Presidential candidate John Kerry can count on the support of at least one group of Vietnam Veterans – and they’re still in Vietnam.
Following Kerry’s denunciation of the ad by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, criticizing him for exaggerating his war record, a group of former U.S. soldiers gathered in Hanoi to express their support for Kerry and to call President Bush a “draft dodger” for his service in the Texas Air National Guard during the war. And they were selling T-shirts to tourists to raise money for Kerry’s campaign.
The $5 shirts sport a picture of President Bush with a line crossed through it and have “Americans Overseas for Kerry” emblazoned across the front. The proceeds are earmarked for donation to the Kerry campaign.
“The first day they came in, we had a stack at a cafe and were examining them, and four Japanese tourists asked if they could buy them,” said Chuck Searcy, an Athens, Georgia, veteran who served in Vietnam for one year.
Searcy, who has lived in Vietnam for nine years, works for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. However, his political activities on behalf of Kerry don’t represent the non-partisan VVMF, whose sole mission is honoring “the men and women who served and sacrificed their lives in Vietnam, and to promote healing.”
The T-shirt project is “an effort on the part of a few of us to bring some attention to Kerry’s war record to counter some of the allegations and some of the lies being made of his service in Vietnam,” Searcy told Reuters.
Searcy said arrangements for printing the shirts were made by Larry Holzman, a Hanoi-based American who runs DTK International, a non-profit organization that markets condoms and contraceptives in Vietnam.
“We had very serious disagreements among ourselves about the war,” Searcy told Associated Press in criticism of the ads, “but the creed was that we never spoke ill of another veteran. That ethic has been violated in this election, and it’s pretty shameful.”
The Swift Boat Veterans would probably agree. In their second ad, a young John Kerry appears on behalf of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971, testifying that his fellow troops 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.”
According to the May 19, 1997, Viet Nam News, Searcy was part of a contingent of former members of VVAW, who came to Hanoi to honor Ho Chi Minh and to mark the 30th anniversary of VVAW’s founding which fell on the North Vietnamese communist leader’s birthday.