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In a very short period of time (really, inside just the past week or so), one issue of great importance has irrupted on the American political scene: Much less a contest about the Vietnam War-era record of the Democratic Party's presidential nominee John Kerry, than a contest about his post-Vietnam, anti-war record and beliefs. This little contest, like the rest, will no doubt be contained in short order. But in the meantime, let's not miss it. Or mistake it for anything less than what it is.
Doubtless, you all know about the group Swift Boat Veterans For Truth; about the Open Letter the group addressed to Kerry last May, but one of several challenging the candidate's version of his Vietnam War service records; and about the group's more recent television ads in so-called "swing states" that do the same, accusing Kerry of "lying about his record," stating that he "has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam," that he "betrayed the men and women he served with in Vietnam" and "lied before the Senate," that he "cannot be trusted," and so on (here quoting a transcript of one of the TV ads). (You're also invited to take a look at the sample of U.S. media reports archived below ("FYA")---all of them by respectable journalists, to be sure, having appeared in respectable venues. Why, you're even invited to check out one of my earlier ZNet blogs on all of this: "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth." Though here no claims about the respectability of the author are made. Nor for that matter warranted.)
Swift Boat Veterans For Truth's latest TV ad is titled "Sellout." And it is with "Sellout" that we come, at long last, to the absolute core of this line of criticism.
For it is with this ad that Kerry's detractors accuse him---not of lying about his Vietnam War service record---but of telling the truth not only about his own personal experiences as a Navy Swift Boat serviceman during the Vietnam War, but also, and now crucially, about the whole series of American wars in Indochina, beginning with Vietnam (Kerry's Swift patrolled the rivers of the South, let's not forget), and extending all the way into Laos, Cambodia---and much of the otherwise pathologically complaisant Western world.
The latest Swift Boat Veterans For Truth ad states (in the voices of one or more of the Vietnam veterans participating in the ad) that Kerry "betrayed us in the past," "dishonored his country," and "sold out" the people he served with. He did this by taking a stand against the war. Not against wars generally, please note well. Not even against illegal wars of aggression (i.e., Nuremberg-class wars). Just against one specific war---the American war in Vietnam.
Thus the real contest within the establishment American political culture, at present (i.e., maybe for the duration of this fourth weekend in August, 2004), is over the Democratic candidate's postwar criticisms of the American wars over Indochina. The Republican Party (For what else is Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, but a vehicle for the Republican Party---whatever its members' individual consciences may tell them?) has decided to attack the Democratic Party's candidate in August, 2004, over the truth of the record of the candidate's anti-war activism from 30-odd years ago. In other words, the candidate stands accused of having once told the truth about the American wars over Indochina. From the point of view of this line of attack, telling the truth under these unique circumstances (i.e., a veteran, after his discharge, echoing the anti-war sentiments of his day and some of his own personal experiences) constituted a betrayal of the American Project, rendering him unfit to serve as the chief executive of the United States of America.
Unless, that is, the candidate disavows his earlier record of anti-war service. Which is exactly where we are as of this fourth weekend in August, 2004.
As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow morning, Sunday, August 22, the Democratic Party's candidate will be compelled to disavow, in one form or another, the truth of his anti-war activism from years ago.
In turn, the Democratic Party will join the Republican Party in a rejection of anti-war beliefs, and an affirmation of the goodness of the American Project, including American warmaking---absolutely central to the American Project. Including, above all, the American right to kill.
In this genuine betrayal of everything humanly decent about the world, the American political culture lurches forward.
Talk about sellouts!
(Pssst.---I can think of a lot worse words to express how I feel than ‘sellouts'. But this is just between ourselves.)
FYA ("For your archives"): Am depositing here a lengthy package of mainstream news media reports from the past five days (Aug. 17-21) that have focused on Democratic Party presidential nominee John Kerry's contest with his detractors among the group known as Swift Boat Veterans For Truth over the Vietnam war record of military service and, more important, his postwar record of anti-Vietnam war service. (For what it's worth, wire service reports from the past few hours are located at the very bottom.)
The Washington Post
August 17, 2004 Tuesday
SECTION: A Section; A08 , POLITICS Howard Kurtz
HEADLINE: MoveOn.org's Swift Response to Anti-Kerry Ad
BYLINE: Howard Kurtz
A liberal organization is taking to the airwaves today to challenge an ad by a group of Navy veterans that accuses Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) of distorting his Vietnam record.
"George Bush: Take that ad off the air," says the 30-second spot from MoveOn.org PAC.
The ad in question, from a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, charges Kerry with "lying about his first Purple Heart" in Vietnam 35 years ago. The MoveOn response -- airing in the same four markets in Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin, and on CNN and Fox News -- begins by attacking President Bush's military record.
"George Bush used his father to get into the National Guard, and when the chips were down, went missing," a narrator says. "Now he's allowing false advertising that attacks John Kerry, a man who asked to go to Vietnam and served with dignity and heroism." The ad quotes Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as calling on the Bush campaign to condemn the "dishonest and dishonorable" ad.
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt called MoveOn "an extremist organization" making "completely baseless attacks." Schmidt said, "They have continued that tradition with this one, impugning the honorable service of the president in the Air National Guard." Noting that the campaign has praised Kerry's military service, Schmidt repeated Bush's call for both campaigns to denounce all ads by independent "527" groups, far more of which have aired in support of Kerry. But he did not denounce the content of the Swift boat group's ad.
Retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffmann, founder of the Swift boat group, much of whose funding has come from a Texas developer, said in a statement: "We find it odd that MoveOn PAC would question the right of a group of veterans to voice an opinion on a legitimate issue -- an issue first raised by John Kerry -- and now the centerpiece of his campaign. . . . We will not be silenced."
Asked why Bush should be responsible for an ad by an independent group with the same legal status as MoveOn, Eli Pariser, the PAC's executive director, said: "They're clearly a surrogate organization. The Bush campaign has a responsibility for what's being done on its behalf. Certainly if Kerry felt MoveOn was doing something he didn't agree with, he has every right to condemn our ads."
An unabashed racist won the Republican nomination for a House district in Tennessee earlier this month. James Hart, who contends that whites should not mix with "less favored races," thumped a Republican write-in candidate -- 7,865 to 2,061 -- to win the party's nomination for the state's 8th Congressional District.
"The poverty genes of less 'favored races', which are spread by welfare and immigration, are destroying our cities no less than if they were hit by a nuclear bomb," Hart said on his campaign Web site. "Unless we stop dysgenic welfare and immigration policies, the U.S. will look like one big Detroit."
The state GOP, which was unable to find another candidate in time for the election's filing deadline, has disowned Hart's campaign, calling his views "outrageous." The district, which is represented by Rep. John S. Tanner (D-Tenn.), is considered Democratic country. But Hart's candidacy will nevertheless give him a platform for his views and the Republican Party a headache.
Political researcher Brian Faler contributed to this report.
Los Angeles Times
August 17, 2004 Tuesday
SECTION: MAIN NEWS; National Desk; Part A; Pg. 1
HEADLINE: THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE;
Veterans Battle Over the Truth;
An ad calls Kerry a liar. His Vietnam crew sees a hero. Memories, and agendas, are in conflict.
BYLINE: Maria L. La Ganga and Stephen Braun, Times Staff Writers
A television ad that has aired in three key battleground states and a new book have created a political furor over John F. Kerry's Vietnam War record, calling into question his character, credibility and a central tenet of his campaign -- that his combat experience helps qualify him to be president.
The ad, the book and the people behind them have become staples of conservative talk shows and Internet sites. The claims -- that Kerry lied about his war experiences, didn't deserve his medals and betrayed soldiers everywhere by protesting the war after serving in it -- also have been recited in the mainstream media, along with denials of the allegations.
What military documentation exists and has been made public generally supports the view put forth by Kerry and most of his crewmates -- that he acted courageously and came by his Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts honestly. This view of Kerry as war hero is supported by all but one of the surviving veterans who served with him on the two boats he commanded.
None of the critics quoted in the ad actually served on the boats with Kerry. Some of them also have given contradictory accounts and offered conflicting recollections.
But what actually happened about 35 years ago along the remote southern coast of Vietnam remains murky. Some of Kerry's own recollections over the years, as presented in two biographies and many interviews, also have been inconsistent.
Most of the documents offered by critics of the Democratic candidate are signed affidavits by 13 Swift boat veterans -- notarized memories of events that they say they witnessed from a boat or two away.
The Kerry campaign has launched a vociferous defense, denying the charges raised in the ad. It also denounced the group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, as a Republican-backed effort. His staff has directed critics to the Massachusetts senator's military records, which have been posted on his website.
"The Swift boat ad is full of lies. Thirteen men who never served with John Kerry lie about knowing him and viciously attack his record," said Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill in an e-mail to supporters last week. "It is a new low for the Republicans."
A liberal independent organization is weighing in on the controversy with a new ad today, demanding that President Bush urge that the ad be taken off the air.
The Bush campaign, for its part, says it has nothing to do with the Swift boat group attacking Kerry and has kept a distance -- neither endorsing nor denouncing the ad, which is airing in Ohio, Wisconsin and West Virginia. When asked about it Thursday on "Larry King Live," Bush said he had not seen it.
Kerry, long accused of hair-splitting and nuance in his political positions, has left himself open to criticism by giving subtly varying accounts over the years of his Vietnam service and postwar activism. But his critics also have provided conflicting recollections.
"War is by definition chaotic, and people are not taking notes in battle," said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. "In terms of the type of evidence that might be ideal for making a convincing case, there probably are some holes. They give an opening for people who want to say Kerry was embellishing."
Members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth say they have received $300,000 in new donations since the ad began airing Aug. 5. The group's initial ad buy was $500,000.
The group's leaders confirmed that Robert J. Perry, a Texas homebuilder, was their biggest original financier. Perry has given money to Bush's last four campaigns and is a major GOP donor in Texas.
John O'Neill, a former Swift boat commander who served in Vietnam and a longtime Kerry foe, has been promoting his book -- "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry" -- on cable-TV talk shows such as "Crossfire" and "Hardball." The book, which amplifies the charges in the ad, began trickling into stores last week. It already tops the Amazon.com bestseller list, and a chapter has been posted on a conservative website.
It is too soon to tell whether the claims are resonating with voters, but political observers say they could pose a serious risk for the Democratic candidate, particularly in such a close race.
"If the attacks on [Kerry's] character continue and they start to take hold with swing voters and casual voters, it would be a big problem," said Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of a nonpartisan political newsletter. "The Kerry folks can't concede this.... A charge like this that's ignored is a charge that's believed."
The anti-Kerry ad begins with footage of Sen. John Edwards, Kerry's running mate, saying, "If you have any question about what John Kerry's made of, just spend three minutes with the men who served with him 30 years ago."
Then eight words appear on the screen -- "Here's what those men think about John Kerry" -- and the allegations begin. They include comments such as: "John Kerry betrayed the men and women he served with in Vietnam," and "He lacks the capacity to lead."
Many in the Swift boat group seem to be motivated as much by anger about Kerry's protest activities as they are about his actions in combat. In their affidavits, several write about Kerry's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
In his April 1971 statement to the Senate panel, Kerry cited Vietnam atrocities that had been alleged by his group of antiwar veterans. And in blunt rhetoric, he questioned government policy that widened the toll among soldiers and civilians: "We learned the meaning of free-fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed cheapness on the lives of Orientals."
In the anti-Kerry ad, former Navy Lt. Cmdr. George Elliott, one of Kerry's immediate commanders, says: "John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam."
In his affidavit, Elliott said that when Kerry returned from Vietnam, he was "comparing his other commanders and me to Lt. Calley of My Lai, comparing the American armed forces to the army of Genghis Khan, and making similar misstatements."
Joe Ponder, a Swift boat crewman who did not serve on either of Kerry's two boats, says in the ad that Kerry "dishonored his country." In his affidavit, Ponder says he was badly wounded in an ambush in Vietnam. But "the greatest wounds I have ever suffered were from John F. Kerry, who dishonored my country, my honor and my friends by falsely charging the United States Army Forces with war crimes, claiming that all of us, living and dead, were war criminals."
Although these are powerful statements, they are not entirely accurate.
In his Senate testimony, Kerry did liken some American actions to Genghis Khan's. But he did not mention Elliott by name, nor did he mention his Navy superiors. And he did not claim that every soldier was a war criminal. Rather, he cited atrocities described by veterans who opposed the war. Kerry has acknowledged that, at times, he used a poor choice of words as a young man protesting the war, but he has continued to insist that atrocities were committed.
During the war, Elliott gave Kerry high marks in fitness reports and recommended Kerry for the Silver Star and the Bronze Star. "John was one of 50 young officers who performed extremely well," Elliott said in an interview in May. "I wrote his fitness report, and I stand by that."
But in his affidavit, Elliott backed away from the Silver Star nomination he wrote for Kerry in 1969. Kerry won the award for chasing down and killing a wounded Viet Cong guerrilla who had confronted his boat with a grenade launcher.
In his affidavit, Elliott questioned Kerry's actions, suggesting he might have shot the guerrilla in the back. Elliott was not present during the action, and there have been no credible eyewitness accounts affirming his version.
Kerry's Swift boat mates have long insisted that Kerry's action was appropriate and saved their lives.
A day after the ad appeared, Elliott said in an interview with the Boston Globe that he regretted signing the affidavit and that he believed Kerry still deserved the Silver Star. Then he issued a second affidavit standing by his first sworn statement, saying he had been misquoted by the Globe.
But in his second affidavit, Elliott also admitted, "I do not claim to have personal knowledge as to how Kerry shot the wounded, fleeing Viet Cong."
There are three other allegations raised by the anti-Kerry group -- questioning his first Purple Heart, his Bronze Star and a Christmas Eve mission to the Cambodian border.
The awarding of Kerry's first Purple Heart has been challenged by a former surgeon at the Navy base at Cam Ranh Bay. "I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart because I treated him for that injury," Dr. Louis Letson said in the television ad.
In a Times interview in May, the retired Alabama doctor said he recalled administering treatment to Kerry for a flesh wound incurred on Dec. 2, 1968.
Kerry had been on a mission in a "skimmer" boat north of Cam Ranh Bay. Noticing Viet Cong on a beach, Kerry fired on the guerrillas. Two crewmates, Bill Zaladonis and Pat Runyon, have confirmed that they also fired on the fleeing guerrillas.
That same night, Jim Wasser, who was stationed on a boat near Kerry's and who would later serve on Kerry's Swift boat, heard a radio report from Kerry's boat that "someone had a slight wound."
The next morning, according to Letson, Kerry showed up at the Cam Ranh Bay medical unit asking for treatment. Letson said the wound was slight and that he removed a tiny shard of shrapnel with tweezers. He said Kerry reported being in a firefight with Viet Cong guerrillas.
But later, Letson said, he learned from some medical corpsmen that other crewmen had confided that there was no exchange of fire and that Kerry had accidentally wounded himself as he fired at the guerrillas.
Letson said he didn't know if the crewmen giving this account were in the boat with Kerry or on other boats. The crewmen "were just talking to my guys," Letson said. "We weren't prying into it. There was not a firefight -- that's what the guys related. They didn't remember any firing from shore. It's Kerry who made the issue of him being a war hero. That opens it up for some question."
In a June interview, Kerry described taking fire from the guerrillas but was unsure whether he was wounded by others or by himself. "I didn't see where it came from," he said.
The Kerry campaign has questioned Letson's role, noting that a medical account detailing Kerry's treatment is signed by a "J. Carreon" -- not Letson. But Letson insisted he was the one who treated Kerry. Carreon was a Filipino corpsman, a "hospitalman first class," not a doctor, Letson said, and routinely made entries on his behalf.
Kerry won the Purple Heart for the wound, but Letson said he did not deserve it because it was too slight and reportedly self-inflicted. Letson conceded in The Times interview that he made no effort then to officially question Kerry's account.
Navy rules during the Vietnam War governing Purple Hearts did not take into account a wound's severity -- and specified only that injuries had to be suffered "in action against an enemy."
Self-inflicted wounds were awarded if incurred "in the heat of battle, and not involving gross negligence." Kerry's critics insist his wound would not have qualified, but former Navy officials who worked in the service's awards branch at the time said such awards were routine.
A Times review of Navy injury reports and awards from that period in Kerry's Swift boat unit shows that many other Swift boat personnel won Purple Hearts for slight wounds of uncertain origin.
When Kerry reported the injury to his commander, Lt. Cmdr. Grant Hibbard, he only asked Hibbard to file an injury report, Kerry told The Times.
In a Swift Boat Veterans for Truth affidavit, Hibbard said Kerry came into his office "to apply for a Purple Heart," but that he turned down Kerry's "Purple Heart request." He said he was "shocked to later learn that [Kerry] subsequently received an undeserved Purple Heart for his wound."
But in a conflicting interview this summer, Hibbard said Kerry did not directly ask for the medal but a medical report. (The report would have been automatically forwarded to Navy administrators in Saigon who oversaw Purple Heart awards.) Hibbard said he believed the wound was too minor to warrant a report but that later he "took some heat" from military superiors for refusing to write it up.
Kerry acknowledged to The Times that he later asked about the Purple Heart. He said he "asked a guy where it was or something," but could not recall whom he pressed for the award.
The decoration was approved by Navy administrators in Saigon before he left Vietnam in March 1969.
The second specific allegation was made by Van Odell, who served as a gunner on PCF-23, one of the boats involved in the incident that earned Kerry the Bronze Star. "John Kerry lied to get his Bronze Star. I know. I was there," Odell says in the ad.
Kerry received the Bronze Star for rescuing Army Lt. Jim Rassmann, a Green Beret who had been knocked off Kerry's Swift boat on March 13, 1969, when a mine exploded nearby, disabling another craft. Kerry also received a Purple Heart for being injured in the process.
In one of the defining moments of the Democratic primary season, Rassmann, who is a Republican, reunited with the candidate in an emotional meeting. He talked about Kerry's bravery and his gratitude. Since then, he has campaigned for him regularly.
Kerry's website gives a brief account of the rescue and then quotes the Bronze Star citation signed by Vice Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., then the Navy's top commander in Vietnam:
"Lt. Kerry directed his gunners to provide suppressing fire, while from an exposed position on the bow, his arm bleeding and in pain, with disregard for his personal safety, he pulled the man aboard. Lt. Kerry's calmness, professionalism and great personal courage under fire were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. naval service."
Rassmann, in a Times interview, said Kerry and several of his crew were on shore as Rassmann and his unit took small arms fire from Viet Cong guerrillas. The U.S. troops then moved to destroy a cache of contraband rice they suspected was being used to supply the enemy.
Kerry and Rassmann hurled grenades at the contraband, and from the resulting explosion they were hit with shrapnel, including some that lodged in Kerry's buttocks.
Later that day, Rassmann recalled, he was sitting on the side of Kerry's Swift boat eating a chocolate chip cookie just as PCF-94 was heading out of the Bay Hap River toward the Gulf of Siam. One mine went off underwater, and then a second.
Rassmann fell overboard, he recounted, "and John got thrown off the bulkhead. I went to the bottom, dumped my gear, and when I came up the boats were gone. The VC are shooting at me." Then, Rassmann said, he saw a boat coming to his rescue. From the edge of the Swift boat, the wounded Kerry "kneeled down and grabbed my arm and pulled me over. Neither of us said a word. I grabbed an M-16 and fired back. I burned the barrel out. We finally got out of this kill zone."
There are discrepancies in the official stories and documentation about the incident.
The Bronze Star citation describes Kerry's arm as bleeding, as do two biographies, "Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War" by Douglas Brinkley, and "John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography By The Boston Globe Reporters Who Know Him Best."
But the official March 13 Navy report of Kerry's injuries said that "Lt. Kerry suffered shrapnel wounds in his left buttocks and contusions on his right forearm when a mine detonated close aboard PCF-94."
His wounds also earned him his third Purple Heart and allowed him to leave Vietnam early -- in late March 1969 -- after four months of a yearlong tour.
Several others, who are now members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, were on nearby boats on the Bay Hap River during the incident. They say that there was no hostile gunfire when Kerry pulled Rassmann out of the water and that one of their own, Jack Chenoweth, was already speeding to Rassmann's aid.
"I'm here to tell you there was no fire from either bank. The only incident was the mine, detonated under the ... boat," Chenoweth said in an interview.
The Swift boat group members critical of Kerry said that he wrote the after-action reports that led to his getting the Bronze Star. They said they saw no blood on his arm as described in the citation for the Bronze Star. And they argue that the buttock wound that that led to the Purple Heart was caused by his own grenade.
They also say they did not complain 35 years ago because they did not see the reports until Kerry posted them online.
But the anti-Kerry faction has not definitively proved that Kerry was the sole source of the Bronze Star battle account. And according to Elliott, Kerry's immediate commander, Swift boat officers involved in battles normally were involved in drafting the after-action report, which in this case described repeated fire from small arms and automatic weapons.
Rassmann, whose life was saved, stands by Kerry.
"Their new charges are false; their stories are fabricated, made up by people who did not serve with Kerry in Vietnam," he wrote in a commentary last Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal. "They insult and defame all of us who served in Vietnam."
A third and new allegation surfaced last week as part of the publicity campaign for O'Neill's new book.
O'Neill and several members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth allege that in statements to Congress and in news accounts, Kerry lied in claiming that on Christmas Eve 1968, his Swift boat -- PCF-44 -- sailed into a Cambodian river.
Cambodia was supposed to be off-limits to the U.S. military because it was not an official combatant. However, U.S. troops made secret incursions into the country to stem Viet Cong operations and supply lines.
"I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia," Kerry said in a March 1986 Senate speech. "I remember what it was like to be shot at by the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians."
At other times, Kerry has said he was near -- but not in -- Cambodia.
In a Times interview last June, Kerry said: "I celebrated Christmas Eve on the border of Cambodia." And he added that on a later mission, "I went into Cambodia with the CIA."
Kerry's critics have seized on his varying recollections to impugn his credibility and suggest he has embellished his war record.
Steven Gardner, the only member of Kerry's former crews to join Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and actively campaign against Kerry, has told some reporters that PCF-44 was 50 miles away from Cambodia that Christmas Eve.
But two of Kerry's crewmates -- Wasser and Zaladonis -- both told The Times the boat was in the vicinity of the Cambodian border and even fought an engagement with a Viet Cong sampan on Christmas Eve day.
"We patrolled a river on the border," Zaladonis said last week. "Unless I'm out of my mind or mistaken, that river was part of the border."
There are no after-action reports that pinpoint where Kerry's boat was in late December 1968. But a file from Navy archives in Washington obtained by The Times provides support for both sides.
An entry in a monthly summary of engagements for December 1968 reports that on Christmas Eve, "PCF-44 fired on junk on beach. Results: 1 sampan destroyed."
The entry was made by then-Capt. Roy Hoffmann, the overall commander of Swift boats and now one of Kerry's most vocal critics. There is no written location for the engagement, but it contains a coordinate used by the military to plot locations. The coordinate points to an area about 40 to 50 miles south of the Cambodian border, near an island called Sa Dec.
The entry also notes that the incident took place about 7 a.m., which would have given Kerry's boat another 12 hours to make it to the Cambodian border by nightfall. At a cruising speed of 23 knots, the boat could have covered the distance in about two hours.
This would be consistent with the contention of Kerry spokesman Michael Meehan that Kerry was in Sa Dec but reached the Cambodian border later the same day.
Since the anti-Kerry ad first surfaced, Kerry's crewmates have fanned out in his defense. Along with Rassmann, crewmates Del Sandusky, leading petty officer with Kerry on PCF-94, and Gene Thorson decried the allegations as politically inspired "garbage."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a Vietnam veteran who has endorsed Bush, called the ad "dishonest and dishonorable." He said that "none of these individuals served on the boat [Kerry] commanded," adding that he believed "John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam."
In a lengthy interview between the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's first news conference in May and the controversy last week, Kerry called the group's allegations pure "politics."
"Some of them don't like the fact that I opposed the war, and 35 years later some people still want to argue about that," Kerry said in the June interview. "It's way beyond me, can I tell you? It's so far beyond and past now. I feel sad about it."
He said he respected the service all Swift boat crews gave to their country and lauded their courage.
"So I'm at peace with myself, and I'm sorry they feel the way they do," Kerry said, "because I respect them. I really do."
Los Angeles Times
August 18, 2004 Wednesday
SECTION: MAIN NEWS; National Desk; Part A; Pg. 21
HEADLINE: The Race to the White House;
Kerry Condemns Anti-Bush Ad;
'This should be a campaign of issues, not insults,' the Democrat says after MoveOn attacks president's Air National Guard record.
BYLINE: Richard Simon, Times Staff Writer
Sen. John F. Kerry took a cue from Sen. John McCain on Tuesday and denounced a television ad by one of his allies attacking President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard.
In the latest twist in an ongoing debate about military credentials, Kerry condemned the new ad by the MoveOn political action committee, even though it was produced in response to an ad questioning Kerry's Vietnam War record.
"This should be a campaign of issues, not insults," Kerry said in a written statement.
Kerry called the ad "inappropriate" after McCain (R-Ariz.), a former Vietnam prisoner of war, criticized the MoveOn commercial. The 30-second ad accuses Bush of using family connections to avoid the Vietnam War.
McCain, who is popular with independents, is campaigning for Bush but has come to Kerry's defense against Republican attacks on the candidate's military record. He recently criticized an anti-Kerry ad that featured Vietnam veterans as "dishonest" and "dishonorable."
Although MoveOn, an independent liberal group, came to Kerry's aid with a counterattack ad, the Democrat said he agreed with McCain that it was over the top.
But the executive director of MoveOn's political action committee said his group had no plans to pull the spot, which began running Tuesday in three battleground states.
And a Bush campaign spokesman didn't see Kerry's action as doing the president any favor, saying the Massachusetts senator's condemnation of the anti-Bush ad "reeks of hypocrisy."
During a news conference arranged by the Kerry campaign earlier in the day, some supporters repeated the central allegation in the MoveOn ad -- that Bush used his father's influence as a congressman to get him into the Texas Air National Guard rather than serve in Vietnam.
"John Kerry condemns the ad on one hand and then his campaign's surrogates go out and echo the baseless charges that appear in the ad," said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt. "It's typical John Kerry: Say one thing, do another."
The MoveOn ad features footage of a young Bush in a National Guard uniform, with the announcer saying that Bush "used his father to get into the National Guard."
The spot also criticizes the president for failing to condemn the ad attacking Kerry, "a man who asked to go to Vietnam."
The MoveOn ad was produced in response to the anti-Kerry ad by a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The ad featured 13 veterans who served in close proximity to Kerry in Vietnam accusing him of lying about his military service.
The Swift boat group is heavily funded by Robert J. Perry, a Texas homebuilder and big GOP political donor.
The group said it stopped running its anti-Kerry commercial last week after exhausting its $500,000 buy. But Mike Russell, a spokesman for the group, said the ad had generated more than $330,000 in contributions, and the group was examining "whether we're going to extend the buy ... or do some other things."
The ad angered the Kerry campaign because the Democratic candidate had made his volunteer service in Vietnam and his combat experience a centerpiece of his campaign to show that he was better equipped to be commander in chief than Bush.
Though the anti-Kerry ad is no longer on the air, Eli Pariser, executive director of the MoveOn PAC, defended his decision to continue the anti-Bush TV spot.
"After refusing to condemn his allies' baseless attack on Kerry's war record, we believe the nation has a right to know whether George Bush showed up for service or not," he said. Pariser contended that it was appropriate to run the ad until the Bush campaign "rejects these kinds of smear campaigns."
The MoveOn ad is running in the same swing states of Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin as the anti-Kerry ad and on some cable TV stations nationally. The ad buy is about $200,000.
Earlier Tuesday, a group of Kerry supporters, including retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark and some of Kerry's Navy crewmates, condemned the anti-Kerry ad and called on Bush to disavow it.
The president has not denounced the ad, but in an interview on "Larry King Live" last week, he called Kerry's military service "noble." Bush campaign officials said the president had called for the end to all ads by "soft-money" groups -- those not directly involved with the respective campaigns.
"The president has made clear that the campaign has never questioned John Kerry's military service and never will," Schmidt said.
Retired Navy Adm. Stansfield Turner, a former CIA director who attended the Kerry campaign news conference, said of Kerry and Bush: "One of them saw combat.... One of them used his father's influence to get into the Air National Guard to avoid going to war."
Among those condemning the anti-Kerry ad was Fred Short, a gunner's mate and a member of Kerry's crew, who said: "If it wasn't for John Kerry, my name would be on a wall."
McCain's denunciation of the ad was posted prominently at the Kerry campaign news conference. The campaign also handed out an inch-thick book featuring a picture of a young Kerry in Navy uniform on its cover and containing the candidate's military records.
Neil Berch, a political scientist at West Virginia University, said he did not expect the anti-Kerry ad to carry too much weight in his state. In the end, he said, voters would "go with the guys who were on the boat with Kerry."
The New York Times
August 18, 2004 Wednesday
Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section A; Column 1; National Desk; THE 2004 CAMPAIGN: ADVERTISING; Pg. 19
HEADLINE: Kerry Denounces New Ad On Bush's Service in Guard
BYLINE: By JIM RUTENBERG
Senator John Kerry denounced an advertisement by the liberal group MoveOn.org questioning President Bush's Vietnam-era service in the Air National Guard yesterday, a move likely to raise pressure on President Bush to condemn a recent commercial accusing Mr. Kerry of lying about his war record.
The new MoveOn advertisement, running in three states, accuses Mr. Bush of using family connections to get into the Air National Guard to escape combat in Vietnam and revisits accusations that he did not adequately meet his service requirements -- charges that he denies.
Mr. Kerry's statement came hours after surrogates for his presidential campaign made similar accusations and was prompted by a plea from Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, a friend of Mr. Kerry and a fellow combat veteran in Vietnam.
Earlier this month, Mr. McCain similarly called on Mr. Bush to denounce the advertisement criticizing Mr. Kerry, by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. That spot, in which fellow Vietnam War veterans said Mr. Kerry lied about the incidents for which he won his combat medals, stopped running last week but the group says it plans to run another one soon.
The Bush campaign has declined to denounce the Swift boat advertisement, saying it had nothing to do with the spot.
That decision created an opening for MoveOn, whose spot ends with a quotation from Mr. McCain about the Swift boat commercial earlier this month: ''I think the Bush campaign should specifically condemn the ad.''
In an interview with The Associated Press yesterday, Mr. McCain said Mr. Kerry should condemn the MoveOn spot because it's ''the same line of scurrilous attack'' leveled against Mr. Kerry by the Swift boat veterans.
Shortly afterwards, Mr. Kerry's campaign released his statement: ''I agree with Senator McCain that the ad is inappropriate. This should be a campaign of issues, not insults.''
Yesterday, Mr. Bush's campaign again refused to repudiate the Swift boat advertisement. Democrats say that spot was largely paid for by Bob J. Perry, a Texas homebuilder with longstanding ties to Mr. Bush's top political aide, Karl Rove. Mr. Perry has donated $200,000, the group said.
The Bush campaign and the group say they have had no contact and are not working in coordination, which would be a violation of campaign finance rules.
''The campaign has not questioned and will not question John Kerry's service in Vietnam,'' said Steve Schmidt, a campaign spokesman. ''The president made clear on national television that he honors John Kerry's service in Vietnam.''
Mr. Schmidt painted Mr. Kerry's repudiation of the spots as disingenuous, given that at a campaign-sponsored news conference earlier in the day Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who competed against Mr. Kerry in the Democratic primaries earlier this year, and Adm. Stansfield Turner, the director of central intelligence for President Jimmy Carter, echoed MoveOn's accusations that Mr. Bush used family connections to avoid combat.
''Kerry's condemnation reeks of hypocrisy given the fact that his campaign surrogates are on the attack echoing the same baseless charges,'' Mr. Schmidt said.
Echoing a line that the Swift boat veterans have used, Mr. Kerry's campaign said General Clark and Admiral Turner had earned the right to speak their minds.
''With their service, they've more than earned the right to speak out,'' Mr. Clanton said. ''We're still waiting for the president to condemn the smear campaign against John Kerry's military service.''
As of last night, it did not seem as if Mr. Kerry's condemnation of the Moveon advertisement would have any effect on the group's plans.
Eli Pariser, the head of the Moveon political action committee responsible for the spot, said of Mr. Kerry, ''We feel he's entitled to his opinion.''
But Mr. Pariser said he did not believe that the Moveon spot and Swift boat veterans' one were in the same league.
The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has provided affidavits for the men making claims against Mr. Kerry in its first and last advertisement. But while some of the men served near Mr. Kerry's Swift boat, none in the advertisement served on it.
Los Angeles Times
August 19, 2004 Thursday
SECTION: MAIN NEWS; National Desk; Part A; Pg. 1
HEADLINE: THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE;
Kerry Criticizes Bush's Plan to Withdraw Troops;
Aiming to draw a sharp difference with the president, he calls the move ill-timed and risky.
BYLINE: Matea Gold and Edwin Chen, Times Staff Writers
Sen. John F. Kerry, speaking to the nation's largest combat veterans organization Wednesday, denounced President Bush's proposal to bring home troops from Europe and Asia as vague, ill-timed and risky.
In a speech heavily salted with references to his own military service, the Democratic presidential nominee said Bush's plan would not bolster the country's ability to combat terrorism nor relieve the stress on overburdened troops.
"Nobody wants to bring troops home more than those of us who have fought in foreign wars," Kerry, a former naval lieutenant, told Veterans of Foreign Wars members at the group's annual convention. "But it needs to be done at the right time and in a sensible way. This is not that time or that way."
Kerry's comments were among his strongest in distinguishing himself from Bush on national security -- which has emerged as a dominant issue in this year's presidential race.
The Massachusetts senator, dogged by criticism that he has not been specific enough about how he would handle the turmoil in Iraq differently than the incumbent, pounced on Bush's troop plan to draw a sharp distinction from the president on a key national defense issue.
"This hastily announced plan raises more doubts about our intentions and our commitment than it provides real answers," he told the VFW audience at a downtown convention hall.
"For example, why are we unilaterally withdrawing 12,000 troops from the Korean peninsula at the very time that we are negotiating with North Korea -- a country that really has nuclear weapons?" he asked.
The debate over national security could be significant for both candidates come Nov. 2. A poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed that, for the first time since the Vietnam War, national security is ranked as the top concern by more Americans than economic issues. One-fourth of 2,009 adults polled in July and August rated economic matters as most important.
Bush presented his plan to withdraw as many as 70,000 U.S. troops from Europe and Asia during his speech to the VFW convention Monday, saying it would produce a more agile force in the post-Sept. 11 world, while also making life easier for military families. His campaign called Kerry's opposition naive and politically motivated.
"The Cold War is over. We must continue to transform our military to better protect the American people against the dangerous -- against the dangers of the 21st century," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters.
Bush, meanwhile, sought to highlight his military credentials while campaigning by bus in Wisconsin and Minnesota, saying, "I have done my duty as the commander in chief to support our troops."
The differing stances by Kerry and Bush on troop redeployment help bolster both men's military credentials. Bush, who did not see combat in Vietnam but served in the Texas Air National Guard, can show his empathy for soldiers by bringing them and their families home. Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, can appear tough on military issues by saying the troops need to stay abroad, while demonstrating his interest in maintaining cooperation with allies.
In his address to the VFW, Kerry reiterated his plans to expand the military by 40,000 active-duty troops and increase benefits for veterans, emphasizing his experience commanding a Swift boat in the Mekong Delta.
"Let me be clear: Like you, I've defended this country as a young man," he said in one of 16 allusions to his military service in the 34-minute speech. "And I will defend it as president of the United States."
But Kerry's effort to present a clear policy difference with Bush was potentially undercut by previous comments -- some as recent as this month -- when he voiced support for shifting some American soldiers stationed in Europe and Asia.
In an Aug. 1 interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Kerry said he believed his brand of diplomacy would allow the United States to "significantly change the deployment of troops, not just [in Iraq] but elsewhere in the world. In the Korean peninsula perhaps, in Europe perhaps."
At an April 14 news conference in New York, he was more explicit.
"The overall effort of a president right now ought to be really to try to find ways to reduce the overexposure, in a sense, of America's commitments," Kerry said then. "A proper approach to the Korean peninsula, for instance, should include the deployment of troops, the unresolved issues of the 1950s and ultimately, hopefully, could result in the reduction of American presence, ultimately."
Republicans quickly derided his latest comments.
"Kerry's attack demonstrates a backward-looking approach to the threats facing our country and a willingness to exploit any issue if he thinks he can gain from it politically," Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said.
Kerry's aides said he had always said that he supported redeployment in the long run, but that he objected to the current timing.
Kerry said Wednesday that pulling back up to 70,000 troops from Europe and Asia could weaken U.S. alliances and jeopardize the country's ability to negotiate with North Korea to rid itself of nuclear arms.
Though he objects to Bush's plan, Kerry has said that if elected, he would try within six months to withdraw a large number of U.S. troops from Iraq -- a proposal sharply criticized by the president and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Two days earlier, the VFW group welcomed Bush with chants of "Four more years!" and standing ovations. Kerry received a mixed reception from the VFW, a 2.6-million-member group that historically tilts Republican.
Many in the crowd of about 5,000 stood up and applauded as Kerry entered and when he left. Some, however, refrained from applause altogether.
But the candidate, who often seems most comfortable in public around fellow veterans, spoke with ease and confidence, faltering only briefly when interrupted by unintelligible shouts of disagreement from a few people.
Kerry didn't refer to Bush's stateside duty during the Vietnam War, but he obliquely defended himself against charges by a group of veterans, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, that claims he manipulated his wartime injuries for political gain.
Kerry told the VFW he still drew strength from former crewmates, "the men who actually served on my boat and know precisely what took place in Vietnam."
Despite Kerry's focus on his military service, some in the audience said the issue would not affect their vote.
"It doesn't mean a thing to me," said James Lucas, a 57-year-old salesman from Dayton, Ky. A registered Republican, Lucas said he would vote for Kerry "because we're losing too many jobs abroad."
Jim Inman, a 62-year-old retired schoolteacher from Morristown, Tenn., said that he respected Kerry's service but was sticking with the president.
"I think Bush has done an excellent job on the war on terrorism, fighting the terrorists and making sure we haven't had another attack on this country since 9/11," said Inman, a Republican who says he often votes across party lines.
"Also, Bush is somebody that if he tells you something and looks you in the eye, you can pretty much well believe what he says. And I'm not too sure about Kerry on that," he said.
Bush, campaigning in Wisconsin, brought up his troop withdrawal plan during an event before several thousand people at a lakefront park in Hudson. He did not mention Kerry's criticism of his proposal.
"We don't need as many troops stationed overseas anymore because the Soviet era is no longer a threat," Bush said. "Equipment has changed since the Soviet era. We can replace tanks with Stryker brigades and achieve the same objective."
Bush's plan would not affect deployment in Iraq, but as many as 70,000 personnel in Europe and Asia would leave within a decade.
The president reminded voters of his push in Congress to obtain federal money for troops in Iraq, "for spare parts and body armor and fuel."
Only 12 senators voted against the legislation, Bush said, adding that two of those votes came from his "opponent and his running mate," Sen. John Edwards.
In Chippewa Falls, Wis., Bush said he would call on Congress to give members of the reserves and the National Guard who were mobilized after Sept. 11, 2001, the same level of education benefits accorded to full-time service members.
More than 400,000 Americans in the reserves and the Guard have been mobilized for the war on terrorism, including 147,672 still on active duty. But the level of benefits they receive was "substantially lower" than the active-duty benefits, the White House said. For someone mobilized 90 days to a year, the benefit would increase to $402 a month. For those who have served between one and two years, benefits would increase from $288 a month to $604 a month. And those who have been mobilized for two years or more would receive $803 a month.
Bush later addressed a large rally in St. Paul, Minn., then traveled to his ranch near Crawford, Texas. He plans to stay there until Thursday, mixing relaxation with business, including work on his convention speech.
The New York Times
August 19, 2004 Thursday
Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section A; Column 1; Editorial Desk; Pg. 30
HEADLINE: Politics as Usual
It may seem outlandish to launch a campaign broadside by television ad and book flackery devoted to discrediting the respectable Vietnam War record of Senator John Kerry, who has five combat medals. But that is exactly what a Republican-financed group of partisans is doing in presenting itself as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and tattooing the Democratic presidential nominee with accusations of lying about his service and war wounds. Never in Mr. Kerry's command, but claiming to have served near enough, its members are trying to contradict the firsthand accounts of his crewmates who are vouching for his war record.
In a way, this political assault may merely be a knife-edged compliment to the effectiveness of Mr. Kerry's stratagem of tirelessly -- some might say tiresomely -- highlighting his wartime service. The attack ads and the book, ''Unfit for Command,'' are a visceral part of the anti-Kerry campaign in the battleground states. The assault is gaining attention, with Internet and cable television zealots debating combat minutiae and even whether Mr. Kerry enacted wartime events with his political future in mind or held secret meetings with Communists.
The leader of the attack, John O'Neill, a Swift boat veteran and Texas lawyer, has been a detractor of Mr. Kerry for decades, ever since the Nixon White House recruited him to rebut Mr. Kerry's criticism of Vietnam policy. And the chief donor to the Swift boat broadside is a Texas businessman, Bob Perry, who is known for giving millions to the campaigns of President Bush and other Republicans.
Voters should also know that the group is one of the new ''shadow party'' efforts of supposedly independent ( but, in truth, transparently partisan) activist groups that have been set up to evade campaign laws and take advantage of nonprofits' tax breaks. One of the more prominent of these groups, the leftist MoveOn.org, is running ads attacking President Bush's Air National Guard service. We have denounced the Democrats for pioneering and financing these efforts -- which the Federal Election Commission, ever the snoozing watchdog of American politics, has done nothing to rein in. The F.E.C. is to consider some get-tough proposals this week, but a majority of the commission members are likely to duck responsibility once more.
Senator John McCain, the Vietnam hero who was smeared by one such ''independent'' stealth group in the 2000 campaign, has denounced the Swift Boat Veterans' attack as dishonest and dishonorable, declaring, ''The Bush administration should specifically condemn the ad.'' So far that hasn't happened. We can only hope the senator brought the point up as he campaigned last week with Mr. Bush.
The Washington Post
August 19, 2004 Thursday
SECTION: A Section; A01
HEADLINE: Records Counter A Critic Of Kerry;
Fellow Skipper's Citation Refers To Enemy Fire
BYLINE: Michael Dobbs, Washington Post Staff Writer
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."
As one of five Swift boat skippers who led the raid up the Bay Hap River, Thurlow was a direct participant in the disputed events. He is also a leading member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a public advocacy group of Vietnam veterans dismayed by Kerry's subsequent antiwar activities, which has aired a controversial television advertisement attacking his war record.
In interviews and written reminiscences, Kerry has described how his 50-foot patrol boat came under fire from the banks of the Bay Hap after a mine explosion disabled another U.S. patrol boat. According to Kerry and members of his crew, the firing continued as an injured Kerry leaned over the bow of his ship to rescue a Special Forces officer who was blown overboard in a second explosion.
Last month, Thurlow swore in an affidavit that Kerry was "not under fire" when he fished Lt. James Rassmann out of the water. He described Kerry's Bronze Star citation, which says that all units involved came under "small arms and automatic weapons fire," as "totally fabricated."
"I never heard a shot," Thurlow said in his affidavit, which was released by Swift Boats Veterans for Truth. The group claims the backing of more than 250 Vietnam veterans, including a majority of Kerry's fellow boat commanders.
A document recommending Thurlow for the Bronze Star noted that all his actions "took place under constant enemy small arms fire which LTJG THURLOW completely ignored in providing immediate assistance" to the disabled boat and its crew. The citation states that all other units in the flotilla also came under fire.
"It's like a Hollywood presentation here, which wasn't the case," Thurlow said last night after being read the full text of his Bronze Star citation. "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."
Thurlow said he would consider his award "fraudulent" if coming under enemy fire was the basis for it. "I am here to state that we weren't under fire," he said. He speculated that Kerry could have been the source of at least some of the language used in the citation.
In a telephone interview Tuesday evening after he attended a Swift Boat Veterans strategy session in an Arlington hotel, Thurlow said he lost his Bronze Star citation more than 20 years ago. He said he was unwilling to authorize release of his military records because he feared attempts by the Kerry campaign to discredit him and other anti-Kerry veterans.
The Post filed an independent request for the documents with the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which is the central repository for veterans' records. The documents were faxed to The Post by officials at the records center yesterday.
Thurlow and other anti-Kerry veterans have repeatedly alleged that Kerry was the author of an after-action report that described how his boat came under enemy fire. Kerry campaign researchers dispute that assertion, and there is no convincing documentary evidence to settle the argument. As the senior skipper in the flotilla, Thurlow might have been expected to write the after-action report for March 13, but he said that Kerry routinely "duked the system" to present his version of events.
For much of the episode, Kerry was not in a position to know firsthand what was happening on Thurlow's boat, as Kerry's boat had sped down the river after the mine exploded under another boat. He later returned to provide assistance to the stricken boat.
Thurlow, an oil industry worker and former teacher in Kansas, said he was angry with Kerry for his antiwar activities on his return to the United States and particularly Kerry's claim before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that U.S. troops in Vietnam had committed war crimes "with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."
" 'Upset' is too mild a word," said Thurlow, a registered Republican, of his reaction to Kerry then. "He did it strictly for his own personal political gain, and it directly affected every single one of us as we were trying to put our lives together."
Two other Swift boat skippers who were direct participants in the March 13, 1969, mine explosion on the Bay Hap, Jack Chenoweth and Richard Pees, have said they do not remember coming under "enemy fire." A fourth commander, Don Droz, who was one of Kerry's closest friends in Vietnam, was killed in action a month later.
The incident featured prominently in an anti-Kerry television ad produced by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth earlier this month. "John Kerry lied to get his Bronze Star," says Van Odell, a gunner on PCF-23, one of the boats that came to the rescue of the stricken boat. "I know. I was there."
The Bronze Star controversy is also a major focus of an anti-Kerry book by John E. O'Neill, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," which will hit No. 2 on The Post's bestseller list this weekend. The book accuses Kerry of "fleeing the scene" and lying repeatedly about his role.
Members of Kerry's crew have come to his defense, as has Rassmann, the Special Forces officer whom he fished from the river. Rassmann says he has vivid memories of being fired at from both banks after he fell into the river and as Kerry came to his rescue. The two had an emotional reunion on the eve of the Iowa Democratic caucuses in January, an event that some political analysts believe helped swing votes to Kerry at a crucial time.
The Bronze Star recommendations for both Kerry and Thurlow were signed by Lt. Cmdr. George M. Elliott, who received reports on the incident from his base in the Gulf of Thailand. Elliott is a supporter of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and has questioned Kerry's actions in Vietnam. But he has refused repeated requests for an interview after issuing conflicting statements to the Boston Globe about whether Kerry deserved a Silver Star. He was unreachable last night.
Money has poured into Swift Boat Veterans for Truth since the group launched its television advertisement attacking Kerry earlier this month. According to O'Neill, the group has received more than $450,000 over the past two weeks, mainly in small contributions. The Dallas Morning News reported yesterday that the organization has also received two $100,000 checks from Houston home builder Bob Perry, who backed George W. Bush's campaigns for Texas governor and for president.
Bush campaign officials have said they have no connection to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which is not permitted to coordinate its activities with a presidential campaign under federal election law.
Los Angeles Times
August 20, 2004 Friday
SECTION: MAIN NEWS; National Desk; Part A; Pg. 1
HEADLINE: The Nation;
THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE;
Kerry Starts Firing Back at Critics of War Record;
Saying vets' ad is doing Bush's 'dirty work,' he invites comparison with the president's service.
BYLINE: Matea Gold and Maria L. La Ganga, Times Staff Writers
Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry on Thursday lashed back for the first time against a group of Vietnam veterans critical of his wartime service, accusing them of doing President Bush's "dirty work" and suggesting that he, in turn, would challenge Bush's military record.
Two weeks after the veterans launched a television ad questioning Kerry's actions in Vietnam, the back-and-forth over the former Navy lieutenant's record envelops the campaign, as newfound records undercut the credibility of one of his critics.
During a speech to several thousand firefighters, Kerry directly challenged allegations by the group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, that he concocted his wartime injuries for political gain.
"More than 30 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," he told members of the International Assn. of Fire Fighters.
"Thirty years ago, official Navy reports and every person there 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."
Kerry's angry response Thursday marks an abrupt shift in strategy for the candidate, who had let surrogates address the accusations. Not only did the Massachusetts senator strike back personally, his campaign produced a new television ad defending his service, a slew of military records and a clutch of fellow veterans to testify to his actions.
The Swift boat group had run a 30-second television ad in three battleground states challenging the basis of Kerry's war record, saying he lied about his experiences, didn't deserve his medals and betrayed fellow servicemen by protesting the war after returning to the U.S. Though limited in its initial reach, the ad quickly gathered steam as a point of debate on websites, talk shows and cable television.
The campaign's full-front attack Thursday amounted to recognition that the anti-Kerry group's accusations could tarnish one of his greatest assets -- his decorated military service.
The attacks may have already hurt. According to a new poll by CBS News, Kerry has lost ground among veterans since the Democratic National Convention, when he ran neck and neck with Bush among those voters. Now, the president has an 18-point lead among that group, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,009 adults nationwide.
Meanwhile, newly released military records Thursday contradicted an account given by Larry Thurlow, a Swift boat group veteran who disputes that Kerry came under fire during a 1969 mission on the Bay Hap River. Kerry won a Bronze Star for his actions that day, when he fished a Green Beret officer out of the water.
A document recommending Thurlow for a Bronze Star said that his boat, along with Kerry's and three others, fielded constant enemy fire that day, according to the Washington Post. Thurlow insisted Thursday that the records were based on Kerry's account; he maintained his contention that Kerry lied about enemy fire.
None of the men in the Swift boat group behind the anti-Kerry ad, including Thurlow, served on Kerry's patrol boat during the war. A Times review of their accusations found that, in addition to Thurlow, other members also had given contradictory accounts of incidents and offered evidence of Kerry's alleged wrongdoing based on memories of events that they say they witnessed from a boat or two away.
Military documents and accounts of crewmates who did serve with Kerry support the view put forth by the candid