Posted 08-11-2004 at 07:59:43
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WASHINGTON - It is been 30 years since the Swift Boat Navy veterans, now watching film clips from the Kerry campaign, served in Vietnam with the Democratic presidential nominee.
One Swiftee commented, "All the time he had that camera, making pictures."
Another said, "I recognize the one where he's prancing around, dragging his M-16 in the mud - that's the cover of 'Tour of Duty' (Kerry's latest book)."
For two months in Vietnam, Steve Gardner was a gunner's mate aboard John Kerry's Swift Boat.
Gardner said, "We thought he was just making home movies. I mean, he'd go ashore. One of the guys would take pictures of him, and then they'd bring it back, and he'd get back on the boat; always in a place where it was safe."
Gardner went on, "See this ammo hanging on him? It was idiotic. He didn't do that. See those rounds? Those are fragmentation grenades."
He added, "The grenades themselves were against the law to have on our boat. Those were fragmentation ones on our boat, the only ones we could carry were anti-concussion grenades…"
Swiftee Van O'Dell said, "To wear bandoliers of ammo, or bandoliers of grenades was stupid, because you're on a Swift Boat, all your ammunition and weapons are beside you."
Gardner remarked, "There's not any question about it. Those were staged. They are absolutely were staged."
Another Swiftee, Larry Thurlow, commented on Kerry's outfit and gear in the film, saying, "His boondogger socks, shirt and pants might have been issue, but the rest of this get-up is strictly for the home audience. If you're over there, you're going to rust those bullets up in 24 hours, if you have them strung across your body [as Kerry had them]."
The vets said that now, 35-plus years later, they saw what part of it was intended for. Kerry's total agenda, which was, they said, to be president.
But it is what Kerry said after he returned from Vietnam that most outrages these veterans. Kerry's statements, they say, gave comfort to the enemy, even as fellow soldiers were fighting and dying on the front lines.
Tom Wright was a Swift Boat officer in John Kerry's unit. He said, "I don't think there's any other word besides 'betrayal.'"
Wright continued, "It was very painful to me, personally, because I knew the man and I couldn't believe he was saying the things he was saying. I just couldn't believe it. "
Odell said, "The main people on television touting this were Jane Fonda and John Kerry. Well, John Kerry stuck right out, because I was with him the full time I was in Vietnam. "
After his abbreviated four-month tour in Vietnam, John Kerry had become an anti-war activist, and eventually a spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
In 1971 he was in Washington for a protest, and landed on Meet the Press, where he accused U.S. soldiers and commanders of war crimes, and said that he had committed the same kind of atrocities.
Grant Hibbard, a Navy lieutenant commander and Kerry's direct supervisor for three months, said, "He actually said 'he' committed war crimes, but he called all the shipmates and officers, and the men that served with him 'criminals,' that they were committing these terrible atrocities. And they were there 12 months, unless they were seriously wounded or came home in a body bag."
Another Kerry boatmate, Bob Elder, said, "We were just devastated to see that a man who bonded so closely to us, who took the same oath of loyalty to each other as we took, would come home and do such an atrocious thing as to - in front of the American public and Congress - accuse us all of being war criminals."
On April 22nd of that year, Kerry was invited to address the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Clad in green fatigues and wearing his combat medals, 27-year-old Kerry recounted an epidemic of war crimes that he claimed American soldiers had committed in Southeast Asia.
Kerry said, "... not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis, with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."
Admiral Roy Hoffman, Kerry's commander and the former commander of all Swift Boat operations in Vietnam, responded, "What atrocities?! I never saw them, and I covered Vietnam from the northern border all the way to the Cambodian border, and most of the rivers and canals!"
"It was a flat lie!" Hoffman asserted. "A gross - it wasn't exaggeration - it was an absolute lie!"
With American forces still on the ground in Vietnam, Kerry's alleged American atrocities took on disturbing detail: " ...at times they 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 country side of South Vietnam."
Kerry went on. "The country doesn't know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest 'nothing' in history."
Admiral Hoffman charged, "It was a personal assault on every man bearing arms in Vietnam."
O'Dell said, "He didn't have to support the war. But what he did is, he damned us by telling us we were baby killers, rapists, murderers, and committed atrocities. As a result of what Kerry said, when I returned and went to a college campus, I was called a baby killer. I was called a murderer."
O'Dell continued, "I was in Vietnam for 13 months, three times longer than Kerry. I was [with the] Swift Boats the whole time. I saw people giving food, aid, [and] medical attention to the citizens of Vietnam. I didn't see atrocities. I never saw murders, rapes, and baby killers."
Swiftee Richard Pees said, "That is the thing that had bothered me more than anything else. We put ourselves at risk many times, travelling through villages at very slow speed, at idle speed, so as not to sink or swamp the sampans or hurt anybody. That's what I saw - people going out of their way to protect the lives of the local population."
Pees continued, "The atrocities he talked about just didn't happen. And unfortunately, there are many Americans who don't know that. Many Americans really believe all that stuff Kerry and his Vietnam Veterans against the War fed them."
Months later, on the Dick Cavett Show, Kerry admitted that he had never personally witnessed any atrocities.
The day after his Senate testimony, Kerry joined other veterans tossing their medals away at the U.S. Capitol. Kerry later denied he threw away his medals; he said he had only discarded his ribbons.
But some veterans say the speech that slandered a generation of soldiers made Kerry an overnight political celebrity.
Tom Wright said, "It was totally self-serving; to get the recognition to get to the next step he was going to take."
Soon after his Senate testimony, Kerry was asked on 60 Minutes, if he wanted to be president. "No, I don't want to be president," Kerry responded.
Kerry even authored a book in 1971, "The New Soldier." It included his testimony and that of other veteran protesters alleging war atrocities, some later discredited.
The book features politically-charged photos of U.S soldiers, like a cover shot mocking the Iwo Jima Memorial, showing U.S. Marines carrying an upside-down American flag.
It is a cover that Amazon.com will not even show on its website. Kerry will not allow the book to be e-printed, and it is hard to obtain it. It sells for $500 a copy.
When asked about his war crimes comments this April on Meet The Press, Kerry called his language honest, but "a little bit excessive." He said he was proud that he stood up and took the position to oppose it.
Admiral Hoffman said, "The only thing he has said is 'maybe' he was a little over the top. He still has not apologized or changed his opinion on whether we were murderers or not."
An anti-Kerry commercial now running by the Swift vets has been denounced as deplorable by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). The former POW himself once charged that anti-war testimony from that 1971 committee was some of the most effective propaganda used against prisoners of war.
The veterans say that is what most disturbs them about John Kerry.
Steve Gardner commented, "He is a traitor. The things he did…the treason he committed at the 1971 committee hearings… are the key to the guys who lost their life at the Hanoi Hilton."
Bob Elder said, "The things they endured torture to avoid saying, John Kerry freely went before Congress and accused them - and us and all the men who died in Vietnam of being: war criminals."
Another Swiftee, Jack Chenoweth, said, "This has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with character, with integrity; it has to do with honesty. It has to do with the truth about a man who has lied, and lied, and lied. "
Swift Boat Officer Wright said, "People need to know - the citizens need to know."
Hibbard remarked, "He served four months and one day in the country; the rest of us served 12 months. He came back and lied. ..... And betrayed his shipmates. There's no doubt he's unfit. He lied then, and he's lying now."