Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Guy Who Was Actually There Speaks Out for Kerry

Shame on the Swift Boat Veterans for Bush

By JIM RASSMANN
August 10, 2004; Page A10

I came to know Lt. John Kerry during the spring of 1969. He and his swift boat crew assisted in inserting our Special Forces team and our Chinese Nung soldiers into operational sites in the Cau Mau Peninsula of South Vietnam. I worked with him on many operations and saw firsthand his leadership, courage and decision-making ability under fire.

On March 13, 1969, John Kerry's courage and leadership saved my life.

While returning from a SEA LORDS operation along the Bay Hap River, a mine detonated under another swift boat. Machine-gun fire erupted from both banks of the river, and a second explosion followed moments later. The second blast blew me off John's swift boat, PCF-94, throwing me into the river. Fearing that the other boats would run me over, I swam to the bottom of the river and stayed there as long as I could hold my breath.

When I surfaced, all the swift boats had left, and I was alone taking fire from both banks. To avoid the incoming fire, I repeatedly swam under water as long as I could hold my breath, attempting to make it to the north bank of the river. I thought I would die right there. The odds were against me avoiding the incoming fire and, even if I made it out of the river, I thought I'd be captured and executed. Kerry must have seen me in the water and directed his driver, Del Sandusky, to turn the boat around. Kerry's boat ran up to me in the water, bow on, and I was able to climb up a cargo net to the lip of the deck. But, because I was nearly upside down, I couldn't make it over the edge of the deck. This left me hanging out in the open, a perfect target. John, already wounded by the explosion that threw me off his boat, came out onto the bow, exposing himself to the fire directed at us from the jungle, and pulled me aboard.

For his actions that day, I recommended John for the Silver Star, our country's third highest award for bravery under fire. I learned only this past January that the Navy awarded John the Bronze Star with Combat V for his valor. The citation for this award, signed by the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam, Vice Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, read, "Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry's calmness, professionalism and great personal courage under fire were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service." To this day I am grateful to John Kerry for saving my life. And to this day I still believe that he deserved the Silver Star for his courage.

It has been many years since I served in Vietnam. I returned home, got married, and spent many years as a deputy sheriff for Los Angeles County. I retired in 1989 as a lieutenant. It has been a long time since I left Vietnam, but I think often of the men who did not come home with us.

I am neither a politician nor an organizer. I am a retired police officer with a passion for orchids. Until January of this year, the only public presentations I made were about my orchid hobby. But in this presidential election, I had to speak out; I had to tell the American people about John Kerry, about his wisdom and courage, about his vision and leadership. I would trust John Kerry with my life, and I would entrust John Kerry with the well-being of our country.

Nobody asked me to join John's campaign. Why would they? I am a Republican, and for more than 30 years I have largely voted for Republicans. I volunteered for his campaign because I have seen John Kerry in the worst of conditions. I know his character. I've witnessed his bravery and leadership under fire. And I truly know he will be a great commander in chief.

Now, 35 years after the fact, some Republican-financed Swift Boat Veterans for Bush are suddenly lying about John Kerry's service in Vietnam; they are calling him a traitor because he spoke out against the Nixon administration's failed policies in Vietnam. Some of these Republican-sponsored veterans are the same ones who spoke out against John at the behest of the Nixon administration in 1971. But this time their attacks are more vicious, their lies cut deep and are directed not just at John Kerry, but at me and each of his crewmates as well. This hate-filled ad asserts that I was not under fire; it questions my words and Navy records. This smear campaign has been launched by people without decency, people who don't understand the bond of those who serve in combat.

As John McCain noted, the television ad aired by these veterans is "dishonest and dishonorable." Sen. McCain called on President Bush to condemn the Swift Boat Veterans for Bush ad. Regrettably, the president has ignored Sen. McCain's advice.

Does this strategy of attacking combat Vietnam veterans sound familiar? In 2000, a similar Republican smear campaign was launched against Sen. McCain. In fact, the very same communications group, Spaeth Communications, that placed ads against John McCain in 2000 is involved in these vicious attacks against John Kerry. Texas Republican donors with close ties to George W. Bush and Karl Rove crafted this "dishonest and dishonorable" ad. Their new charges are false; their stories are fabricated, made up by people who did not serve with Kerry in Vietnam. They insult and defame all of us who served in Vietnam.

But when the noise and fog of their distortions and lies have cleared, a man who volunteered to serve his country, a man who showed up for duty when his country called, a man to whom the United States Navy awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts, will stand tall and proud. Ultimately, the American people will judge these Swift Boat Veterans for Bush and their accusations. Americans are tired of smear campaigns against those who volunteered to wear the uniform. Swift Boat Veterans for Bush should hang their heads in shame.

Mr. Rassmann, a retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, served with the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam 1968-69.

URL for this article:
http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB109209179651686933,00.html

3 Comments:

Blogger Pamela Leavey said...

Thank you Jim Rassmann!

I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Rassmann in NH in January. I was touched by his honesty and his true desire to see John Kerry elected. Rassmann like all the men who served with Kerry know who John Kerry is and their committment to his campaign is truly admirable one of the greatest driving forces of Kerry's campaign.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Ron Chusid said...

Groups File Complaint Over Anti-Kerry Ad

Tue Aug 10, 3:33 PM ET

By SHARON THEIMER, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Three campaign finance watchdog groups filed a complaint Tuesday accusing a group of Vietnam veterans of violating the campaign finance law by airing an ad that challenges Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry (news - web sites)'s military record.

Democracy 21, the Center for Responsive Politics and the Campaign Legal Center argue that the ad by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth violates a federal ban on the use of unlimited donations, often referred to as "soft money," to influence federal elections.

In the ad, the group accuses Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, of lying about his war record and betraying fellow veterans by later protesting the conflict. Veterans who served with Kerry on his swiftboat have said the group is lying, and Republican Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record) of Arizona has called the ad "dishonest and dishonorable."

The group bought $500,000 worth of airtime to run the ad in Wisconsin, Ohio and West Virginia.

In the complaint to the Federal Election Commission (news - web sites), the watchdog groups argued that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth should have used only limited contributions from individuals known as hard money on the ad and should disclose its donations and spending in reports to the FEC.

"We think this is open and shut, that the only purpose of this group is to influence the presidential election," said Fred Wertheimer, head of Democracy 21.

Mike Russell, a spokesman for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, said the ad is legal because it does not tell viewers which candidate they should vote for in the presidential race.

"The ads are not meant to influence the presidential election. The ads are meant to tell the truth about John Kerry's service record so people can make their own decisions," Russell said.

The veterans group said it has at least 5,000 new contributors and has raised more than $230,000 since the ad started running last week.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Ron Chusid said...

A call for President Bush to denounce "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth"

What follows is an op-ed submitted to Salon by four veterans and authors:

"As was shamefully done previously against decorated veterans like John McCain and Max Cleland, extreme right-wing groups such as the so-called 'Swift-Boat Veterans for Truth' are again spreading lies meant to discredit a decorated veteran. A veteran who volunteered for combat, who was brave enough not only to withstand the rigors of battle but then the equally difficult struggle to speak the truth about war's inevitable dark side: savagery, stupidity, recklessness, maiming, and death. These are the truths of every war -- those necessary and those avoidable; those just and those unjust.

"The slander about John Kerry's Purple Hearts and courage in command is fallacious at best and spuriously shameful. More, the attacks against Kerry's post-discharge protest of Vietnam represent a concerted attempt to prevent others from speaking the necessary truth of their experience by those too cowardly to admit their own share in our flawed humanity -- and war is nothing if not a showcase for our flaws. The old veterans' saying goes: If you haven't been there, you just don't know. But more, if you've been there and perpetuate the myths, you know even less.

"We are children of the Vietnam-Era: Its veterans, its troubles. In time, we became the veterans of our nation's 'Cable News Wars' in the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq -- we know all-too-well the difficulties in communicating the ambiguous truths of our wars. But, as writers, we tried. We have each, in our own way, attempted to create a space where honest talk about war can occur without sanction: in the privacy of a book's pages. More than ever, our country needs an open dialogue about what war is, what happens there, and what it can do to the souls of those who serve, whether or not the original call to war was based on a noble purpose."

"'Swift-Boat Veterans for Truth' (a group without a single member who actually served in combat with Kerry) is attacking Kerry for, among other things, telling the truth about his war. If they succeed, hundreds of thousands of young soldiers and Marines will find it that much more difficult to tell their difficult stories -- whether heroic, tragic, barbaric, or all three -- when they return from Iraq and Afghanistan. So that another generation of veterans will not be rent by the difficult choice between living with a lie and feeling shamed for telling the truth, we ask you: do not listen to those who would distort a brave man's struggle. They pursue their own sad grudges and the paltry gains of partisan fervor, and if they become the loudest voice of "truth," all veterans will sustain the wound."

Signed,

Christian Bauman, US Army (Somalia, Haiti), author of The Ice Beneath You.
Andrew Exum, US Army (Afghanistan, Iraq), author of This Man's Army.
Joel Turnipseed, US Marine Corps (Persian Gulf War), author of Baghdad Express.
Buzz Williams, US Marine Corps (Persian Gulf War), author of Spare Parts.

http://www.salon.com/politics/war_room/index.html

11:34 AM  

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