Thousands contribute to swiftboat vets

By Les Kinsolving

Was former Navy Seal officer and Medal of Honor recipient Bob Kerrey, the former U.S. senator from Nebraska, ever anywhere as near to John Kerry in Vietnam as 257 of Kerry’s fellow officers and crewman of the swiftboats?

All these navy veterans have signed a statement that Kerry is unfit for command. And that is the title of a new book written and extensively documented by Naval Academy graduate John O’Neill. This officer took over Kerry’s swiftboat when Kerry returned home after four and a half months, rather than the customary one year of service.

Former Democratic Sen. Kerrey disagrees with all these Navy men who served with John Kerry. He even writes in the Washington Post:

“They have done a better job at damaging the reputations of the U.S. Navy than they have of damaging John Kerry. … [A]t the top of my list of reasons for believing Kerry can and will do this most difficult of jobs is that he has the requisite sympathy for the men and women who give up many of their rights as citizens in order to defend ours. My confidence also comes from knowing that he knows what it’s like to have served under leaders who lacked the moral clarity or the political backbone to sustain an effort from beginning to end.”

Why doesn’t former Sen. Kerrey list any names of his allegedly immoral and bad-backboned leaders?

And did Kerrey really believe that John Kerry’s testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – where he denounced his former Vietnam comrades as war criminals – was “the requisite sympathy for the men and women who give up many of their rights as citizens to defend ours”?

What if Bob Kerrey’s Medal of Honor had been put around his neck by a president who, years before, had attracted national attention by throwing United States medals and medal ribbons over a fence in Washington?

Former Democratic Sen. Kerrey, who is now president of the New School University in New York, concludes his article in the Post by writing:

“Tellingly, the attacks on Kerry’s war record have been orchestrated in large part by the same Texas publicity firm involved with notorious television advertisements meant to derail the last veteran of the Vietnam War who ran for president, John McCain. Kerry’s service in Vietnam was extensively documented by the U.S. Navy, especially in connection with his awards, and has been reviewed numerous times by historians and news organizations.”

Is this accurate? Has John Kerry ever signed the authorization that would allow a full examination of his Navy records?

According to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, he has not.

And as for Sen. John McCain, didn’t he write in U.S. News and World Report’s edition of May 14, 1973, that John Kerry’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was: “The most effective propaganda (my North Vietnamese captors) had to use on us”?

Tom Infield of Knight-Ridder, one of the nation’s largest newspaper chains, reports:

“A group of Vietnam veterans that is challenging Sen. John Kerry’s record of heroic war services says it received a flood of donations in recent days after advertising its contentions on television in three states.

“The group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, said it hoped to use the money to monitor Kerry’s campaign travels and run ads in cities where he appears.

“‘That’s our goal,’ said John E. O’Neill, a Houston attorney who’s one of the group’s leaders and co-author of Unfit to Command, a 251-page book being distributed this week by the conservative Regnery Publishing house. The book quotes Navy veterans as saying Kerry distorted his record as a river boat commander in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta in 1968 to 1969.

“Democrats have said the group is nothing but a Republican hit squad determined to besmirch their candidate.

“Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is registered with the Federal Election Commission as a so-called 527 organization, not affiliated with any party. It got off the ground with a $100,000 donation from Texas homebuilder Bob J. Perry, a prominent Republican donor.

“Roy F. Hoffman, a retired admiral and chairman of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, said the first TV ad, which ran for one week in Ohio, Wisconsin and West Virginia at a cost of $550,000, got so much national news attention that it generated an additional $400,000 from 8,000 donors around the country.

“‘We are putting together the second ad,’ said Hoffman, 78, of Richmond, Va. As a Navy captain in 1968 and 1969, Hoffman commanded a unit of 1,650 sailors that included Kerry as a lieutenant.

“Hoffman said the unit, known as Task Force 115, included about 16 swiftboats and their crews, which patrolled the delta for Viet Cong and other enemy fighters.

“‘I knew Kerry pretty well,’ he said. ‘I did not ride his boat, but we operated very close together. … I can’t say I was a personal friend or buddy-buddy, but I sure knew him … and I never felt he had the qualifications.’

“Kerry has made his war service the centerpiece of his campaign to become president. His supporters include men who served on his boat, including a former Green Beret who said Kerry rescued him from the water while under fire.

“Swift Boat Veterans for Truth first gained public attention in May when its leaders – including men who served on boats near Kerry’s – called a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington.

“Hoffman denied that the group is connected to the Republican Party. He said he hasn’t been politically involved since leaving the Navy in 1978. Yes, he said, the group had taken cash donations from Republicans. But that became necessary, he said, because the news conference received little attention on network television and in national newspapers.

“The group concluded that it needed to buy its own TV ad, he said. And that required money.

“He said of Perry: ‘We had our hand out, and he put money in it. … As far as I’m concerned, he’s a wealthy construction person. If he owns the money legally, I’m all for it.'”

President Bush has neither joined Sen. McCain in denouncing these hundreds of Swift Boat Veterans, nor has he joined in the expressed concerns about Kerry as being unfit to become commander in chief.