Vietnam Vets — was awarded a Purple Heart as a small token of appreciation for risking his life for his country?
Back in 1964 Bob Dylan wrote a lyric for the song “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” At one point in it he asks whether nothing in American life is “really sacred.” When retired U.S. naval officers, 35 years after the fact, start whining to the press that a war wound wasn’t big enough to warrant a Purple Heart — and the Boston Globe goes along for the ride — you realize Dylan’s prophecy. Today the tabloids truly are king. Call me naive, or too pro-veteran, but it seems to me we should be thanking every Purple Heart recipient for their duty to country, not demanding of them explanations for why their wounds weren’t bigger or fatal. Only somebody craven — or with a political agenda — could stoop so low. Ridicule Kerry on his liberal Senate record, or so-called aloofism, or even his outspoken Vietnam Veterans Against the War protests, but leave his old battle scars alone.
- – - – - – - – - – - -
About the writer
Douglas Brinkley is Stephen E. Ambrose Professor of History and Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans. His most recent book is “Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War.”
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 6th, 2006 @ 11:04 am
While the media has been criticized for reporting the untrue accusations about John Kerry’s records, it should be noted that some reporters did examine Kerry’s record. Soon after the Swift Boat Lies were first raised in the spring of 2004 this AP reporter did review the records to find that Kerry was highly praised:
Kerry Highly Praised in Military Records
By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer (April 21, 2004)
WASHINGTON – Records of John Kerry’s Vietnam War service released Wednesday show a highly praised naval officer who volunteered for a dangerous assignment and at one point was “unofficially credited with 20 enemy killed in action.”
With conservative critics questioning his service, the Democratic presidential candidate posted more than 120 pages of military records on his campaign Web site. Several describe him as a gutsy commander and detail some of the actions that won him three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star.
Kerry’s most harrowing experience came during the nearly five months when he commanded a swiftboat along Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. The future Massachusetts senator was commended for gallantry, heroism and valor during the tour, which was cut short when Kerry was wounded three times and sent back to the United States.
“He frequently exhibited a high sense of imagination and judgment in planning operations against the enemy in the Mekong Delta,” wrote Lt. Cmdr. George Elliott, Kerry’s commanding officer. “Involved in several enemy initiated fire fights, including an ambush during the Christmas truce, he effectively suppressed enemy fire and is unofficially credited with 20 enemy killed in action.”
Talk radio conservatives and some veterans have questioned whether Kerry was wounded severely enough to leave combat, but Democratic National Committee (news – web sites) Chairman Terry McAuliffe said he is eager to compare Kerry’s record to President Bush (news – web sites)’s. McAuliffe accused Bush of using family connections to avoid service overseas and failing to show up for duty while in the National Guard.
“Simply put, Kerry has a proud record of sacrifice and service whereas Bush has a record of cashed-in connections and evasion,” McAuliffe said in a statement Wednesday.
Republican National Committee (news – web sites) spokeswoman Christine Iverson said, “Like so many of Terry McAuliffe’s comments, this one is not worthy of the dignity of a response.”
Kerry’s records show that throughout his four years of active duty, superiors gave him glowing evaluations, citing his maturity, intelligence and immaculate appearance. He was recommended for early promotion, and when he left the Navy in 1970 to run for Congress, his commanding officer said it was the Navy’s loss.
The lowest marks Kerry earned were the equivalent of average — in military bearing, reliability and initiative. But narrative comments from his commanding officers said he was diplomatic, charismatic, decisive and well-liked by his men.
The records cited Kerry’s education at Swiss boarding school, his speaking and debating awards and his role as class orator at Yale University’s commencement. He lettered in varsity soccer and lacrosse, fenced, had a private pilot’s license and had experience sailing and ocean racing.
Kerry traveled throughout Europe in his youth and spoke fluent French and some German. His supervising officer later commended him for taking it upon himself to learn Vietnamese.
Kerry cited his sailing experience before the Navy when he volunteered to command a swiftboat, a 50-foot-long craft that could operate at high speeds in the rough waters of Vietnam’s rivers and tributaries.
Some critics have questioned whether Kerry’s injuries were severe enough to warrant reassignment to the United States. His records briefly describe shrapnel wounds to his arm and thigh for the first two Purple Hearts, but they don’t detail the severity of the wounds.
According to a naval instruction document provided by Kerry’s campaign, anyone serving in Vietnam who was wounded three times, regardless of the nature of the wound or treatment required, “will not be ordered to service in Vietnam and contiguous waters.”
On Feb. 28, 1969, Kerry’s and two other boats came under heavy fire from the riverbanks. Kerry ordered his units to turn into the ambush and sent men ashore to charge the enemy. According to the records, an enemy soldier holding a loaded rocket launcher sprang up within 10 feet of Kerry’s boat and fled. Kerry leapt ashore, chased and killed the man.
Kerry and his men chased or killed all enemy soldiers in the area, captured enemy weapons and then returned to the boat only to come under fire from the opposite bank as they began to pull away. Kerry again beached his boat and led a party ashore to pursue the enemy, and they successfully silenced the shooting. Later, with the boats again under fire, Kerry initiated a heavy response that killed 10 Viet Cong and wounded another with no casualties to his own men.
He won the Silver Star “for gallantry and intrepidity in action” that day. Two weeks later, another fire fight led to a Bronze Star for heroic achievement and the third Purple Heart that would result in his reassignment out of Vietnam.
Kerry was commanding one of five boats on patrol on March 13, 1969, when two mines detonated almost simultaneously — one beneath another boat and one near Kerry’s craft. Shrapnel hit Kerry’s buttocks, and his right arm was bleeding from contusions, but he rescued a boatmate who had been thrown overboard by the blast and was under sniper fire from both banks. Kerry then directed his crew to return to the other damaged craft and tow it to safety.
In April 1969, Kerry was sent stateside to the Military Sea Transportation Service, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, in Brooklyn, N.Y. On Nov. 21, 1969, Kerry requested that he be released from his commitment to serve actively until August 1970 so he could run for Congress.
He was promoted to full lieutenant on Jan. 1, 1970, and soon after was discharged from active duty and became a reservist.
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 6th, 2006 @ 11:28 am
I’ve already posted articles debunking the Swift Boat Lies from their initial attacks in the spring of 2004. There attacks were just as dishonest in the fall, and fortunately the newsmedia did carry some reports refuting them. This report from the Boston Globe makes several important points. George Elliott, Kerry’s former commanding officer, admitted he made a “terrible mistake” in saying Kerry did not deserve his Silver Star. Further down in the article, they report that John McCain has called the attacks on Kerry ‘’dishonest and dishonorable.” Ties between Republican donors and the Swift Boat Liars are reported. Finally, the article quotes one reputable witness, James Rassmann, describing why Kerry deserved the medal.
Veteran retracts criticism of Kerry
By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff | August 6, 2004
WASHINGTON — A week after Senator John F. Kerry heralded his wartime experience by surrounding himself at the Democratic convention with his Vietnam ‘’Band of Brothers,” a separate group of veterans has launched a television ad campaign and a book that questions the basis for some of Kerry’s combat medals.
But yesterday, a key figure in the anti-Kerry campaign, Kerry’s former commanding officer, backed off one of the key contentions. Lieutenant Commander George Elliott said in an interview that he had made a ‘’terrible mistake” in signing an affidavit that suggests Kerry did not deserve the Silver Star — one of the main allegations in the book. The affidavit was given to The Boston Globe by the anti-Kerry group to justify assertions in their ad and book.
Elliott is quoted as saying that Kerry ‘’lied about what occurred in Vietnam . . . for example, in connection with his Silver Star, I was never informed that he had simply shot a wounded, fleeing Viet Cong in the back.”
The statement refers to an episode in which Kerry killed a Viet Cong soldier who had been carrying a rocket launcher, part of a chain of events that formed the basis of his Silver Star. Over time, some Kerry critics have questioned whether the soldier posed a danger to Kerry’s crew. Crew members have said Kerry’s actions saved their lives.
Yesterday, reached at his home, Elliott said he regretted signing the affidavit and said he still thinks Kerry deserved the Silver Star.
‘’I still don’t think he shot the guy in the back,” Elliott said. ‘’It was a terrible mistake probably for me to sign the affidavit with those words. I’m the one in trouble here.”
Elliott said he was no under personal or political pressure to sign the statement, but he did feel ‘’time pressure” from those involved in the book. ‘’That’s no excuse,” Elliott said. ‘’I knew it was wrong . . . In a hurry I signed it and faxed it back. That was a mistake.”
The affidavit also contradicted earlier statements by Elliott, who came to Boston during Kerry’s 1996 Senate campaign to defend Kerry on similar charges, saying that Kerry acted properly and deserved the Silver Star.
The book, ‘’Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry,” is to be published next week. Yesterday it reached number one on the bestseller list on Amazon.com, based on advance orders, in part because of publicity about it on the Drudge Report.
The book seeks to undermine one of the central claims of Kerry’s campaign — that his Vietnam War heroism would make him a good commander in chief.
While the Regnery Publishing yesterday declined to release an advance copy of the book, Drudge’s website quotes it as saying, ‘’Elliott indicates that a Silver Star recommendation would not have been made by him had he been aware of the actual facts.”
Meanwhile, a television advertising campaign began yesterday featuring many of the anti-Kerry veterans who are quoted in the book, including Elliott. In the ad, Elliott says, ‘’John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam.”
Asked to supply evidence to support that statement, the anti-Kerry group provided a copy of Elliott’s affidavit. Elliott said the same affidavit had been used in the production of the book.
It is unclear whether the work contains further justification for the assertion, beyond Elliott’s statement.
Kerry won the Silver Star for his action on Feb. 28, 1969, in which he shot a Viet Cong soldier who had been carrying a rocket launcher and running toward a hut. All of Kerry’s crewmates who participated and are still living said in interviews last year that the action was necessary and appropriate, and it was Elliott who recommended Kerry for the Silver Star.
In an interview for a seven-part biographical series that appeared in the Globe last year, Kerry said: ‘’I don’t have a second’s question” about killing the Viet Cong. ‘’He was running away with a live B-40, and, I thought, poised to turn around and fire it.”
Asked whether that meant that he had shot the guerrilla in the back, Kerry said, ‘’No, absolutely not,” adding that the enemy had been running to a hut for cover, where he could have destroyed Kerry’s boat and killed the crew.
The forthcoming book is coauthored by Jerome R. Corsi and John O’Neill, a former Vietnam naval officer who in 1971 debated Kerry on the Dick Cavett show, challenging Kerry’s assertion that US atrocities had been widespread in Vietnam. O’Neill met with then-President Richard M. Nixon for an hour before debating Kerry, and his efforts were encouraged by Nixon’s aides.
O’Neill could not be reached for comment yesterday. President Bush’s campaign denied working with O’Neill on the book or with the producers of the television advertisement.
Meanwhile, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, urged Bush yesterday to disassociate himself from what he called a ‘’dishonest and dishonorable” attack. In response, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said, ‘’We have not and we will not question Senator Kerry’s service in Vietnam.”
The Associated Press reported yesterday that Houston home-builder Bob J. Perry, a major Republican donor, gave at least $100,000 to the organization sponsoring the ad, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
The Kerry campaign spokesman, Michael Meehan, said none of those in the ad had served on a boat with Kerry. ‘’Some of these men defended John Kerry’s honor on his military record in 1996 and so they were either lying then or lying now,” Meehan said. ‘’Either way, it is gutter politics.”
The book also raises questions about the action of March 13, 1969, for which Kerry was awarded a Bronze Star and his third Purple Heart, according to an advance chapter of the book.
The anti-Kerry group provided three affidavits from veterans on nearby boats questioning aspects of the award.
On that day, Kerry rescued James Rassmann, who went overboard as a result of an explosion. Rassmann appeared by Kerry’s side during the Iowa caucus campaign and at last week’s Democratic National Convention, telling the story of how Kerry pulled him out of the water while his boat was under fire.
As in the case of the Silver Star, it was Elliott who recommended Kerry for the Bronze Star. According to the recommendation signed by Elliott, a mine exploded under a boat accompanying Kerry’s craft.
‘’Almost simultaneously, another mine detonated close aboard [Kerry’s] PCF-94, knocking First Lieutenant Rassman [sic] into the water and wounding Lt. JG Kerry in the right arm.”
Elliott then described how Kerry ‘’managed to pull Lt. Rassman aboard despite the painful wound in his right arm.” Elliott concluded that Kerry had been ‘’calm, professional, and highly courageous in the face of enemy fire.”
Elliott, in the interview yesterday, said that based on the affidavits of the veterans on other boats, he now thinks his assessment about the Bronze Star and third Purple Heart may have been based on poor information.
In one affidavit, for example, Van O’Dell, who said he had been in a boat near Kerry on that day, declared that Kerry had ‘’lied” about what happened on that day and said that Rassmann was not under enemy fire when Kerry pulled him aboard.
Elliott, asked about the contradiction between his recommendation and his new questioning of Kerry’s third Purple Heart, responded, ‘’It makes me look kind of silly, to be perfectly honest.”
But he said: ‘’I simply have no reason for these guys to be lying, and if they are lying in concert, it is one hell of a conspiracy. So, on the basis of all of the information that has come out, I have chosen to believe the other men. I absolutely do not know first hand.”
Naval documents said that Kerry ‘’received shrapnel wounds in left buttocks and contusions on right forearm when a mine detonated close to PCF 94 while engaged in operations on river. Condition and prognosis excellent. Result of hostile action.”
Rassmann, reached by telephone yesterday, said he has never had any question that Kerry deserved the Purple Heart. He said there were two separate events: One was earlier in the day, when he and Kerry blew up a rice cache, and the explosion caused some of the rice to hit Kerry, and perhaps some weapon fragments as well. The second involved a mine explosion as Kerry and Rassmann were on patrol. The explosion, Rassmann said, knocked him overboard and threw Kerry against the pilot house, injuring his arm.
Rassmann said that he has always believed that Kerry got the third Purple Heart solely for the injury to his arm as a result of the explosion in the water.
‘’If he got fragments in the buttocks due to the mine, that is new information to me,” Rassmann said.
‘’I would say there is confusion. Maybe they did lump it together. It was my understanding he got it for the wound being thrown across the pilot house.”
Either way, Rassmann said, Kerry deserved the third Purple Heart because such awards are given for injuries incurred in combat, and Kerry’s arm injury qualified. He also stood by his recollection that he was under fire when rescued by Kerry.
Those questioning Kerry’s medals, Rassmann said, are ‘’angry about John speaking out against the [Vietnam] war.
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 6th, 2006 @ 11:53 am
While going through piles of old newspaper stories on John Kerry I wasn’t sure what to do with this one. It doesn’t really fit into our Swift Boat Liars Debunking Marathon but I couldn’t ignore this story either. It was published before the August attacks and therefore isn’t bogged down by the Swift Boat Lies when discussing John Kerry’s days in Vietnam. I ultimately decided to include the article primarily figuring that Kerry supporters will enjoy reading it, and who cannot like a guy who even saved a puppy?
The Vietnam Vet, Leaving No One Behind
Thu Jul 29, 2:00 PM ET
By Laura Blumenfeld, Washington Post Staff Writer
Halfway to Georgetown, John Kerry stopped the car. It was 1993, his first time driving Teresa Heinz home, but first he had something to show her. Kerry led his date along a path on the Mall, to the V-shaped slabs of black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He walked her through the night, without saying a word.
“Every now and then he’d point to a name on the wall. Dickie [Pershing] was one. He went to all his friends, I saw all his friends,” Teresa Heinz Kerry, now Kerry’s wife, recalled in an interview. Kerry walked her to the Lincoln Memorial, and then back to the Wall before speaking again.
“He said, ‘Look at that wall, everybody on that wall died after we knew that war was a mistake.’ And he was angry, quietly angry, seething angry, and we left. It was a visit to the promise of Lincoln, and to the tragedy of that wall. Like a procession around a church, like if you’re a Catholic and do the Stations of the Cross on Holy Week. Think of reverence, deep, deep, deep held feelings.”
Much has been said, good and bad, about Kerry and his experience in Vietnam — that it demonstrates his fitness to be president, or explains a lifelong distrust of government pronouncements about war or illustrates a calculation that has defined his career. While some, or none, of those things may be true, Vietnam also changed Kerry in a quieter, yet crucial way.
Kerry went to Vietnam for many reasons, but a key, and often overlooked motivation was curiosity. From the time he was a boy, he read military histories and World War I poetry. On the debate team at Yale and in the dorms, he loved to argue about America’s use of force. Although critical of the country’s role in Vietnam in a 1970 article in the New York Times, Kerry said he joined the Navy and went to Vietnam “because he wanted to study that policy firsthand.” When he got there, of course, he realized it was no class trip. He discovered the difference between reading a Wilfred Owen poem and getting trapped between its bloody stanzas. Kerry went to Vietnam to learn something, but he ended up feeling something. And of all the things he felt, one of the most enduring was abandonment.
The sense that his own government had abandoned him has shaped Kerry’s behavior, in politics, in friendships, and with family. Kerry is often described as a mystery, but this, perhaps, is his secret button. To a remarkable and to a sometimes self-endangering degree, Kerry doesn’t leave people behind. He sticks with them, even if political advisers urge otherwise. Depending on one’s outlook, one might call it Kerry’s soft spot, or his most hard-core conviction.
When Kerry first ran for the Senate, Chris Gregory, a friend from his Vietnam days, tried to enlist his help to win benefits for veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure. The government had not accepted that Agent Orange caused any illness.
“John’s a skeptical person,” said Gregory. “He said, ‘Well, I’m not sure about this Agent Orange.’ ” Gregory asked him for a one-hour audience: “I knew what to do.” He brought Vietnam veterans to Kerry’s office — one on crutches, one who couldn’t feel his hands or feet, a widow, and the brother of a veteran who had died of cancer, leaving three young children. They talked about their mental and physical problems, and about their inability to support their families.
“At the end, Kerry looks up at me and said, ‘What do I do?’ He looked around, he looked at me, he looked out the door. He readjusted himself in his chair. He put his head in his hands briefly, heaved a big sigh, and said: ‘Your government has left you in a place you should never be. You’ve been left alone.’ ” When Kerry got to the Senate, he worked on legislation for Agent Orange victims. Gregory wasn’t surprised, judging by Kerry’s reaction in their meeting.
“I knew what would happen,” Gregory said. “He started to cry.”
Curious About Combat
Many years on Memorial Day, Kerry walks around the Vietnam Memorial at 4 a.m. by himself. This year, a group of reporters went along on a drizzly, foggy morning. Officially, Kerry was there to dedicate a newly inscribed name, William F. Bronson Jr., a Marine from Massachusetts. Facing the black wall, he crossed himself. He hugged Bronson’s white-haired mother and swallowed. “Get some peace after all these years,” he told her.
After Kerry laid a wreath before Bronson’s name, he stepped away from the media. The public show was over. He began to scan the names etched along the panels.
“Who are you looking for?” John Hurley, a longtime friend, asked quietly.
Over to the left, on Panel 39 East, Kerry found it: Richard W. Pershing.
He wiped the mist from Pershing’s name. In the polished granite, Kerry could see his own reflection.
“I miss him,” Kerry whispered.
By the time the war ended, five of Kerry’s friends had died in Vietnam, including his childhood soul mate. Pershing was struck by a grenade while searching for a wounded comrade. When he heard the news, Kerry wrote to his friend David Thorne: “Mama wrote me and said that time would heal it. I don’t think so.” Pershing had died in a rice paddy, alone.
Kerry explained recently in an interview that he was running for president “with a remembrance for what they gave for the country. A huge responsibility for the rest of us to do well.” His voice deepened, preemptively stern: “For anyone who thinks I’m too serious about it, I don’t think you can be too serious.”
Kerry laughed his hardest with Pershing, whose irreverent humor was the perfect antidote to Kerry’s intensity. He was the grandson of John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing, the World War I general. The boys had met in middle school, and remained close at Yale.
In 1965, the start of their senior year at Yale, when Vietnam was beginning to cast an increasingly dark shadow, they talked about enlisting. Pershing’s attitude was straightforward: When duty calls, one answers. Kerry’s father had served in the Army Air Corps in World War II and shared his friend’s sense of honor. And yet, much as Kerry’s heart stirred him to service, his head kept questioning it.
Kerry, by nature a debater, was the first among his friends to question the war. In June of 1966, he delivered a commencement speech casting doubt on U.S. policy: “What was an excess of isolationism has become an excess of interventionism. . . . We have not really lost the desire to serve. We question the very roots of what we are serving.”
Though ambivalent, Kerry that fall entered Navy Officer Candidate School in Rhode Island. “We had the naive reasons college kids would have,” said his friend Daniel Barbiero. “We thought, let’s go and see what’s really happening.”
Kerry had read the military adventures of Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and he fantasized about becoming a soldier-statesman, said Douglas Brinkley, author of “Tour of Duty,” a Kerry biography. In high school, Kerry said in an interview, he had become interested in a career in politics: “Because that was where you made a difference — whether you go to war, or don’t go to war.” His positions would be more credible, he reasoned at the time, if he spoke from experience.
After further training in California, Kerry served for a year as an ensign aboard the USS Gridley, a guided-missile frigate. In the spring of 1968, the ship pulled into Wellington, New Zealand. Over pints of ale, Kerry chatted with another officer, Wade Sanders.
“He was upbeat. He was unsure. He was ravenously curious,” said Sanders. “He’d been reading the history of Vietnam. What are we doing here? What does this all mean? He talked about having seen a Swift boat. Weren’t they neat? I told him I’d try to get one. He decided he wanted a closer look. He wanted to know if the war was justified.”
Kerry requested a transfer to a “Swift” boat, a 50-foot gunboat that patrolled the coast of Vietnam. He was inspired by his hero, John F. Kennedy, who had served on a PT boat in World War II. Kerry carried a pillowcase full of books, from Dwight Eisenhower’s “At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends” to “Gone With the Wind.”
“I joked with John it was Hemingwayesque of us, like ‘Farewell to Arms,’ ” said Sanders. “We couldn’t find ambulances to ride in the Alps, so we got small boats in Vietnam. . . . John is a journal keeper, he had a sense of his own history.”
But Kerry sensed, even then, that if he engaged in — rather than observed — a war, he’d get trapped inside a narrative he could not control. The first time the USS Gridley approached Vietnam, he wrote about it to his fiancee, Julia Thorne:
“One can talk and talk about the meaning of war and the dangers and the horror and all the sensations that a man has when he gets near the possibility of dying. But until you actually sense them somewhat, you do not really know what you are talking about. And once you have sensed them, you tend not to want to talk about them at all.”
As Kerry’s airplane descended over Cam Ranh Bay in November 1968, he spotted a rainbow that ended in a splotch on the runway. He arrived just as the military changed the Swifts’ mission from patrolling the coastline to churning up the Mekong Delta, baiting the enemy and destroying its encampments. Within two weeks Kerry was wounded in his arm and received the first of three Purple Hearts.
Kerry described himself in a letter as in “an uncertain state of confusion. . . . I am quite suddenly, really, in the middle of a war.”
Day after day, his men roared along the jungle, through clouds of diesel and mosquitoes, blasting the Doors’ “Light My Fire” to quiet their fear of snipers. Kerry, a Catholic, kept his childhood rosary beads in his pocket.
“We called it ‘the days of hell,’ ” said Kerry’s helmsman, Del Sandusky. “Going into the jaws of death.” “The thing you have to remember about Kerry,” said Chris Greeley, a friend, “is the government [expletive] with him — they put him in rivers without the right boats.” His men would radio for air support, and were promised backup that wouldn’t arrive.
After three months, Kerry and other skippers petitioned their commanders in Saigon. “I left with the feeling that we were destined to be further cannon fodder for the task force commander — Mad Dog Hoffman as he is known,” Kerry wrote. “There is no way to explain the empty butterflies that haunted one’s stomach that evening.”
Kerry said in another letter that he felt homesick for the first time since he had been left alone at a boarding school when he was 11 years old. He wrote that he felt “completely, starkly removed from the familiar and the warm.”
He responded to abandonment by reversing it, by turning it inside out. He became a rescuer. After a firefight with the Viet Cong, Kerry touched each of his crewmates. “He’d put his hand on my shoulder and say, ‘You okay?’ ” said David Alston, the gunner. “There was such an adrenaline rush, sometimes he’d have to get me to stop shooting.”
One day, they came across 42 sick and starving Vietnamese. Despite orders to leave the villagers, Kerry ferried them to an American base for relief. He told Brinkley, “For an afternoon, it felt good to really be helping the Vietnamese instead of destroying their villages.”
Kerry even rescued a puppy, Victoria Charlotte, or VC. His crewmates bought it from villagers who were planning to cook it for dinner. “Once the bullets started flying, he’d put the dog in his flak vest against his tummy,” said Sandusky. “In the middle of an ambush, she’d start shaking and she’d pee on him.” Until today, the puppy stars in Kerry’s war stories. Kerry’s daughter, Vanessa, 27, explained: “He wanted there to be a good VC.”
He had bad dreams and walked in his sleep. One night, he cried out, “I’ve been hit, I’ve been hit.” Across the bunk another sleeping officer yelled, “Hang on, John, we’re coming in to get you.”
In his waking hours, though, it was Kerry who would shout, “Hang on!” He received a Silver Star by chasing and killing an insurgent who had aimed a grenade launcher at his men. He was awarded a Bronze Star for saving James Rassman, a Special Forces officer, who’d been blown off Kerry’s boat by a mine.
Never Alone Again
Kerry joked, played guitar, took off his shoes and wiggled his toes through a hole in his blue sock during a recent interview. With kid-like confidence he demonstrated the hop-and-jump cannonball dive of Sen. John Edwards (news – web sites)’s 4-year-old son. He seemed at ease while chatting about war in the abstract. But when asked what it felt like to kill a man in combat, it was as if all of Kerry’s 60 years rushed to his face at once. There was a shift from the intellectual to the emotional, and his voice withered:
“I don’t talk about that stuff.”
When Kerry returned from Vietnam, his face had changed. His brother, Cam, noticed it in the creases in his brow. Kerry’s friends said his eyes looked sunk back in his head. His uniform was baggy. It was March 1969, and the lieutenant had come home. After he was awarded three Purple Hearts, Kerry had asked to leave Vietnam nearly six months early.
Kerry, then 27, cut a figure that was both haunting and haunted. On May 23, 1970, he married Julia, and honeymooned at the Jamaica home of his lost friend Pershing. On weekends, they visited amputees at VA hospitals, bringing them books and news. He was appalled by their neglect; it seemed like these men had been forgotten. “Boiling underneath him was a sense of betrayal,” said Sanders. “A palpable anger with the way we had been treated and used.”
Shortly after Kerry’s return, he heard of a fellow skipper’s death. His friend Donald Droz had been wounded, and while crewmates radioed for help — “I need a medevac!” — he bled to death. Droz left behind a widow and a 3-month-old girl. Kerry’s outrage prompted the most difficult decision of his life, he said. Despite his military upbringing, Kerry decided to protest the war.
“Donnie was the catalyst,” Kerry said. “I thought, ‘I gotta get off my butt.’ I owed Dick [Pershing] and Donnie.”
Kerry understood that speaking out might make him famous, but at a time when many Americans supported the war it also might complicate his political ambitions. “I asked him, ‘Do you think that’s wise?’ ” his brother recalled. “He said, ‘It’s something I have to do.’ ”
In April 1971, Kerry led a Vietnam Veterans Against the War march in Washington. Dressed in green fatigues, he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Accounts have focused on his recounting of war atrocities, but the real heat in his delivery came when he condemned the government for abandoning them: “We are also here to ask, and are here to ask vehemently, where are the leaders of our country? . . . We are here to ask, where are McNamara, Rostow, Bundy, Gilpatric and so many others? . . . These are commanders who have deserted their troops, and there is no more serious crime in the law of war.” Kerry added: “This administration has done us the ultimate dishonor. They have attempted to disown us.”
It was a long way from his graduation speech. “The difference between the Yale commencement and the Senate Foreign Relations speech is that they’re both critical of U.S. policy in Vietnam, but Yale is a political science student and Washington is a visceral outcry,” Cam Kerry said.
As a protester, Kerry embarked on his public life, with all its controversy and complications. But in private, with simple consistency, Kerry has stuck to a pattern. For all of Kerry’s faults — friends have called him high-maintenance, vain or long-winded — he has been there when his friends needed him.
When George Butler, a college friend, broke his hip and femur in 1994, Kerry tracked him down the next day at a hospital in New York. Butler had been lying alone, worrying about a blood clot going to his brain. Suddenly, there was Kerry ringing his phone. He was in Tokyo, where it was 4 a.m.
Another time, Sandusky, Kerry’s former helmsman, called him from Illinois and said, “I’m ready to cash it in. I can’t stop the bad dreams, and I can’t stop the drinking.” Over the next 24 hours, Kerry talked to Sandusky — canceling meetings, instructing aides to yank him off the Senate floor — until his isolated friend agreed to check into a treatment center. Over the next 12 weeks, Kerry called Sandusky’s doctors to make sure they hadn’t forgotten his crewmate.
“John’s not demonstrative, he’s never comfortable with his own emotions, I mean — he’s a guy,” said Gregory. “But he’s extremely loyal.”
Kerry has tried to pass that on to his two daughters. Vanessa recalled telling her father about a principal who had asked for assistance. “I said I don’t know if I can take this on. Dad said, ‘You never, ever turn your back on someone in need,’ ” said Vanessa. “It was a little bit of a reprimand.”
Kerry’s impulse is reflexive, sometimes irrational and, at times, has not served his interests. “His worst fault is being so loyal,” said his wife, Teresa. “Sometimes he doesn’t want to hurt people and sometimes I’ve told him it’s better to relieve people of situations — letting someone go you really love.”
‘My Thinking Place’
Tracy Droz Tragos, the daughter of the fallen skipper, heard from only one veteran while she was growing up. Kerry sent Christmas cards to her mother, a rubbing of Don’s name from the Vietnam Memorial to her grandmother, and offered Tracy a Senate internship. At the end of the summer, he told the young woman who had never known her father some of Don’s favorite jokes. Awkwardly, perched on his Senate couch, he hugged her while she cried.
Even so, Tragos was stunned when a reporter told her that Kerry keeps her father’s picture in his private study.
“We’re not important people,” Tragos said, groping for words. “He knows so many fancy people, wealthy heads of state and celebrities who he could have on his desk. The fact that he has my father who was a 25-year-old man, a son of a postman from a tiny town in Missouri . . .” Her voice trailed off. “A lot has happened between now and then.”
Perhaps, but Kerry doesn’t let go. You can see that in his study, on the top floor of Kerry’s Beacon Hill townhouse, which overlooks Boston Harbor. Kerry calls it “my thinking place. A place to keep things that are old and meaningful.”
There are no plaques or political trinkets; it is a private space, for Kerry. Beside snapshots of Kerry’s daughters stand photos of Droz and Pershing in uniform. There’s a picture of Kerry holding VC, the puppy he had in Vietnam. Sandusky the helmsman is on the wall, too, smiling.
On a recent afternoon, Kerry spent more than an hour there, rummaging through old boxes, dipping into files. It was almost as though he had forgotten that someone else was in the room. “This is going back in time,” he said, finding a map of the Mekong Delta. he pointed to a turn in the blue, jagged river: “This is where we got ambushed on Christmas.”
Kerry dug out the legal pad where he’d scribbled notes for his 1971 speech to the Foreign Relations Committee. It began as a letter: “Dear American, supporter of the boys in Viet Nam . . . I want you to understand the anger and sense of betrayal . . . ”
He opened his diary and read about his last day in Vietnam: “When I left there was no rainbow arcing into the runway. And there was no rain. But especially I remembered the rainbow because I had been stupid enough to wonder if there was a ‘pot of gold’ waiting for me in Vietnam. There was romance then: People only died in accidents, in hospitals, in war stories . . . but there was no romance the day that I left. . . . I had learned about stupidity, and absurdity, and war crap, and dead men — ” He interrupted himself. “You can see how angry I was.”
An aide walked into Kerry’s study for the third time. “Your 4:30 phone call is waiting.” It was 4:50 pm.
He walked down the stairs, toward the living room. In his striped shirt and tie Kerry looked like any other politician. Then he reached into his suit pocket. In the light of the stairwell, a piece of metal glinted in his hand. It was his dog tag, his identity, stripped to its essentials: “Kerry john f. Service # Usn Rom cath. Blood type O.”
He carries the chain in his pocket, always: “This brought me home safe.” In Vietnam, he had taped the dog tags together so they wouldn’t rattle during secret missions. There’s still a piece of tape on it, but the second dog tag is missing.
“Alex, my daughter, has it,” he said.
Kerry had given it to Alexandra when she was going through a hard time. He wanted her to know that her father was with her always. That she would never be alone.
Staff writer Dale Russakoff contributed to this report.
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 6th, 2006 @ 11:14 am
Leaving Washington, my review of newspaper accounts of the Swift Boat lies moves to the west coast where the Los Angeles Times found the attacks to be fabrications. Here is an editorial from August 25, 2004:
These Charges are False…
Los Angeles Times | Editorial
Tuesday 25 August 2004
It’s one thing for the presidential campaign to get nasty but quite another for it to engage in fabrication.
The technique President Bush is using against John F. Kerry was perfected by his father against Michael Dukakis in 1988, though its roots go back at least to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. It is: Bring a charge, however bogus. Make the charge simple: Dukakis “vetoed the Pledge of Allegiance”; Bill Clinton “raised taxes 128 times”; “there are [pick a number] Communists in the State Department.” But make sure the supporting details are complicated and blurry enough to prevent easy refutation.
Then sit back and let the media do your work for you. Journalists have to report the charges, usually feel obliged to report the rebuttal, and often even attempt an analysis or assessment. But the canons of the profession prevent most journalists from saying outright: These charges are false. As a result, the voters are left with a general sense that there is some controversy over Dukakis’ patriotism or Kerry’s service in Vietnam. And they have been distracted from thinking about real issues (like the war going on now) by these laboratory concoctions.
It must be infuriating to the victims of this process to be given conflicting advice about how to deal with it from the same campaign press corps that keeps it going. The press has been telling Kerry: (a) Don’t let charges sit around unanswered; and (B) stick to your issues: Don’t let the other guy choose the turf.
At the moment, Kerry is being punished by the media for taking advice (B) and failing to take advice (a). There was plenty of talk on TV about what Kerry’s failure to strike back said about whether he had the backbone for the job of president — and even when he did strike back, he was accused of not doing it soon enough. But what does Bush’s acquiescence in the use of this issue say about whether he has the simple decency for the job of president?
Whether the Bush campaign is tied to the Swift boat campaign in the technical, legal sense that triggers the wrath of the campaign-spending reform law is not a very interesting question. The ridiculously named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is being funded by conservative groups that interlock with Bush’s world in various ways, just as MoveOn.org, which is running nasty ads about Bush’s avoidance of service in Vietnam, is part of Kerry’s general milieu.
More important, either man could shut down the groups working on his behalf if he wanted to. Kerry has denounced the MoveOn ads, with what degree of sincerity we can’t know. Bush on Monday — finally — called for all ads by independent groups on both sides to be halted. He also said Kerry had “served admirably” in Vietnam. But he declined an invitation to condemn the Swift boat effort.
In both cases, the candidates are the reason the groups are in business. There is an important difference, though, between the side campaign being run for Kerry and the one for Bush. The pro-Kerry campaign is nasty and personal. The pro-Bush campaign is nasty, personal and false.
No informed person can seriously believe that Kerry fabricated evidence to win his military medals in Vietnam. His main accuser has been exposed as having said the opposite at the time, 35 years ago. Kerry is backed by almost all those who witnessed the events in question, as well as by documentation. His accusers have no evidence except their own dubious word.
Not limited by the conventions of our colleagues in the newsroom, we can say it outright: These charges against John Kerry are false. Or at least, there is no good evidence that they are true. George Bush, if he were a man of principle, would say the same thing.
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 6th, 2006 @ 11:37 am
The last post in our Swift Boat Lies Marathon (now in Day 2) included a brief reference to Jim Rassmann’s defense of John Kerry. Rassmann also went directly to a major player in the right wing noise machine, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, to defend Kerry. This editorial was published August 10, 2004:
Shame on the Swift Boat Veterans for Bush
By JIM RASSMANN
August 10, 2004
I came to know Lt. John Kerry during the spring of 1969. He and his swift boat crew assisted in inserting our Special Forces team and our Chinese Nung soldiers into operational sites in the Cau Mau Peninsula of South Vietnam. I worked with him on many operations and saw firsthand his leadership, courage and decision-making ability under fire.
On March 13, 1969, John Kerry’s courage and leadership saved my life.
While returning from a SEA LORDS operation along the Bay Hap River, a mine detonated under another swift boat. Machine-gun fire erupted from both banks of the river, and a second explosion followed moments later. The second blast blew me off John’s swift boat, PCF-94, throwing me into the river. Fearing that the other boats would run me over, I swam to the bottom of the river and stayed there as long as I could hold my breath.
When I surfaced, all the swift boats had left, and I was alone taking fire from both banks. To avoid the incoming fire, I repeatedly swam under water as long as I could hold my breath, attempting to make it to the north bank of the river. I thought I would die right there. The odds were against me avoiding the incoming fire and, even if I made it out of the river, I thought I’d be captured and executed. Kerry must have seen me in the water and directed his driver, Del Sandusky, to turn the boat around. Kerry’s boat ran up to me in the water, bow on, and I was able to climb up a cargo net to the lip of the deck. But, because I was nearly upside down, I couldn’t make it over the edge of the deck. This left me hanging out in the open, a perfect target. John, already wounded by the explosion that threw me off his boat, came out onto the bow, exposing himself to the fire directed at us from the jungle, and pulled me aboard.
For his actions that day, I recommended John for the Silver Star, our country’s third highest award for bravery under fire. I learned only this past January that the Navy awarded John the Bronze Star with Combat V for his valor. The citation for this award, signed by the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam, Vice Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, read, “Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry’s calmness, professionalism and great personal courage under fire were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” To this day I am grateful to John Kerry for saving my life. And to this day I still believe that he deserved the Silver Star for his courage.
It has been many years since I served in Vietnam. I returned home, got married, and spent many years as a deputy sheriff for Los Angeles County. I retired in 1989 as a lieutenant. It has been a long time since I left Vietnam, but I think often of the men who did not come home with us.
I am neither a politician nor an organizer. I am a retired police officer with a passion for orchids. Until January of this year, the only public presentations I made were about my orchid hobby. But in this presidential election, I had to speak out; I had to tell the American people about John Kerry, about his wisdom and courage, about his vision and leadership. I would trust John Kerry with my life, and I would entrust John Kerry with the well-being of our country.
Nobody asked me to join John’s campaign. Why would they? I am a Republican, and for more than 30 years I have largely voted for Republicans. I volunteered for his campaign because I have seen John Kerry in the worst of conditions. I know his character. I’ve witnessed his bravery and leadership under fire. And I truly know he will be a great commander in chief.
Now, 35 years after the fact, some Republican-financed Swift Boat Veterans for Bush are suddenly lying about John Kerry’s service in Vietnam; they are calling him a traitor because he spoke out against the Nixon administration’s failed policies in Vietnam. Some of these Republican-sponsored veterans are the same ones who spoke out against John at the behest of the Nixon administration in 1971. But this time their attacks are more vicious, their lies cut deep and are directed not just at John Kerry, but at me and each of his crewmates as well. This hate-filled ad asserts that I was not under fire; it questions my words and Navy records. This smear campaign has been launched by people without decency, people who don’t understand the bond of those who serve in combat.
As John McCain noted, the television ad aired by these veterans is “dishonest and dishonorable.” Sen. McCain called on President Bush to condemn the Swift Boat Veterans for Bush ad. Regrettably, the president has ignored Sen. McCain’s advice.
Does this strategy of attacking combat Vietnam veterans sound familiar? In 2000, a similar Republican smear campaign was launched against Sen. McCain. In fact, the very same communications group, Spaeth Communications, that placed ads against John McCain in 2000 is involved in these vicious attacks against John Kerry. Texas Republican donors with close ties to George W. Bush and Karl Rove crafted this “dishonest and dishonorable” ad. Their new charges are false; their stories are fabricated, made up by people who did not serve with Kerry in Vietnam. They insult and defame all of us who served in Vietnam.
But when the noise and fog of their distortions and lies have cleared, a man who volunteered to serve his country, a man who showed up for duty when his country called, a man to whom the United States Navy awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts, will stand tall and proud. Ultimately, the American people will judge these Swift Boat Veterans for Bush and their accusations. Americans are tired of smear campaigns against those who volunteered to wear the uniform. Swift Boat Veterans for Bush should hang their heads in shame.
Mr. Rassmann, a retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, served with the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam 1968-69.
Corrections & Amplifications:
This commentary misstated the name of a group of Vietnam veterans; the correct name is the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 6th, 2006 @ 4:54 pm
I previously discussed two different reviews of the Swift Boat Lies from Snopes which found the accusations against Kerry to be untrue. The other major nonpartisan source on line which evaluates such claims is Factcheck.org. They also reviewed the evidence and found that the “the veterans who accuse Kerry are contradicted by Kerry’s former crewmen, and by Navy records.” Their report notes numerous examples wheere the accusations against Kerry contradict both the Naval record and other accounts by the Swift Boat Liars.
Republican-funded Group Attacks Kerry’s War Record
Ad features vets who claim Kerry “lied” to get Vietnam medals. But other witnesses disagree — and so do Navy records.
August 6, 2004
Modified:August 22, 2004
A group funded by the biggest Republican campaign donor in Texas began running an attack ad Aug. 5 in which former Swift Boat veterans claim Kerry lied to get one of his two decorations for bravery and two of his three purple hearts.
But the veterans who accuse Kerry are contradicted by Kerry’s former crewmen, and by Navy records.One of the accusers says he was on another boat “a few yards” away during the incident which won Kerry the Bronze Star, but the former Army lieutenant whom Kerry plucked from the water that day backs Kerry’s account. In an Aug. 10 opinion piece in the conservative Wall Street Journal , Rassmann (a Republican himself) wrote that the ad was “launched by people without decency” who are “lying” and “should hang their heads in shame.”
And on Aug. 19, Navy records came to light also contradicting the accusers. One of the veterans who says Kerry wasn’t under fire was himself awarded a Bronze Star for aiding others “in the face of enemy fire” during the same incident.
“Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” is a group formed March 23 after Kerry wrapped up the Democratic nomination. It held a news conference May 4 denigrating Kerry’s military record and his later anti-war pronouncements during the 1970’s. The group began running an attack ad Aug. 5 in which 13 veterans variously say Kerry is “not being honest” and “is lying about his record.”
Where the Money Comes From
Although the word “Republican” does not appear in the ad, the group’s financing is highly partisan. The source of the Swift Boat group’s money wasn’t known when it first surfaced, but a report filed July 15 with the Internal Revenue Services now shows its initial funding came mainly from a Houston home builder, Bob R. Perry, who has also given millions to the Republican party and Republican candidates, mostly in Texas, including President Bush and Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay, whose district is near Houston
Perry gave $100,000 of the $158,750 received by the Swift Boat group through the end of June, according to its disclosure report .
Perry and his wife Doylene also gave more than $3 million to Texas Republicans during the 2002 elections, according to a database maintained by the Institute on Money in State Politics . The Perrys also were among the largest Republican donors in neighboring Louisiana, where they gave $200,000, and New Mexico, where they gave $183,000, according to the database
At the federal level the Perrys have given $359,825 since 1999, including $6,000 to Bush’s campaigns and $27,325 to DeLay and his political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority, according to a database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics .
The Silver Star
Several of those who appear in the ad have signed brief affidavits, and we have posted some of them in the “supporting documents” section to the right for our visitors to evaluate for themselves.
One of those affidavits, signed by George Elliott, quickly became controversial. Elliott is the retired Navy captain who had recommended Kerry for his highest decoration for valor, the Silver Star, which was awarded for events of Feb. 28, 1969, when Kerry beached his boat in the face of an enemy ambush and then pursued and killed an enemy soldier on the shore.
Elliott, who had been Kerry’s commanding officer, was quoted by the Boston Globe Aug 6 as saying he had made a “terrible mistake” in signing the affidavit against Kerry, in which Elliott suggested Kerry hadn’t told him the truth about how he killed the enemy soldier. Later Elliott signed a second affidavit saying he still stands by the words in the TV ad. But Elliott also made what he called an “immaterial clarification” – saying he has no first-hand information that Kerry was less than forthright about what he did to win the Silver Star.
What Elliott said in the ad is that Kerry “has not been honest about what happened in Viet Nam.” In his original affidavit Elliott said Kerry had not been “forthright” in Vietnam. The only example he offered of Kerry not being “honest” or “forthright” was this: “For example, in connection with his Silver Star, I was never informed that he had simply shot a wounded, fleeing Viet Cong in the back.
In the Globe story, Elliott is quoted as saying it was a “terrible mistake” to sign that statement:
George Elliott (Globe account): It was a terrible mistake probably for me to sign the affidavit with those words. I’m the one in trouble here. . . . I knew it was wrong . . . In a hurry I signed it and faxed it back. That was a mistake.
In his second affidavit, however, Elliott downgraded that “terrible mistake” to an “immaterial clarification.” He said in the second affidavit:
Elliott (second affidavit): I do not claim to have personal knowledge as to how Kerry shot the wounded, fleeing Viet Cong.
Elliott also said he now believes Kerry shot the man in the back, based on other accounts including a book in which Kerry is quoted as saying of the soldier, “He was running away with a live B-40 (rocket launcher) and, I thought, poised to turn around and fire it.” (The book quoted by Elliott is John F. Kerry, The Complete Biography, By The Reporters Who Know Him Best.)
Elliott also says in that second affidavit, “Had I known the facts, I would not have recommended Kerry for the Silver Star for simply pursuing and dispatching a single, wounded, fleeing Viet Cong.” That statement is misleading, however. It mischaracterizes the actual basis on which Kerry received his decoration.
The official citations show Kerry was not awarded the Silver Star “for simply pursuing and dispatching” the Viet Cong. In fact, the killing is not even mentioned in two of the three versions of the official citation (see “supporting documents” at right.) The citations – based on what Elliott wrote up at the time – dwell mostly on Kerry’s decision to attack rather than flee from two ambushes, including one in which he led a landing party.
The longest of the citations, signed by Vice Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, commander of U.S. naval forces in Vietnam, describes Kerry as killing a fleeing Viet Cong with a loaded rocket launcher. It says that as Kerry beached his boat to attack his second set of ambushers, “an enemy soldier sprang up from his position not ten feet from Patrol Craft Fast 94 and fled. Without hesitation, Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY leaped ashore, pursued the man behind a hooch, and killed him, capturing a B-40 rocket launcher with a round in the chamber.”
Two other citations omit any mention of the killing. One was signed by Admiral John J. Hyland, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, and the other was signed by the Secretary of the Navy. Both those citations say Kerry attacked his first set of ambushers and that “this daring and courageous tactic surprised the enemy and succeeded in routing a score of enemy soldiers.” Later, 800 yards away, Kerry’s boat encountered a second ambush and a B-40 rocket exploded “close aboard” Kerry’s boat. “With utter disregard for his own safety, and the enemy rockets, he again ordered a charge on the enemy, beached his boat only ten feet away from the VC rocket position, and personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy.” In these citations there is no mention of enemy casualties at all. Kerry was cited for “extraordinary daring and personal courage . . . in attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire.”
Elliott had previously defended Kerry on that score when his record was questioned during his 1996 Senate campaign. At that time Elliott came to Boston and said Kerry acted properly and deserved the Silver Star. And as recently as June, 2003, Elliott called Kerry’s Silver Star “well deserved” and his action “courageous” for beaching his boat in the face of an ambush:Elliott (Boston Globe, June 2003): I ended up writing it up for a Silver Star, which is well deserved, and I have no regrets or second thoughts at all about that. . . . (It) was pretty courageous to turn into an ambush even though you usually find no more than two or three people there.
Elliott now feels differently, and says he has come to believe Kerry didn’t deserve his second award for valor, either, based only on what the other anti-Kerry veterans have told him. He told the Globe Aug. 6:
Elliott: I have chosen to believe the other men. I absolutely do not know first hand.
On Aug. 22 an officer who was present supported Kerry’s version, breaking a 35-year silence. William B. Rood commanded another Swift Boat during the same operation and was awarded the Bronze Star himself for his role in attacking the Viet Cong ambushers. He said Kerry and he went ashore at the same time after being attacked by several Viet Cong onshore.
Rood said he was the only other officer present. Rood is now an editor on the metropolitan desk of the Chicago Tribune, which published his first-person account of the incident in its Sunday edition. Rood said he had refused all interviews about Kerry’s war record, even from reporters for his own paper, until motivated to speak up because Kerry’s critics are telling “stories I know to be untrue” and “their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us.”
Rood described two Viet Cong ambushes, both of them routed using a tactic devised by Kerry who was in tactical command of a three-boat operation. At the second ambush only the Rood and Kerry boats were attacked.
Rood: Kerry, followed by one member of his crew, jumped ashore and chased a VC behind a hooch–a thatched hut–maybe 15 yards inland from the ambush site. Some who were there that day recall the man being wounded as he ran. Neither I nor Jerry Leeds, our boat’s leading petty officer with whom I’ve checked my recollection of all these events, recalls that, which is no surprise. Recollections of those who go through experiences like that frequently differ.
With our troops involved in the sweep of the first ambush site, Richard Lamberson, a member of my crew, and I also went ashore to search the area. I was checking out the inside of the hooch when I heard gunfire nearby.
Not long after that, Kerry returned, reporting that he had killed the man he chased behind the hooch. He also had picked up a loaded B-40 rocket launcher, which we took back to our base in An Thoi after the operation.
Rood disputed an account of the incident given by John O’Neill in his book “Unfit for Command,” which describes the man Kerry chased as a “teenager” in a “loincloth.” Rood said, “I have no idea how old the gunner Kerry chased that day was, but both Leeds and I recall that he was a grown man, dressed in the kind of garb the VC usually wore.”
The Bronze Star
The most serious allegation in the ad is that Kerry received both the Bronze Star, his second-highest decoration, and his third purple heart, which allowed him to be sent home early, under false pretenses. But that account is flatly contradicted by Jim Rassmann, the former Army Lieutenant whom Kerry rescued that day.
Van O’Dell, a former Navy enlisted man who says he was the gunner on another Swift Boat, states in his affidavit that he was “a few yards away” from Kerry’s boat on March 13, 1969 when Kerry pulled Rassman from the water. According to the official medal citations, Kerry’s boat was under enemy fire at the time, and Kerry had been wounded when an enemy mine exploded near his own boat. O’Dell insists “there was no fire” at the time, adding: “I did not hear any shots, nor did any hostile fire hit any boats” other than his own, PCF-3.
Others in the ad back up that account. Jack Chenoweth, who was a Lieutenant (junior grade) commanding PCF-3, said Kerry’s boat “fled the scene” after a mine blast disabled PCF-3, and returned only later “when it was apparent that there was no return fire.” And Larry Thurlow, who says he commanded a third Swift Boat that day, says “Kerry fled while we stayed to fight,” and returned only later “after no return fire occurred.”
A serious discrepancy in the account of Kerry’s accusers came to light Aug. 19, when the Washington Post reported that Navy records describe Thurlow himself as dodging enemy bullets during the same incident, for which Thurlow also was awarded the Bronze Star.
Thurlow’s citation – which the Post said it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act – says that “all units began receiving enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks” after the first explosion. The citation describes Thurlow as leaping aboard the damaged PCF-3 and rendering aid “while still under enemy fire,” and adds: “His actions and courage in the face of enemy fire . . . were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
A separate document that recommended Thurlow for that decoration states that all Thurlow’s actions “took place under constant enemy small arms fire.” It was signed by Elliott.
The Post quoted Thurlow as saying he had lost his citation years earlier and had been under the impression that he received the award for aiding the damaged boat and its crew, and that his own award would be “fraudulent” if based on his facing enemy fire. The Post reported that, after hearing the citation read to him, Thurlow said: “It’s like a Hollywood presentation here, which wasn’t the case. . . My personal feeling was always that I got the award for coming to the rescue of the boat that was mined. This casts doubt on anybody’s awards. It is sickening and disgusting. . . . I am here to state that we weren’t under fire.”
None of those in the attack ad by the Swift Boat group actually served on Kerry’s boat. And their statements are contrary to the accounts of Kerry and those who served under him.
Jim Rassmann was the Army Special Forces lieutenant whom Kerry plucked from the water. Rassmann has said all along that he was under sniper fire from both banks of the river when Kerry, wounded, helped him aboard. Rassmann is featured in an earlier Kerry ad, in fact, (see script at left) saying “he (Kerry) risked his life to save mine.”
On Aug. 10, Rassmann wrote a vivid account of the rescue in the Wall Street Journal that contradicts the Kerry accusers. Rassmann said that after the first explosion that disabled PCF-3:
Rassmann: Machine-gun fire erupted from both banks of the river and a second explosion followed moments later. The second blast blew me off John’s swift boat, PCF-94, throwing me into the river. Fearing that the other boats would run me over, I swam to the bottom of the river and stayed there as long as I could hold my breath.
When I surfaced, all the swift boats had left, and I was alone taking fire from both banks. To avoid the incoming fire I repeatedly swam under water as long as I could hold my breath, attempting to make it to the north bank of the river. I thought I would die right there. The odds were against me avoiding the incoming fire and, even if I made it out of the river, I thought I thought I’d be captured and executed. Kerry must have seen me in the water and directed his driver, Del Sandusky, to turn the boat around. Kerry’s boat ran up to me in the water, bow on, and I was able to climb up a cargo net to the lip of the deck. But, because I was nearly upside down, I couldn’t make it over the edge of the deck. This left me hanging out in the open, a perfect target. John, already wounded by the explosion that threw me off his boat, came out onto the bow, exposing himself to the fire directed at us from the jungle, and pulled me aboard.
Rassmann said he recommended Kerry for the Silver Star for that action, and learned only later that the Bronze Star had been awarded instead. “To this day I still believe he deserved the Silver Star for his courage,” he wrote. Rassmann described himself as a retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “I am a Republican, and for more than 30 years I have largely voted for Republicans,” Rassmann said. But he said Kerry “will be a great commander in chief.”
“This smear campaign has been launched by people without decency,” Rassmann said. “Their new charges are false; their stories are fabricated, made up by people who did not serve with Kerry in Vietnam.”
On Aug. 22 the Washington Post quoted a new eyewitness in support of Kerry’s version. The Post said it had independently contacted Wayne D. Langhofer, who manned a machine gun aboard PCF-43, the boat directly behind Kerry’s, and that Langhofer said he distinctly remembered the “clack, clack, clack” of enemy AK-47 assault rifles.
Langhofer: There was a lot of firing going on, and it came from both sides of the river.
The Third Purple Heart
The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth further says Kerry didn’t deserve his third purple heart, which was received for shrapnel wounds in left buttocks and contusions on right forearm. The Swift Boat group’s affidavits state that the wound in Kerry’s backside happened earlier that day in an accident. “Kerry inadvertently wounded himself in the fanny,” Thurlow said in his affidavit, “by throwing a grenade too close (to destroy a rice supply) and suffered minor shrapnel wounds.”
The grenade incident is actually supported by Kerry’s own account, but the shrapnel wound was only part of the basis for Kerry’s third purple heart according to official documents. The evidence here is contradictory.
Kerry’s account is in the book Tour of Duty by Douglas Brinkley, who based it largely on Kerry’s own Vietnam diaries and 12 hours of interviews with Kerry. “I got a piece of small grenade in my ass from one of the rice-bin explosions and then we started to move back to the boats,” Kerry is quoted as saying on page 313. In that account, Kerry says his arm was hurt later, after the mine blast that disabled PCF-3, when a second explosion rocked his own boat. “The concussion threw me violently against the bulkhead on the door and I smashed my arm,” Kerry says on page 314.
And according to a Navy casualty report released by the Kerry campaign, the third purple heart was received for “shrapnel wounds in left buttocks and contusions on his right forearm when a mine detonated close aboard PCF-94,” Kerry’s boat. As a matter of strict grammar, the report doesn’t state that both injuries were received as a result of the mine explosion, only the arm injury.
The official citation for Kerry’s Bronze Star refers only to his arm injury, not to the shrapnel wound to his rear. It says he performed the rescue “from an exposed position on the bow, his arm bleeding and in pain.” The description of Kerry’s arm “bleeding” isn’t consistent with the description of a “contusion,” or bruise.
Rassmann’s Aug. 10 Wall Street Journal article states that Kerry’s arm was “wounded by the explosion that threw me off his boat,” which would make that wound clearly enemy-inflicted.
In any case, even a “friendly fire” injury can qualify for a purple heart “as long as the ‘friendly’ projectile or agent was released with the full intent of inflicting damage or destroying enemy troops or equipment,” according to the website of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. All agree that rice was being destroyed that day on the assumption that it otherwise might feed Viet Cong fighters.
Another major discrepancy raises a question of how close Kerry’s accusers actually were to the rescue of Rassmann. Tour of Duty describes Rassmann’s rescue (and the sniper fire) as happening “several hundred yards back” from where the crippled PCF-3 was lying, not “a few yards away,” the distance from which the anti-Kerry veterans claim to have witnessed the incident.First Purple Heart
Two who appear in the ad say Kerry didn’t deserve his first purple heart. Louis Letson, a medical officer and Lieutenant Commander, says in the ad that he knows Kerry is lying about his first purple heart because “I treated him for that.” However, medical records provided by the Kerry campaign to FactCheck.org do not list Letson as the “person administering treatment” for Kerry’s injury on December 3, 1968 . The person who signed this sick call report is J.C. Carreon, who is listed as treating Kerry for shrapnel to the left arm.
In his affidavit, Letson says Kerry’s wound was self-inflicted and does not merit a purple heart. But that’s based on hearsay, and disputed hearsay at that. Letson says “the crewman with Kerry told me there was no hostile fire, and that Kerry had inadvertently wounded himself with an M-79 grenade.” But the Kerry campaign says the two crewmen with Kerry that day deny ever talking to Letson.
On Aug. 17 the Los Angeles Times quoted Letson as giving a slightly different account than the one in his affidavit. The Times quotes him as saying he heard only third-hand that there had been no enemy fire. According to the Times, Letson said that what he heard about Kerry’s wounding came not from other crewmen directly, but through some of his own subordinates. Letson was quoted as saying the information came from crewmen who were “just talking to my guys … There was not a firefight — that’s what the guys related. They didn’t remember any firing from shore.”
Letson also insisted to the Times that he was the one who treated Kerry, removing a tiny shard of shrapnel from Kerry’s arm using a pair of tweezers. Letson said Carreon, whose signature appears on Kerry’s medical record, was an enlisted man who routinely made record entries on his behalf. Carreon signed as “HM1,” indicating he held the enlisted rank of Hospital Corpsman First Class.
Also appearing in the ad is Grant Hibbard, Kerry’s commanding officer at the time. Hibbard’s affidavit says that he “turned down the Purple Heart request,” and recalled Kerry’s injury as a “tiny scratch less than from a rose thorn.”
That doesn’t quite square with Letson’s affidavit, which describes shrapnel “lodged in Kerry’s arm” (though “barely.”)
Hibbard also told the Boston Globe in an interview in April 2004 that he eventually acquiesced about granting Kerry the purple heart.
Hibbard: I do remember some questions on it. . .I finally said, OK if that’s what happened. . . do whatever you want
Kerry got the first purple heart after Hibbard left to return to the US .
McCain Speaks Up
Sen. John McCain — who has publicly endorsed Bush and even appealed for donations to the President’s campaign — came to Kerry’s defense on this. McCain didn’t witness the events in question, of course. But he told the Associated Press in an August 5 interview:
McCain : I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable. As it is none of these individuals served on the boat (Kerry) commanded. Many of his crewmates have testified to his courage under fire. I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam.
At this point, 35 years later and half a world away, we see no way to resolve which of these versions of reality is closer to the truth.
Michael Kranish,“Veteran Retracts Criticism of Kerry ,” The Boston Globe, 6 August 2004 .
Jodi Wilgoren, “Vietnam Veterans Buy Ads to Attack Kerry,” The New York Times, 5 August 2004.
Douglas Brinkley, Tour of Duty, (NY, HarperCollins, 2004).
Jim Rassmann, “Shame on the Swift Boat Veterans for Bush,” Wall Street Journal, 10 Aug 2004: A10.
Ron Fournier, “McCain Condemns Anti-Kerry Ad,” Associated Press, 5 August 2004.
Michael Kranish, “Kerry Faces Questions Over Purple Heart,” The Boston Globe , 14 April 2004: A1.
Michael Kranish, “Heroism, and growing concern about war,” The Boston Globe, 16 June 2003.
Maria L. La Ganga and Stephen Braun, “Race to the White House: Veterans Battle Over Truth; An ad calls Kerry a liar. His Vietnam crew sees a hero. Memories, and agendas, are in conflict.” Los Angeles Times 17 Aug 2004: A1.
Michael Dobbs, “Records Counter A Critic Of Kerry; Fellow Skipper’s Citation Refers To Enemy Fire” Washington Post, 19 Aug. 2004: A1.
William B. Rood, “FEB. 28, 1969: ON THE DONG CUNG RIVER
`This is what I saw that day’” Chicago Tribune 22 Aug 2004.
Michael Dobbs, “Swift Boat Accounts Incomplete: Critics Fail to Disprove Kerry’s Version of Vietnam War Episode,” Washington Post 22 Aug 2004: A1.
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 6th, 2006 @ 7:28 pm
While the press has been criticized for their role in helping the Swift Boat Liars spread their false claims about John Kerry, I’ve been showing exceptions where some reporters did search for the truth. Another example is Michael Dobbs of the Washington Post. Dobbs exposed one of the many contradictions in the charges against Kerry. The Swift Boat Liars claimed that Kerry did ot deserve a Bronze Star by disputing that there was enemy fire. Dobbs found that an earlier report by Swift Boat Liar Larry Thurlow had actually reported there there were “enemy bullets flying about him.” This report appeared on the front page of The Washington Post on August 19, 2004:
Newly obtained military records of one of Sen. John F. Kerry’s most vocal critics, who has accused the Democratic presidential candidate of lying about his wartime record to win medals, contradict his own version of events.
In newspaper interviews and a best-selling book, Larry Thurlow, who commanded a Navy Swift boat alongside Kerry in Vietnam, has strongly disputed Kerry’s claim that the Massachusetts Democrat’s boat came under fire during a mission in Viet Cong-controlled territory on March 13, 1969. Kerry won a Bronze Star for his actions that day.
But Thurlow’s military records, portions of which were released yesterday to The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, contain several references to “enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire” directed at “all units” of the five-boat flotilla. Thurlow won his own Bronze Star that day, and the citation praises him for providing assistance to a damaged Swift boat “despite enemy bullets flying about him.”
On August 22 Dobbs wrote of tracking down yet another eye witness to verify Kerry’s account:
Until now, eyewitness evidence supporting Kerry’s version had come only from his own crewmen. But yesterday, The Post independently contacted a participant who has not spoken out so far in favor of either camp who remembers coming under enemy fire. “There was a lot of firing going on, and it came from both sides of the river,” said Wayne D. Langhofer, who manned a machine gun aboard PCF-43, the boat that was directly behind Kerry’s.
Langhofer said he distinctly remembered the “clack, clack, clack” of enemy AK-47s, as well as muzzle flashes from the riverbanks. Langhofer, who now works at a Kansas gunpowder plant, said he was approached several months ago by leaders of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth but declined their requests to speak out against Kerry.
Dobbs reviewed other areas of controversy in the same article. The Swift Boat Liars have tried to confuse the issue by claiming Kerry claimed a trivial injury to receive one of his medals, when actually it was a more serious injury which was considered:
Evidently, Kerry did not run fast enough. “He got some frags and pieces of rice in his rear end,” Rassmann said with a laugh. “It was more embarrassing than painful.” At the time, the incident did not seem significant, and Kerry did not mention it to anyone when he got back on the boat. An unsigned “personnel casualty report,” however, erroneously implies that Kerry suffered “shrapnel wounds in his left buttocks” later in the day, following the mine explosion incident, when he also received “contusions to his right forearm.”
Anti-Kerry veterans have accused Kerry of conflating the two injuries to strengthen his case for a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Kerry’s Bronze Star citation, however, refers only to his arm injury.
NPR’s All Things Considered interviewed Michael Dobbs on August 23. Following is the transcript:
All Things Considered (NPR)
Interview: Michael Dobbs discusses his investigation into the claims by some veterans that John Kerry has lied about his combat service in Vietnam
Host: ROBERT SIEGEL
Time: 9:00-10:00 PM
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Now what we know so far about two incidents in John Kerry’s Vietnam service: the one for which he was awarded a Bronze Star, and the one for which he was awarded a Silver Star. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, as the group is called, say he doesn’t deserve either of them. Kerry’s Silver Star was awarded for his actions on Dong Cung Canal on February 28th, 1969. On that day, Kerry and two other officers stormed the shore to thwart ambushers. The following month, March of 1969, John Kerry was on the Bay Hap River. A boat struck a mine, and Kerry pulled Special Forces Officer Jim Rassmann from the water. In a citation that said all this happened while under enemy fire, Kerry was awarded the Bronze Star. Now reporter Michael Dobbs of The Washington Post has investigated the claims and counterclaims concerning these two incidents, and he joins us now.
Welcome once again, Michael Dobbs.
Mr. MICHAEL DOBBS (The Washington Post): Pleased to be here.
SIEGEL: And let’s start with the Bronze Star incident. First, what about that story of John Kerry rescuing Jim Rassmann? What is not in dispute?
Mr. DOBBS: Yeah, there are a lot of things that aren’t in dispute that day. There were five boats on the river–two boats on the right-hand side of the river, led by Kerry’s boat, and there were three boats on the left-hand side of the river. One of them ran into a mine. There’s no dispute that Kerry rescued a Special Forces officer on his boat. The major point that is in dispute is whether enemy fire was taking place while this was all going on. Kerry won his Bronze Star for heroism under enemy fire, so it’s quite a significant point.
SIEGEL: Now who or how many people who were actually there say there say there was no enemy fire, and how many say there was enemy fire?
Mr. DOBBS: Well, it’s actually divided quite neatly between the right-hand side of the river supporting Kerry and the left-hand side of the river saying there was no enemy fire.
SIEGEL: One of the people who contested that had actually himself received a Bronze Star for this incident, and the citation said this had all happened under enemy fire.
Mr. DOBBS: Yes. I’ve spoken to former Lieutenant Turlow, who was one of the people who received a Bronze Star for his actions that day, and he claims that the citation must have been based on something that Kerry reported, because he continues to insist that even though he got a Bronze Star for bravery under fire, there was no enemy fire that day.
SIEGEL: It was the earlier incident, in February of 1969, that won John Kerry a Silver Star. And in that case, he and other officers decided on, I guess, very aggressive tactics, to get off their boats, go ashore and pursue people who were firing on the boats that were along this canal. What’s in dispute in this story?
Mr. DOBBS: Kerry claims that he decided, along with the other two skippers that day, that they had had enough of that, and they were going to actually beach the boat and chase whoever was firing at them. So he did that. They started chasing several people into the jungle, and shot a young man, as a result of which Kerry won his Silver Star. The other side says that Kerry and the other skippers had overwhelming force against them, so it required no particular act of heroism to pursue one retreating young man in a loincloth.
SIEGEL: This is the incident that William Rood, a journalist with the Chicago Tribune, wrote about. He was witness to the entire thing, and he wrote last week, or over the weekend, that, indeed, Kerry’s account is the account that he recalls.
Mr. DOBBS: Yes. On that occasion, there were three boats involved. There was Kerry’s boat, there was Bill Rood’s boat and there was the boat of Don Droz, the man who killed a couple of weeks later. So of the three skippers, you have Kerry sticking to his story, you have Rood who’s now come out on Kerry’s side. The third man is dead, but his family have essentially supported Kerry’s version of events.
SIEGEL: So insofar as the Bronze Star and the Silver Star incidents go, can it be said that Senator Kerry’s version remains apparently true, more true than his accusers’ version or do you split the difference? What would you say?
Mr. DOBBS: Well, it hasn’t been disproven. I don’t think that the accusers have accumulated sufficient evidence to shake one’s belief in what Kerry says. I mean, it’s a question of reasonable doubt. They have inserted a lot of doubt into exactly what took place, but they haven’t proven, I think, on those two incidents that Kerry is a liar.
SIEGEL: Thank you once again, Michael.
Mr. DOBBS: You’re welcome.
SIEGEL: Reporter Michael Dobbs of The Washington Post. He’s been investigating the political dispute over John Kerry’s Vietnam War record.
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 6th, 2006 @ 7:36 pm
This week The Democratic Daily has been looking at the evidence refuting the charges of the Swift Boat Liars. Most of the posts have been from objective sources but there is one person with an obvious interest in the matter we should also hear from–John Kerry. The following is the text of a speech before a firefighters convention on August 19, 2004:
It’s been a long journey to this moment. Since I entered this race a year and a half ago, I’ve traveled from one end of this country to the other — from great cities to the great Southwest, from the flag-draped front porches of Main Street America to the small family farms that dot the Midwest. I’m proud that we’ve made this great journey together.
All of you here today stood with me right from the beginning — and you never left my side. In those long days in Iowa, you were there. In those cold days in New Hampshire, you were there. When the polls were down, and they counted us out, you never gave up hope. And today, wherever I go, I look up, and the first thing I see are those gold and black T-shirts, and those gold and black signs — and I know that once again, my friends are by my side.
Through these long months, you have shown what we always knew was true: Firefighters never give up. Firefighters never leave a brother or sister behind. And no matter how tough it gets, firefighters can take the heat.
These are the values you live by, day in and day out, when you kiss your families goodbye, and head to the station – knowing full well that with the sound of an alarm, you might be called into harms way. I know what that’s like. And more than thirty years ago, I learned an important lesson — when you’re under attack, the best thing to do is turn your boat into the attacker. That’s what I intend to do today.
Over the last week or so, a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has been attacking me. Of course, this group isn’t interested in the truth — and they’re not telling the truth. They didn’t even exist until I won the nomination for president.
But here’s what you really need to know about them. They’re funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas. They’re a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the President won’t denounce what they’re up to tells you everything you need to know — he wants them to do his dirty work.
Thirty years ago, official Navy reports documented my service in Vietnam and awarded me the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. Thirty years ago, this was the plain truth. It still is. And I still carry the shrapnel in my leg from a wound in Vietnam.
As firefighters you risk your lives every day. You know what it’s like to see the truth in the moment. You’re proud of what you’ve done — and so am I.
Of course, the President keeps telling people he would never question my service to our country. Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that. Well, if he wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: “Bring it on.”
I’m not going to let anyone question my commitment to defending America — then, now, or ever. And I’m not going to let anyone attack the sacrifice and courage of the men who saw battle with me.
And let me make this commitment today: their lies about my record will not stop me from fighting for jobs, health care, and our security — the issues that really matter to the American people.
The situation in Iraq is a mess. That is the President’s responsibility and he owes the American people an answer.
America is on track to lose more jobs than it’s gained under George Bush and he supports a tax code that rewards companies for shipping jobs overseas. He owes the American people an answer.
Health care costs have exploded out of control. The President has done nothing and he owes the American people an answer.
The middle class is paying a bigger share of America’s tax burden. The President needs to answer to the American people why that is fair.
Unfortunately, those in the White House are coming from a different place than you and I. They see things a little differently than you and I. They tell us that today, when it comes to the issues that matter most, we’re getting the job done.
Well, just saying the job is getting done doesn’t make it so. My friends, let me tell you when the job will be done.
The job will be done when every firehouse in America has the firefighters and the equipment they need to protect our communities. Right now, two-thirds of firehouses are understaffed, and we’re not spending one dime to fund the SAFER Act. The job will be done when all our firefighters have the resources to fight the war on terror here at home. Right now, in too many places, your budgets are being cut to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
And, my friends, the job will be done when we stop opening firehouses in Baghdad while closing them down here in the United States of America.
For four years, we’ve heard a lot of talk about values. But values are not just words. They’re what we live by. They’re about the choices we make, the causes we champion, and the people we fight for.
Let me tell you about my values. The way I see it, all of you are full-time heroes, and you deserve nothing less than America’s full-time support.
That’s why, for 19 years in the Senate, I’ve fought for better equipment and training, for tracking technology and workplace protections. I sponsored the Federal Presumptive Disability legislation, because when federal firefighters get sick because of their job, they deserve our help. And I’ve fought for collective bargaining for all employees – including federal employees – and I’ll take on anyone who tries to take it away.
And that’s just the beginning. When John Edwards and I are in the White House, we’re going to fund the FIRE Act and the SAFER Act. We’re going to create the Father Mychal Judge fund to hire 100,000 new firefighters all across America. And we’re going to be an Administration that stands with labor. Let us never forget that every single one of the firefighters who went up the stairs of those burning towers, and through the doors of that warehouse in Worcester – all of them were members of organized labor. They believed in the right to organize…the right to overtime pay…the right to have a Secretary of Labor who comes from labor. And we do too. Those are our values, and we’re going to live and lead by them every day that we’re in the White House. And that’s how we’re going to get the job done.
Finally, we’re going to really get the job done by creating an economy that works for you and your families, where when you work hard, you can pay your bills and create a better life for your children.
Right now, middle class Americans are being squeezed like never before. In the last three years, we’ve lost 1.8 million private sector jobs. And the new jobs being created pay $9,000 less than the ones we’ve lost. At the same time, gas prices are up, childcare costs are up, tuition is up, and family income has fallen $1,500. As a result, today, we’ve got people working two jobs, three jobs, just to get by. That’s not the American way.
To make matters worse, health care costs are through the roof. The average American family has seen their premiums increase by more than $2,600 in just the last three years. And I know that some of you have seen the results at the bargaining table, where you win an increase in wages only to see it disappear to pay for health care.
This is bad news for our families and even worse news for our economy. Studies show that rising costs have forced many employers — especially those in industries that pay high wages — to slow their hiring. And many have begun hiring more part-time and temporary workers, who often don’t get health insurance at all. So we’re losing good jobs and replacing them with ones that just don’t pay the bills.
When I’m President, America will stop being the only advanced country that doesn’t understand that health care is not a privilege for the elected or the connected or the wealthy — but a right for all Americans. John Edwards and I have a plan to reduce health care costs and turn our economy around. We’re going to provide tax credits to make health insurance more affordable. And we’re going to let all Americans buy into the same plan available to members of Congress. In total, we’ll cut the average family’s premium by $1,000.
The issues I’ve been talking about today — these aren’t Republican issues or Democratic issues. They’re American values. And frankly, it doesn’t make one bit of difference to me what party you belong to or who you’ve voted for in the past. That’s not what this election is about.
This election is about building an America that’s stronger at home and respected around the world. Where families sleep soundly at night knowing you have what you need to do your jobs. An America where we once again honor those who serve our communities and protect our families.
There’s a simple rule you follow in every fire you fight: You never go in alone — you always have a brother or sister by your side. Well, today, I want you to know that come next January, you will have a brother in the White House who stands with you every hour of every day. I will be a president who goes into the Oval Office every morning knowing that my job is to help you do yours. I will work my heart out for you, and I will never let you down.
But once again, I can’t get there without your help. In the closing weeks of this campaign, I’m going to be traveling all across this country, talking to Americans about our values and our vision for the future. And I need you to do the same. I need you to go back to your states and knock on every door, make every call, and register every voter you can. Tell people about who we are, what we stand for, and what we’re going to do for America. And on election day, you make sure that every single person you’ve reached goes to the polls and makes their voice heard. In a race like this, we can’t afford to lose a single vote.
This isn’t going to be easy, but firefighters are no strangers to tough challenges. I know that working together, we can take back America for its heroes. We can reach for the next dream. We can look to the next horizon. For America, the hope is there. The sun is rising. Our best days are still to come. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 6th, 2006 @ 7:50 pm
Several of our accounts of those who refuted the charges of the Swift Boat Liars have mentioned the report of Willaim B. Rood. Rood, an editor on the Chicago Tribune’s metropolitan desk, broke 35 years of silence about the mission that resulted in Kerry’s receiving a Silver Star in response to the smears spread by the Swift Boat Liars. Here is Rood’s account from The Chicago Tribune:
`This is what I saw that day’
By William B. Rood
August 22, 2004
There were three swift boats on the river that day in Vietnam more than 35 years ago–three officers and 15 crew members. Only two of those officers remain to talk about what happened on February 28, 1969.
One is John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate who won a Silver Star for what happened on that date. I am the other.
For years, no one asked about those events. But now they are the focus of skirmishing in a presidential election with a group of swift boat veterans and others contending that Kerry didn’t deserve the Silver Star for what he did on that day, or the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts he was awarded for other actions.
Many of us wanted to put it all behind us–the rivers, the ambushes, the killing. Ever since that time, I have refused all requests for interviews about Kerry’s service–even those from reporters at the Chicago Tribune, where I work.
But Kerry’s critics, armed with stories I know to be untrue, have charged that the accounts of what happened were overblown. The critics have taken pains to say they’re not trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did, but their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us. It’s gotten harder and harder for those of us who were there to listen to accounts we know to be untrue, especially when they come from people who were not there.
Even though Kerry’s own crew members have backed him, the attacks have continued, and in recent days Kerry has called me and others who were with him in those days, asking that we go public with our accounts.
I can’t pretend those calls had no effect on me, but that is not why I am writing this. What matters most to me is that this is hurting crewmen who are not public figures and who deserved to be honored for what they did. My intent is to tell the story here and to never again talk publicly about it.
I was part of the operation that led to Kerry’s Silver Star. I have no firsthand knowledge of the events that resulted in his winning the Purple Hearts or the Bronze Star.
But on Feb. 28, 1969, I was officer in charge of PCF-23, one of three swift boats–including Kerry’s PCF-94 and Lt. j.g. Donald Droz’s PCF-43–that carried Vietnamese regional and Popular Force troops and a Navy demolition team up the Dong Cung, a narrow tributary of the Bay Hap River, to conduct a sweep in the area.
The approach of the noisy 50-foot aluminum boats, each driven by two huge 12-cylinder diesels and loaded down with six crew members, troops and gear, was no secret.
Ambushes were a virtual certainty, and that day was no exception.
Instructions from Kerry
The difference was that Kerry, who had tactical command of that particular operation, had talked to Droz and me beforehand about not responding the way the boats usually did to an ambush.
We agreed that if we were not crippled by the initial volley and had a clear fix on the location of the ambush, we would turn directly into it, focusing the boats’ twin .50-caliber machine guns on the attackers and beaching the boats. We told our crews about the plan.
The Viet Cong in the area had come to expect that the heavily loaded boats would lumber on past an ambush, firing at the entrenched attackers, beaching upstream and putting troops ashore to sweep back down on the ambush site. Often, they were long gone by the time the troops got there.
The first time we took fire–the usual rockets and automatic weapons–Kerry ordered a “turn 90″ and the three boats roared in on the ambush. It worked. We routed the ambush, killing three of the attackers. The troops, led by an Army adviser, jumped off the boats and began a sweep, which killed another half dozen VC, wounded or captured others and found weapons, blast masks and other supplies used to stage ambushes.
Meanwhile, Kerry ordered our boat to head upstream with his, leaving Droz’s boat at the first site.
It happened again, another ambush. And again, Kerry ordered the turn maneuver, and again it worked. As we headed for the riverbank, I remember seeing a loaded B-40 launcher pointed at the boats. It wasn’t fired as two men jumped up from their spider holes.
We called Droz’s boat up to assist us, and Kerry, followed by one member of his crew, jumped ashore and chased a VC behind a hooch–a thatched hut–maybe 15 yards inland from the ambush site. Some who were there that day recall the man being wounded as he ran. Neither I nor Jerry Leeds, our boat’s leading petty officer with whom I’ve checked my recollection of all these events, recalls that, which is no surprise. Recollections of those who go through experiences like that frequently differ.
With our troops involved in the sweep of the first ambush site, Richard Lamberson, a member of my crew, and I also went ashore to search the area. I was checking out the inside of the hooch when I heard gunfire nearby.
Not long after that, Kerry returned, reporting that he had killed the man he chased behind the hooch. He also had picked up a loaded B-40 rocket launcher, which we took back to our base in An Thoi after the operation.
John O’Neill, author of a highly critical account of Kerry’s Vietnam service, describes the man Kerry chased as a “teenager” in a “loincloth.” I have no idea how old the gunner Kerry chased that day was, but both Leeds and I recall that he was a grown man, dressed in the kind of garb the VC usually wore.
The man Kerry chased was not the “lone” attacker at that site, as O’Neill suggests. There were others who fled. There was also firing from the tree line well behind the spider holes and at one point, from the opposite riverbank as well. It was not the work of just one attacker.
Our initial reports of the day’s action caused an immediate response from our task force headquarters in Cam Ranh Bay.
Known over radio circuits by the call sign “Latch,” then-Capt. and now retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffmann, the task force commander, fired off a message congratulating the three swift boats, saying at one point that the tactic of charging the ambushes was a “shining example of completely overwhelming the enemy” and that it “may be the most efficacious method of dealing with small numbers of ambushers.”
Hoffmann has become a leading critic of Kerry’s and now says that what the boats did on that day demonstrated Kerry’s inclination to be impulsive to a fault.
Our decision to use that tactic under the right circumstances was not impulsive but was the result of discussions well beforehand and a mutual agreement of all three boat officers.
It was also well within the aggressive tradition that was embraced by the late Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, then commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam. Months before that day in February, a fellow boat officer, Michael Bernique, was summoned to Saigon to explain to top Navy commanders why he had made an unauthorized run up the Giang Thanh River, which runs along the Vietnam-Cambodia border. Bernique, who speaks French fluently, had been told by a source in Ha Tien at the mouth of the river that a VC tax collector was operating upstream.
Ignoring the prohibition against it, Bernique and his crew went upstream and routed the VC, pursuing and killing several.
Instead of facing disciplinary action as he had expected, Bernique was given the Silver Star, and Zumwalt ordered other swifts, which had largely patrolled coastal waters, into the rivers.
The decision sent a clear message, underscored repeatedly by Hoffmann’s congratulatory messages, that aggressive patrolling was expected and that well-timed, if unconventional, tactics like Bernique’s were encouraged.
What we did on Feb. 28, 1969, was well in line with the tone set by our top commanders.
Zumwalt made that clear when he flew down to our base at An Thoi off the southern tip of Vietnam to pin the Silver Star on Kerry and assorted Bronze Stars and commendation medals on the rest of us.
Error in citation
My Bronze Star citation, signed by Zumwalt, praised the charge tactic we used that day, saying the VC were “caught completely off guard.”
There’s at least one mistake in that citation. It incorrectly identifies the river where the main action occurred, a reminder that such documents were often done in haste and sometimes authored for their signers by staffers. It’s a cautionary note for those trying to piece it all together. There’s no final authority on something that happened so long ago–not the documents and not even the strained recollections of those of us who were there.
But I know that what some people are saying now is wrong. While they mean to hurt Kerry, what they’re saying impugns others who are not in the public eye.
Men like Larry Lee, who was on our bow with an M-60 machine gun as we charged the riverbank, Kenneth Martin, who was in the .50-caliber gun tub atop our boat, and Benjamin Cueva, our engineman, who was at our aft gun mount suppressing the fire from the opposite bank.
Wayne Langhoffer and the other crewmen on Droz’s boat went through even worse on April 12, 1969, when they saw Droz killed in a brutal ambush that left PCF-43 an abandoned pile of wreckage on the banks of the Duong Keo River. That was just a few months after the birth of his only child, Tracy.
The survivors of all these events are scattered across the country now.
Jerry Leeds lives in a tiny Kansas town where he built and sold a successful printing business. He owns a beautiful home with a lawn that sweeps to the edge of a small lake, which he also owns. Every year, flights of purple martins return to the stately birdhouses on the tall poles in his back yard.
Cueva, recently retired, has raised three daughters and is beloved by his neighbors for all the years he spent keeping their cars running. Lee is a senior computer programmer in Kentucky, and Lamberson finished a second military career in the Army.
With the debate over that long-ago day in February, they’re all living that war another time.
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 6th, 2006 @ 8:00 pm
The Democratic Daily has been reviewing reports on the claims of the Swift Boat Liars. Many editorial writers who reviewed similar reports at the time found there was no credibility to the accusations. The Boston Globe found that these “big lies for Bush” were “laughable” and an attempt at “political assassination” in this editorial:
Big lies for Bush
August 22, 2004
IMAGINE IF supporters of Bill Clinton had tried in 1996 to besmirch the military record of his opponent, Bob Dole. After all, Dole was given a Purple Heart for a leg scratch probably caused, according to one biographer, when a hand grenade thrown by one of his own men bounced off a tree. And while the serious injuries Dole sustained later surely came from German fire, did the episode demonstrate heroism on Dole’s part or a reckless move that ended up killing his radioman and endangering the sergeant who dragged Dole off the field?
The truth, according to many accounts, is that Dole fought with exceptional bravery and deserves the nation’s gratitude. No one in 1996 questioned that record. Any such attack on behalf of Clinton, an admitted Vietnam draft dodger, would have been preposterous.
Yet amazingly, something quite similar is happening today as supporters of President Bush attack the Vietnam record of Senator John Kerry.
The situations are not completely parallel. Bush was not a draft dodger, but he certainly was a Vietnam avoider, having joined the Texas Air National Guard rather than serving in the regular military.
Kerry, on the other hand, may have done more than Dole to qualify as a genuine war hero. Although his tour in Vietnam was short, on at least two occasions he acted decisively and with great daring in combat, saving at least one man’s life and earning both a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. That’s not our account or Kerry’s; it is drawn from eyewitnesses and the military citations themselves.
Yet a group of Vietnam veterans is questioning Kerry’s record, operating cynically and ignoring the evidence. Many in this group felt betrayed by Kerry’s opposition to the Vietnam War after he returned home. A renewed debate on that war might be useful, though we believe most Americans now agree with Kerry’s famous statement to Congress at the time that it was a mistake.
Rather than seeking debate, however, this group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, is attempting political assassination, claiming in ads and a best-selling book that Kerry is “Unfit for Command.” In many cases the charges conflict with statements the same men made in the past. Sometimes the allegations contradict documentary evidence. Last week a former swift boat commander, Larry Thurlow, said Kerry didn’t deserve his Bronze Star because there was no enemy fire at the time, but this is contradicted by five separate accounts — including the Bronze Star citation Thurlow himself was awarded in the same incident, as reported by The Washington Post.
While a few details and dates of Kerry’s Vietnam record are open to question, most of the accusations are laughable. Kerry’s record of service in Vietnam is clear and, one would think, unassailable. Given the contrast in their Vietnam-era records — Bush even let his pilot’s license lapse while still in the Guard — Bush might be expected to change the subject.
Yet the Kerry opponents, working with funders and political operatives closely linked to Bush personally, are attempting what is known in politics as the big lie — an effort simply to contradict the truth repeatedly.
Both parties do it, but Republicans are developing a shocking expertise. The smearing of John McCain in South Carolina in 2000, the reprehensible attack to oust Senator Max Cleland of Georgia in 2002, and this utterly cynical campaign against Kerry by Bush’s False Squad deserve only condemnation.
Kerry has faulted a few of his own supporters who lampooned Bush’s National Guard record. Now Bush should call off his dogs.
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 7th, 2006 @ 5:55 pm
In our review this week of the Swift Boat Liars I’ve included editorial commentary from various newspapers. Business Week ran a commentary in support of John Kerry on August 23, 2004:
Flinging the Foul Mud of Vietnam
By Thane Peterson
John Kerry returned a hero. The smears his political enemies are now flinging mark them — not him — as beneath contempt
The next time the nation gets into a war, why would any American with an interest in national service show up to fight? When did the U.S. come to blithely accept the tarring for political gain of honorably discharged combat veterans? Obviously, I’m talking about the attacks on John Kerry by a bunch of angry, Bush-backing Vietnam-war vets who claim the Democratic candidate doesn’t deserve all of the medals, which include Bronze and Silver Stars and three Purple Hearts, that he won in combat in Vietnam.
But I’m also talking about the attacks on Republican Senator and former prisoner of war John McCain — a genuine hero by anyone’s definition — during his South Carolina primary battle against George W. Bush for the 2000 Presidential nomination. And the relentless assaults on the patriotism of Democrat Max Cleland by Republican Saxby Chambliss, who defeated Cleland for one of Georgia’s Senate seats in 2002. If you want proof of Cleland’s patriotism, all you need to know is that he lost three limbs in Vietnam.
It’s time for Bush in particular — and Americans in general — to get on the right side of this issue once and for all. No moral equivalency exists between Kerry and Bush on the issue of service in Vietnam. Kerry served in combat. He was shot at. Not Bush. If you don’t think it’s important for a President to have served in combat, fine, make your choice on other grounds. But if you do, Kerry is your man, at least on this one issue (see BW Online, 8/23/04, “Why Kerry’s War Record Matters”).
REPUBLICAN RECOMMENDATION. Nine of the ten Swift-boat comrades who served on Kerry’s boat have showed up at his side to campaign for him and defend him. They’re the ones with the most direct knowledge of what happened and they confirm that Kerry deserved the Bronze Star for his leadership during a skirmish on March 13, 1969.
So does Jim Rassmann, the retired Los Angeles County cop who introduced Kerry at the Democratic Convention. Rassmann is a Republican, for gosh sakes. He came forward on his own and offered to campaign for Kerry, whom he credits with saving his life that day. Rassman also recommended Kerry for the Silver Star, one of the nation’s highest honors for bravery under fire and the highest medal Kerry won.
Crewmen on the three Swift boats involved in an attack Kerry led on Feb. 28, 1969, also support Kerry’s version of events. That’s the day Kerry won the Silver Star, one of the nation’s highest honors for bravery under fire and the highest medal Kerry was awarded.
The latest to come forward is Willam R. Rood, a Chicago Tribune editor who commanded one of the other boats, broke a 35-year silence when he published a first-person account on Aug. 22 supporting Kerry’s version. “What matters most to me,” Rood wrote, “is that this is hurting crewmen who are not public figures and who deserved to be honored for what they did.”
“FOG OF WAR”? Contrast that with George Bush, who few witnesses can recall having seen during a long stretch of his National Guard duty during the Vietnam War. News organizations have done plenty of digging into the past to determine whether Bush used personal influence to get himself into that National Guard assignment. It’s hard to say for certain. But no poor people were in that unit. The only ones in it were people with pull.
Why the so-called called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — only one of whom served on the same vessel with Kerry — have decided to attack their fellow vet is a bit hard to decipher, too. I suppose it could partly be an honest difference of opinion. Maybe the “fog of war” led vets to have different memories of the same events.
But the critics’ main motivation is clear from statements they themselves have repeatedly made: They remain angry that Kerry protested the war when he returned the U.S. and, specifically, that he accused his fellow soldiers of having committed atrocities in Vietnam.
MUDDYING THE WATER. Unfortunately, soldiers — including American soldiers — commit atrocities in all wars. That was true even of the so-called Greatest Generation in World War II, it was true in Korea and Vietnam, and it’s undoubtedly true in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Denying that is to deny the reality of war. And failing to face the harsh realities of war is what makes it so easy for the U.S. to slide into nasty, unnecessary conflicts — like Vietnam and the Iraq War now.
Americans should never go to war except in the full knowledge that it’s going to wreak terrible pain on the enemy, the civilian populations involved, and our own troops. That doesn’t make the service of those who served honorably any less honorable. But anyone who denies that some American soldiers committed atrocities in Vietnam is kidding themselves. You can quibble over the exact words Kerry used and whether he should have said them when he did, but in broad terms he spoke the truth.
The purpose of the attacks against Kerry, however, isn’t to get at the truth. It’s a media campaign, with TV ads intended to create a vague, negative impression where none existed. The people behind the ads know that by any realistic assessment of the facts, Kerry has a major advantage over Bush when it comes to their respective military records. They want to muddy the waters to reduce Kerry’s advantage. It’s amazing that such bald-faced tactics can gain any traction with voters.
NO EQUIVALENCY. The critics know that if they can just manufacture the appearance of controversy, most reporters — in the name of “balancing” their stories — will play along. Attacks on Bush, such as an ad funded by the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org that questioned Bush’s military record, have been given equal weight with the vets’ attack ads in some stories.
The Bush campaign and editorial writers are calling on Kerry to distance himself from the MoveOn ads in the same breath that the Kerry campaign and editorialists are asking Bush to renounce the Swift-boat vets’ ads. Kerry has repudiated the MoveOn ad (after some prodding from McCain).
But sorry, my fellow journalists, there’s no equivalency here. MoveOn is an avowedly partisan group that openly opposes Bush. The Swift-boat vets tried to cover their political tracks while claiming inside knowledge about Kerry most of them clearly don’t have. And several of them have flip-flopped from publicly praising Kerry to attacking him.
A nation has to honor its war veterans whatever their political party, while remaining realistic about the horrors of war. If some Americans do otherwise, all Americans are shamed. McCain has also called on Bush to denounce the attacks on Kerry and condemn that kind of low-life negative campaigning. It’s time the President complied in no uncertain terms, and it’s time he meant it.
Peterson is a contributing editor at BusinessWeek Online. Follow his State of the Arts column, only on BusinessWeek Online
Edited by Douglas Harbrecht
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 7th, 2006 @ 6:00 pm
Two myths surrounding the Swift Boat Lies were that 1) there was any credibility to their claims and 2) that John Kerry never fought back. I’ve already posted many articles showing that the attacks lack credibility. Yesterday I included one example of Kerry fighting back. This report from the Washington Post on August 24, 2004 shows both that the attacks were not credible and gives further evidence that Kerry did fight back.
Kerry Team Lines Up Vietnam Witnesses
Bush Again Declines To Condemn Attack Ad
By Lois Romano and Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 24, 2004; Page A01
The Kerry campaign ratcheted up its defense of the Democrat’s military record yesterday, producing three veterans to attest to John F. Kerry’s valor in Vietnam while pointing reporters to other veterans who expressed disgust at the attacks on the presidential nominee.
In a conference call with reporters arranged by the campaign, three Navy Swift boat officers who served with Kerry 35 years ago but who said they have not been in touch with him for years defended his service and his bravery. Rich McCann, Jim Russell and Rich Baker said Kerry served honorably and took issue with questions raised by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth about his commendations.
“He was the most aggressive officer in charge of Swift boats,” Baker said. “With no disrespect to anyone out there, the whole Swift boat operation took courage and guts every time you stepped on those boats. But John Kerry was one step above the rest of us.”
The conference call was part of a Kerry offensive aimed at regaining control of an issue that has been the centerpiece of his presidential bid — his Vietnam service. The campaign has been roiled by an ad that questions Kerry’s valor and accuses him of misrepresenting the facts that led to some of his commendations.
President Bush yesterday repeated his condemnation of unregulated money that he said was “pouring” into the political process. But he stopped short of denouncing the ad by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which is being aired in three battleground states and is funded largely by Republicans.
Bush praised Kerry’s military service in Vietnam. “I think Senator Kerry served admirably, and he ought to be proud of his record,” he said.
But, pressed several times by reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., about whether he would specifically condemn the ad, Bush would only say: “That means that ad and every other ad. I’m denouncing all the stuff.”
In Oshkosh, Wis., Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards, blasted Bush for not being more critical of the ad and the claims by the group. “Today, George Bush faced his moment of truth and he failed,” said Edwards, who has repeatedly called on the president to denounce the veterans group’s ad. “He failed to condemn the specific attacks on John Kerry’s military record. We didn’t need to hear a politician’s answer, but unfortunately that’s what we got.”
Adm. Roy Hoffmann, a founder of the anti-Kerry group, issued a statement in response to Bush’s comment: “It would make no difference if John Kerry were a Republican, Democrat or an Independent, Swift Boat Veterans would still be speaking the truth concerning John Kerry’s military service record in Vietnam, his actions after returning home and his lack of qualifications to be the next Commander in Chief.”
While getting off to a slow start in responding to the ad, Kerry’s campaign is frantically trying to mobilize veterans to speak out. Former senator Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who lost three limbs in Vietnam, spent the weekend in Wisconsin denouncing the Swift boat ads and attacks, and Kerry’s crewmates have been fanning out across the country to defend him.
In Pennsylvania, crewmate Del Sandusky said at a news conference that he witnessed the combat missions for which Kerry received Silver and Bronze stars and two of his three Purple Hearts. “He deserved every one of his medals,” Sandusky said.
William L. Sweidel, a decorated Korean War veteran who appeared with Sandusky, said later that he voted for both Bushes for president but will support Kerry because of these attacks. “I called the campaign to express outrage. I was disappointed. I was diminished,” Sweidel said. “Nobody was talking about how it was hurting all veterans to have them criticize Kerry’s medals. The whole system is now suspect based on what these people are saying. It’s pernicious.”
Phil Butler, who spent eight years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, took issue with suggestions by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that Kerry’s antiwar protests caused the POWs to be treated badly. “I lived with two of the POWs who are now in that group — Mr. [Ken] Courdier and Mr. [Paul] Gallanti — and I am telling you, they are full of it. We never heard a blooming thing about John Kerry while we were there,” said Butler, who contacted the campaign months ago to support Kerry and only recently heard back from Kerry’s veterans coordinator, John Hurley.
Butler said that while he was tortured and mistreated until 1969, by the time Kerry was protesting the war and speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1971, the POWs were better treated.
On Friday, a company called First Run Features is slated to debut a documentary about Kerry and his Swift boat crewmates, “Brothers in Arms,” in a New York theater. Director Paul Alexander, who calls it “a very sympathetic portrait,” said that no one was interested when he finished it last Christmas but that the recent controversy has given it a boost. He said the film will be sold as a DVD and could reach theaters around the country.
In the conference call, Baker said he thought that former senator Robert J. Dole’s critical comments Sunday about Kerry’s medals were inappropriate and that Dole had no “business” judging the injuries for which Kerry received three Purple Hearts. “John Kerry is lucky to be alive today,” Baker said. “The fourth Purple Heart could have been an AK-47 through his heart.”
McCann said that he tried to stay out of politics but that when he saw that the Swift boat group had identified him on its Web site as being “neutral” on Kerry without asking him, he was furious. Kerry’s commendation record “has stood for 35 years and suddenly you’ve got people coming forward saying, ‘Well, I’ve had second thoughts about this,’ ” McCann said. “That is dishonoring not only John Kerry, it is dishonoring all veterans.”
In anticipation of the airing of the group’s ad attacking Kerry’s antiwar efforts, the Kerry campaign has launched a new ad, calling the Swift boat commercials “smears and lies” and accusing the Bush operation of using the same tactic it used against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2000 GOP primaries.
In response, the Bush campaign yesterday sent letters to 27 television stations in 11 cities in the battleground states of Ohio, Wisconsin and West Virginia that called the Kerry campaign ad “false and libelous” for its contention that Bush was illegally coordinating with the Swift boat group. The letter did not ask the stations to ban the ad.
Rick Lipps, general manager of WNWO-TV, the NBC affiliate in Toledo, said TV stations were caught in the crossfire between the campaigns. Although he had not seen the Bush campaign’s complaint as of late yesterday, Lipps said his station “tries to do its homework” by asking all political advertisers to verify advertising claims. “There isn’t much way to take it further than that,” he said.
The president’s comments yesterday were similar to those he made on CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Aug. 12, when King asked him if he would denounce the anti-Kerry ad. “Well, I haven’t seen the ad, but what I do condemn is these unregulated soft-money expenditures by very wealthy people,” Bush said.
Privately, Bush aides said they felt under no pressure to change their position on the Swift boat ads because the controversy seems to be hurting Kerry more than Bush. But they are irritated that the media have been taking seriously the Kerry complaint to the Federal Election Commission. The complaint, filed yesterday, accuses the Bush campaign of breaking election law by coordinating the ads with the independent group. The Bush aides are determined not to give Kerry an opening by criticizing Swift Boat Veterans for Truth directly.
Questioned after Bush’s remarks, White House press secretary Scott McClellan repeatedly declined to criticize the content of the Swift boat ads. “Senator Kerry wants to have it both ways,” by selectively calling on Bush to condemn one group’s ads, McClellan said. “Senator Kerry can help put an end to all of this by joining us in calling for a stop to all of these ads.”
Dole yesterday went back on CNN, where he had made his critical remarks the previous day, to say that he had received a call from Kerry. “I said, ‘John, I didn’t mean to offend you,’ ” Dole said. “But I said, ‘You know, when you continue to attack George Bush . . . you know, George Bush is my guy.’ . . . The final words were ‘John, I wish you good luck up to a point.’ ”
Milbank reported from Crawford, Tex. Staff writers Paul Farhi and Howard Kurtz in Washington contributed to this report.
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 7th, 2006 @ 6:27 pm
The previous post has the Washington Post reporting on John Kerry fighting back against the Swift Boat Lies. The Los Angeles Times also carried a report of John Kerry fighting back on August 25, 2004:
THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE
Kerry Accuses Bush of ‘Fear and Smear’
The Democrat says the president is using a ‘front’ group to attack his war record and deflect focus from White House failures.
By Michael Finnegan
Times Staff Writer
August 25, 2004
PHILADELPHIA — With his campaign for the presidency engulfed in disputes over his Vietnam War service record, Sen. John F. Kerry accused President Bush on Tuesday of using “fear and smear” to divert attention from four years of White House failures.
Kerry spoke in personal terms of his Vietnam history, hours after renewing charges in Manhattan that Bush was using a “front” group to accuse him of lying about combat wounds to get his military medals.
“It’s become so petty that it’s almost pathetic in a way, as I listen to these things,” the Democratic presidential nominee told 350 supporters at a Philadelphia museum reception.
Kerry again denounced accusations by a veterans group that he did not deserve his Silver Star, Bronze Star or three Purple Hearts, saying the Navy followed its “normal process” in bestowing each medal.
“I’m proud of them, and I’m proud of my service,” said Kerry, a Navy lieutenant during the war. “And I’m proud that I stood up against the war when I came home, because it was the right thing to do.”
The group attacking Kerry, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, has run television ads accusing him of deceiving the military in seeking the medals, and of undermining U.S. soldiers in his subsequent protests against the Vietnam War.
The charges — and Kerry’s countercharges that the claims are false and that Bush’s reelection campaign is the driving force behind the ads — have largely crowded Iraq and the economy off the campaign agenda.
If voters believe the accusations against Kerry, which are contradicted by military records and witness accounts of men who were with him during the incidents, the issue could undermine Kerry’s efforts to establish himself as a credible commander in chief.
At the Democratic Party fundraiser in Philadelphia, the Massachusetts senator responded to former GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole’s statement that Kerry was only in Vietnam for four months.
“I was there for longer than that, No. 1,” said Kerry, who did not mention Dole by name. “No. 2, I served for two tours. No. 3, they thought enough of my service to make me aide to an admiral.”
Kerry called his protests against the war “an act of conscience.”
“You can judge my character, incidentally, by that,” he said. “Because when the times of moral crisis existed in this country, I wasn’t taking care of myself, I was taking care of public policy. I was taking care of things that made a difference to the life of this nation. You may not have agreed with me, but I stood up and was counted. And that’s the kind of president I’m going to be.”
Kerry has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging illegal involvement by the Bush campaign in the veterans group’s offensive against Kerry.
The Bush campaign has denied wrongdoing.
Though Kerry is trying to move the focus of the campaign to domestic matters, the Vietnam controversy continued to overshadow other topics.
Former Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, also a decorated Vietnam War veteran, rose to Kerry’s defense and demanded that Bush denounce the ads.
In a television interview, he said the group should not call itself the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
“Seven out of the 10 things they said have already been shown not to be true,” Kerrey said. “So they should call themselves ‘Republican Swift Boat Veterans Against Kerry.’ That’s who they are.”
Kerrey also criticized Dole for questioning how seriously Kerry bled from his wartime injuries.
“You don’t get a Purple Heart because you bleed a certain amount or you’re hospitalized a certain number of days,” he said. “We should not be doing this, trying to — ‘How many stitches did you get?’ ‘Did you lose enough of your leg?’ ‘Was there enough damage?’
“This is not what we should be doing. This is not how awards should be made and how they should be debated.”
Associated Press reported Tuesday that Benjamin L. Ginsberg, a top Bush campaign lawyer, had provided legal advice to the anti-Kerry veterans group.
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said there was still “no coordination at any time” between the campaign and the veterans group.
Bush campaign Chairman Marc Racicot renewed the president’s call for banning all campaign spending by independent groups but did not denounce the anti-Kerry ads. “President Bush stands with all Americans who want to see shadowy political activity removed from American politics,” Racicot said in a statement.
Kerry’s evening remarks in Philadelphia followed a day of campaigning in New York City, where the Republican National Convention opens Monday.
“The Republican convention will focus on slogans, excuses and attack politics,” Kerry told about 850 supporters at Cooper Union, a Manhattan college.
“And mark my words, they’re going to bend over back- ward with last-minute proposals and last-minute promises to make up for all they haven’t done, and to pretend that they’re not who they really are. In fact, pretending to be something they’re not may be the single most consistent thing about them,” he said.
Kerry accused Bush and his allies of mounting a calculated effort to avoid issues most important to American voters.
“The Bush campaign and its allies have turned to the tactics of fear and smear because they can’t talk about jobs, healthcare, energy independence and rebuilding our alliances,” the candidate said.
Kerry’s speech appeared aimed partly at blunting the expected attacks against him next week at the convention, and partly at averting damage to his campaign from the Vietnam controversy.
“My duty is to be a president who tells the truth instead of hiding behind front groups saying anything and doing anything to avoid the real issues that matter like jobs, healthcare and the war in Iraq,” he said.
Later, Kerry took a ferry from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty, where he admired the city skyline but remarked on the loss of the World Trade Center.
“It’s a tough view, and it always will be for anybody who ever saw the towers,” the senator said.
His motorcade later raced past the ground zero construction site at the trade center on its way to a West Side studio where he taped an appearance on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”
Times staff writer Matea Gold contributed to this report.
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 7th, 2006 @ 6:33 pm
While the Swift Boat Liars based their case on arguments of partisans who gave contradictory accounts of events, those who researched the claims found the evidence all backed Kerry’s account. On August 25, 2004 AP reported that Naval records supported Kerry’s account. Similarly the reports of others actually there backed Kerry. The report also noted the ties between the Swift Boat Liars and the Bush campaign.
Unit’s Report Supports Kerry’s Version
By MATT KELLEY
The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 25, 2004; 6:33 AM
WASHINGTON – The Navy task force overseeing John Kerry’s swift boat squadron in Vietnam reported that his group of boats came under enemy fire during a March 13, 1969, incident that three decades later is being challenged by the Democratic presidential nominee’s critics.
The March 18, 1969, weekly report from Task Force 115, which was located by The Associated Press during a search of Navy archives, is the latest document to surface that supports Kerry’s description of an event for which he won a Bronze Star and a third Purple Heart.
The Task Force report twice mentions the incident five days earlier and both times calls it “an enemy initiated firefight” that included automatic weapons fire and underwater mines used against a group of five boats that included Kerry’s.
Task Force 115 was commanded at the time by retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffmann, the founder of the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which has been running ads challenging Kerry’s account of the episode.
A member of the group, Larry Thurlow, said Tuesday he stood by his assertion that there was no enemy fire that day. Thurlow, the commander of another boat who also won a Bronze Star, said task force commanders probably relied on the initial report of the incident. Thurlow says Kerry wrote that report.
The document, part of thousands of pages of records housed at the Naval Historical Center, is one of several that say Kerry and other servicemen were shot at from the banks of the Bay Hap River on March 13, 1969. The Associated Press located the document Tuesday during a search of available records.
Earlier this month, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth aired a television ad claiming Kerry lied about the circumstances surrounding his medals. Several members of the group who were aboard nearby boats that March 13 said in the ad and in affidavits that there was no enemy gunfire during the incident.
The anti-Kerry group has not produced any official Navy documents supporting that claim, however. The man Kerry rescued, Jim Rassmann, and the crew of Kerry’s boat all say there was gunfire from both banks of the river at the time.
Meanwhile, Benjamin Ginsberg, a lawyer for the Bush campaign, acknowledged Tuesday that he has given legal advice to the anti-Kerry group. Ginsberg said he never told the Bush campaign what he discussed with the group or vice versa, and doesn’t advise the group on ad strategies.
The Kerry campaign has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the Bush campaign and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth of illegally coordinating the group’s ads. The Bush campaign and the veterans group say there was no coordination.
Kerry is the subject of complaints by the Bush campaign and the Republican National Committee accusing his campaign of illegally coordinating anti-Bush ads with outside groups on the Democratic side, allegations he and the groups deny.
Kerry has denounced the assertions from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as lies made as part of a Republican smear campaign. Most of the group’s members and early financial backers are Republicans and one member who appeared in an ad, Ken Cordier, was a volunteer member of the Bush campaign. The campaign cut its ties with Cordier last week.
President Bush has said his campaign had nothing to do with the veterans group and said all such advertising by outside groups should cease. An anti-Bush group has run television ads saying Bush shirked his duty in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam war.
Kerry highlighted his Vietnam service during the Democratic convention last month, recounting the March 13 incident and having Rassmann join him on stage.
On that day in 1969, Kerry’s PCF-94 was part of a five-boat group heading downriver. An underwater mine exploded underneath another boat, PCF-3, injuring its entire crew. Kerry’s boat was then hit by another explosion that knocked Rassmann, an Army Green Beret, into the water. Kerry hurt his right arm in the explosion.
Kerry turned his boat around to rescue Rassmann, pulling the soldier into the boat with his injured right arm, while the other boats rushed to help PCF-3. All the official Navy reports on the incident say the boats were under heavy fire from the riverbanks at the time. Those records include the official after-action report, citations for Bronze Stars awarded for heroism that day and now the Task Force 115 report.
The weekly report cites the incident twice, referring to its code name of Sea Lords 358. The first reference says the boats “encountered an enemy initiated firefight with water mines and automatic weapons fire.” The second reference also mentions “an enemy initiated firefight … with water mines and automatic weapons.”
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 7th, 2006 @ 6:41 pm
It’s the Swift Boat Liars against widows and puppies. Maybe that’s not a totally accurate description of the dispute, but it is far more accurate than any of the claims of the Swift Boat Liars. I’ve already noted the connection to puppies with the description of John Kerry saving the life of a puppy in Vietnam. The Boston Globe reported on the widow of slain comrade speaking out in defense of John Kerry on August 27, 2004:
Kerry’s medals were deserved, says widow of slain comrade
Husband was swift boat skipper
By Jessica Vascellaro, Globe Correspondent | August 27, 2004
WASHINGTON — Lieutenant Donald Droz knew more about John F. Kerry’s service in Vietnam than most men. By Kerry’s side when he earned both the Silver and Bronze Stars, Kerry’s fellow swift boat captain and friend spoke often of his admiration for the Yalie he called “a real fine guy.”
But Droz, a key witness in the ongoing debate over Kerry’s service record, is missing from it, killed in a rocket attack in Vietnam in April 1969 days after Kerry returned home. While Droz cannot defend Kerry, his widow, Judith Droz Keyes, said she feels she must. She said she is confident that her husband would defend both Kerry’s record in Vietnam and his antiwar activism.
“John Kerry was a good friend, and a loyal friend to my late husband,” she said in a telephone interview from her office in San Francisco. “My husband isn’t here to speak, and all I can do is to speak in his name. I don’t feel I can remain silent anymore.”
Keyes said that by challenging Kerry’s record, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group of former veterans opposed to Kerry’s presidential candidacy, are dishonoring the memory of men such as her husband who fought by Kerry’s side. “The suggestion that what Don did or that the award he got was somehow undeserved is crossing a line,” she said.
As Kerry’s campaign puts his military record into the spotlight, his service — including the action for which he won the Bronze and Silver Stars — has been challenged in a new book and advertising campaign by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In the book “Unfit for Command,” Kerry’s former commander George Elliott said he would not have recommended Kerry for the Silver Star “had he been aware of the actual facts,” which the book describes as “facing a single, wounded young Viet Cong fleeing in a loincloth.”
Last week, William Rood, the third swift boat commander present during the attacks for which Kerry was awarded the Silver Star, released a statement defending the senator and charging that the anti-Kerry group is “armed with stories I know to be untrue.” Rood said that he, Kerry, and Droz agreed to turn their boats into an ambush and that Kerry pursued a Viet Cong with a loaded rocket launcher while the crews were under constant fire. Kerry was awarded the Silver Star for the maneuver, while Droz and Rood received Bronze Stars.
Keyes said that Rood’s story has encouraged her to add her own voice to Kerry’s defense. The 58-year-old San Francisco lawyer said that for more than 35 years, she has known the details of the days Kerry earned his Silver and Bronze Stars.
Droz told the details of the ambush to his wife when she and their infant daughter met him in Hawaii while he was on leave a few weeks later. Keyes said that at that time, her husband also spoke of the March 13 battle in which Kerry earned the Bronze Star for rescuing James Rassmann from the Bai Hap River.
“I remember [Don] talking about the three boats and how all of them had planned to do something that was called for which was their own idea,” Keyes said about the events leading to Kerry’s winning the Silver Star. “I remember him describing how it had been successful and how proud he was of that.”
Droz also alluded to the Silver Star mission in a March 6 letter to his wife: “[We] conducted an operation February 28th which we pulled off rather spectacularly. Anyway, for my part, I was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat ‘V.’ I don’t mean to blow my own horn, but I really am pleased with the award, and it is a rather significant medal.”
Keyes said her husband admired Kerry, a man he described in a Nov. 25, 1968, letter to her as “Yale ‘66 and a real fine guy.” The feeling was one she grew to share as Kerry visited her home and sent Droz’s mother a rubbing of her son’s name from the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington.
Keyes said she believes that the attacks on Kerry’s service are motivated by veterans’ animosity towardhis antiwar activism. She also protested the war, and met with resentment from several men who served with her husband and were reluctant to meet her.
But she said both Kerry’s activism and her own have been misunderstood. “John Kerry and I were clear that we were not condemning the people who were fighting the war,” she said. “Those who think so weren’t hearing what we were saying.”
Over the years, the ties between Kerry and the Droz family have grown deeper. The senator appeared in a 2003 documentary that Tracy Droz Tragos, daughter of Keyes and Droz, produced entitled “Be Good, Smile Pretty,” the salutation at the end of her father’s letter from Vietnam.
“[John Kerry] has been a very important relation to me for some time,” said Tragos, who worked as an intern in Kerry’s Senate office in the summer of 1989. “He was the only person who had kept in touch with my family.”
Several of the 100 swift boat veterans who joined Kerry’s at the 2003 screening of Tragos’s film are now leading the attacks against him. Others, such as Edward Peck, are in Tragos’s film.
Now a member of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Peck, who knew Kerry in Vietnam but never served on a boat with him, said that his challenge to Kerry’s service is not intended to dishonor Droz’s own. “No one would mention Don Droz in a bad light,” he said. “I thought the world of him.”
But Tragos said that the attacks against Kerry have reopened wounds that time, and her film, had begun to heal. “Around this election, I find it really sad and really hard to deal with how polarized things are again,” she said. “It dishonors everyone’s memory.”
Posted by Ron Chusid
June 26th, 2006 @ 2:27 pm
From Washington Whispers:
Better Late Than Never for Kerry
It came two years late, but the awarding of Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s controversial Vietnam War Silver Star has been publicly blessed by the man who was Navy secretary at the time–Virginia Sen. John Warner. It came during last week’s heated debate over Kerry’s plan to set a deadline to start withdrawing troops from Iraq. After Kerry made reference to Vietnam, the Republican chimed in about how the whole Silver Star episode went down and how then Navy Lt. John Kerry deserved it for killing a Viet Cong who was lugging a rocket launcher. “I know that,” says Warner. In 2004, critics said Kerry didn’t deserve the medal because they claim he shot the foe in the back. “I went to the Pentagon in February 1969 and was there for five years in the Navy secretariat,” Warner recalls. “I remember when his Silver Star came through,” he adds. “I went back and checked for accuracy, and it was accurate.”