In early 1971, I returned home from Vietnam with enough money for law school, a single civilian dress suit, and no interest whatsoever in politics. My sole purpose was to return to civilian life. Then I read a New York Times article written by Bruce Kesler, who had founded Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace to defend the honor of the brave American troops fighting and dying in Vietnam. I started to focus on the criticism of the war being leveled by John Kerry, a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War who had also been a Swift Boat commander in Coastal Division 11. Ironically, John Kerry and I served much of our time, a full 12 months in my case and an abbreviated 4 month tour in his, commanding the exact same six-man boat, PCF-44, which I took over after he requested early departure. I resolved to put on my only suit and use the money I had saved to seek out John Kerry and confront him on the topic of Vietnam.
On June 30, 1971, I debated John Kerry face-to-face for 90 minutes on the nationally televised Dick Cavett show. As I sat across from John Kerry in that studio, he made jarring, unsubstantiated claims – that atrocities and war crimes were being routinely committed by our unit and by America’s military throughout Vietnam. I was chilled to realize that I was not facing an angry man, but a calculating one, a cold and polished activist intent on becoming a spokesman for the Left.
John Kerry had changed personas as completely as he changed from the Navy dress whites in which he received his decorations in Vietnam to the sloppy military fatigues he wore in the protests he led in the streets of our nation’s capital. John Kerry was at center stage now as a war protester, contemptuous of medals, awards, and military honor -- the very honor that John Kerry the Swift Boat commander had proudly claimed, and that a future Senator Kerry would claim once again.
During his April 1971 testimony before Senator Fulbright’s Committee on Foreign Relations, John Kerry had admitted meeting with “both sides” of the communist delegations to the Paris peace talks -- Madame Binh of the Provisional Revolutionary Government, which was the political wing of the Viet Cong, and also with North Vietnamese representatives. On July 22, 1971, John Kerry held a press conference in Washington, DC, where as a representative of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, he called upon President Nixon to accept Madame Binh’s so-called “7 Point Proposal” to end the war, a proposal which amounted to capitulation by the United States. Its provisions included setting a firm date for unilateral withdrawal of US military forces from Vietnam, and paying war repatriations to our communist enemies. With these acts, John Kerry crossed an important line, fully and finally breaking loyalty with those of us still under the fire of combat in Vietnam, first by falsely accusing us of war crimes and then by allowing himself to become a surrogate for our enemies.
Today, more than 200 sailors from Coastal Squadron One, many of whom served alongside John Kerry, have joined together in a protest of our own. We have all signed a solemn statement that we who served with John Kerry do not consider him to be fit to be our Commander-in-Chief. The Kerry campaign is currently running a television ad featuring a 1969 photograph taken in An Thoi of John Kerry with 19 of the officers who served with him. Eleven of the officers in that photograph have signed a statement expressing their opposition to John Kerry’s candidacy and calling upon him to stop using this photograph in his campaign. In 1904, the Rough Riders who fought alongside Theodore Roosevelt at San Juan Hill rode with him again to support his bid for the presidency. When John F. Kennedy ran 1960, no PT Boat veterans came forth to speak against him. Yet our petitions include virtually all of John Kerry’s own commanders, a large majority of the officers who served directly with him, and many other sailors who served in our combat theater.
In his campaign, John Kerry now seeks to invoke a heroic Shakespearian image taken from Henry V -- the small “band of brothers” outnumbered by a large French army at Agincourt. One wonders how that English army would have felt about a “brother” who met privately with the French, as Kerry did with the North Vietnamese, while the battle was still joined. Or about a “brother” who found a way to leave the fray after completing only a third of a normal tour of duty, then returned home to proclaim that his former comrades still joined in combat were war criminals comparable to the armies of Genghis Khan. As the bard wrote in Act IV, Scene III, “He which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart … we would not die in that man’s company.”
Kerry’s true comrades are nowhere to be found in his current advertising. They are the radical extremists he championed in his 1971 book, “The New Soldier,” a book Senator Kerry now wishes to suppress. Grant us the rights to “The New Soldier,” Senator Kerry, and we will make sure copies are available in bookstores throughout the United States for our citizens to study. They might begin with the cover image of bearded renegades in ragged uniforms carrying an American flag upside down, an image whose emotional power comes from the obvious insult it aims at the brave Marines who died so our flag could be raised at Iwo Jima.
Why have so many of us from our small unit rejected John Kerry in such a public way? It is not primarily resentment at his false charges or his exaggerated and fictionalized self-promotion, although that is certainly present. What motivates us is a genuine fear of having our nation’s fate placed in the hands of so cynical and shifting a Commander-in-Chief. I was not a war criminal in Vietnam, and neither were the brave sailors who served alongside me in Coastal Division 11. No American suffering in a North Vietnamese prison camp was ever forced to listen to our testimony in support of the enemy. The questions we raise about John Kerry are those of fitness and character.
Today we are engaged in yet another test of freedom, fighting against Islamic terrorists who have attacked us on our own soil. The loyalty that is indispensable to successful command cannot be restored simply because a person wants to lead. While John Kerry might well continue in the Senate as a valued member of his party, he has forfeited the trust of his band of brothers necessary to serve as Commander-in-Chief.
Last Updated Tuesday, July 20 2004 @ 09:05 PM PDT