A former prisoner of war in Vietnam says he recently experienced a “flashback” when he heard a recording of John Kerry accusing soldiers of war crimes in 1971 testimony before a Senate committee.
Paul Galanti, captured in 1966 after ejecting from his fighter jet about 100 miles south of Hanoi, said on the Sean Hannity radio show yesterday he first heard Kerry’s testimony in late 1971 when it was broadcast by his Vietnamese captors over the public address system in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison.
The broadcast on Radio Vietnam by “Hanoi Hannah” was used to reinforce the message of his captors during torture sessions, said Galanti, 64, now retired in Richmond, Va.
“We were not prisoners of war, we were ‘war criminals,’ they would say. ‘You are going to be tried, you will never go home.'”
Then came Hanoi Hannah introducing a clip from Kerry’s testimony.
“I couldn’t believe it, a Navy officer saying we were all war criminals, that we raped and pillaged the countryside like Genghis Khan,” said Galanti.
Galanti, who flew 97 combat missions, said he had not suffered a flashback from the war until he recently heard a recording of the April 22, 1971, testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
His memory was triggered when he heard Kerry mispronouncing “Ghenghis Khan.”
“Then I was back there again,” he said.
Galanti said Kerry broke a covenant with his fellow servicemen, to never jeopardize their safety with public criticism. But he believes, moreover, the Massachusetts senator betrayed his country.
“John Kerry was a traitor,” he said, adding the “definition of treason is giving aid and comfort to the enemy in the time of war.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, Galanti appears in a new television ad by Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth, a group of 254 vets who served with Kerry and have signed a letter contending he is unfit to be commander in chief.
The 30-second spot intersperses comments from Galanti and another former POW, Ken Cordier, with Kerry’s 1971 testimony.
Galanti says in the ad, “John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I and many of my comrades in North Vietnam, in the prison camps, took torture to avoid saying. … It demoralized us.”
Later, Galanti concludes the ad with, “He dishonored his country and, more importantly, the people he served with. He just sold them out.”
The TV commercial begins with audio and photographs from Kerry’s testimony in which he charged Americans serving in Vietnam “had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.”
Kerry’s testimony was based on the “Winter Soldier investigation” in Detroit earlier that year, in which his Vietnam Veterans Against the War, or VVAW, heard stories of alleged atrocities committed in a climate said to have been created by the U.S. government and military command. He also claimed to have committed and witnessed war crimes on a regular basis.
But extensive probes of VVAW’s event, which was sponsored in part by Jane Fonda, found many of those who testified as eyewitnesses to atrocities did not even serve in Vietnam, including the group’s co-chairman Al Hubbard.
Galanti said that when he first heard the broadcast of Kerry’s testimony, he didn’t believe it was real. But after his release in February 1973, he heard it again and saw a picture of Kerry.
“The hair on the back of my neck stood up,” he said. “That’s the son of a gun they put on radio.”
‘One of the lucky ones’
Recounting his capture, Galanti said he was “one of the lucky ones, because a lot of my friends didn’t come home.”
Galanti and his wife made the cover of Newsweek when he returned in 1973 after 2,432 days in captivity.
After ejecting during a bombing run, he was shot in the back of the neck as he glided to earth with a parachute.
As he saw about 20 Vietnamese coming toward him from all directions, he called on U.S. airplanes to make a strafing run, but his colleagues declined because “they couldn’t see where I was” and feared hitting him.
“See you after the war,” he said, signing off.
Galanti said his captors stripped him down to his underwear and tied him to a tree.
“I don’t remember being afraid,” he said. “It was almost like my mind left my body and was looking at this poor chump about to be executed.”
But Galanti, severely injured, was escorted to Hanoi over the course of 12 days, partly by truck and partly on foot.
He spent six years and eight months in 10 different camps, known to the American prisoners by names such as “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Little Vegas.” Collectively they were known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”
He was beaten about once a quarter, he said, and on occasion he and other prisoners would be slapped around if, for example, a “guard didn’t like the way we were walking.”
Many of those years, he said, were spent in seven-by-seven-foot isolation cells.
The penalty for trying to communicate with another American, he noted, was to be placed in leg irons with hands tied behind the back.
That produced anger he said, and it was that deeply embedded emotion that kept him going.
Kerry’s book “The New Soldier” accused the U.S. of making its soldiers commit war crimes.
Galanti says he got involved in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad when retired Adm. Roy Hoffman, the group’s initial organizer, who also lives in Richmond, invited him to a meeting.
One of the veterans at the meeting had a copy of a book Kerry spearheaded for VVAW, “The New Soldier,” which includes his Senate testimony and quotes from other members during the Winter Soldier event.
The book’s cover has a photograph of hippie-clad veterans in a mocking pose of the famous Iwo Jima image from World War II. Kerry refused to allow it to be republished and copies are selling on eBay for as much as $1,000.
“I read it and got madder and madder,” Galanti said.
Galanti is among many veterans who believe Kerry’s testimony severely damaged the war effort, resulting in the further loss of American lives.
“I wonder how many were killed because this guy gave the communists the message they were giving to us,” he asked.
He pointed out that while, as a POW, he was treated well upon his return home, many veterans were spat upon because they were seen as “crazies and lunatics” — a reputation fueled, he contends, in large part by the accusations of Kerry’s group.
Wants Kerry apology
Asked if he believes Kerry should apologize, Galanti said: “I don’t think he’s going to. I think he should, but I don’t think he’s going to.”
“It would be the seal of doom for his campaign,” he said.
Galanti says he supports President Bush, who he thinks is doing a “fantastic job” in the war on terror, but says he supported Sen. John McCain in the 2000 primary and endorsed Virginia Democratic Gov. Mark Warner.
Galanti was in the same prison camp as McCain several times, he said.
On Saturday, Cordier, the other former POW who appears in the ad, resigned as a volunteer from the Bush campaign’s veterans’ steering committee because of his participation with the swiftboat vets’ effort.
“Col. Cordier did not inform the campaign of his involvement in the advertisement,” the Bush campaign said in a statement. “Because of his involvement, Col. Cordier will no longer participate as a volunteer for Bush-Cheney ’04.”
Galanti said he is pleased with the way the ad turned out, but is prepared to be dismissed as a liar by defenders of Kerry.
“It’s one of these things, you become a public figure and your privacy goes away.”
He said he’s received about 1,000 e-mails since news of the ad broke Friday, and only about 10 were negative.