A veteran for truth
This letter is in response to the new attacks on John Kerry's war record by a group calling itself the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." As for most veterans of any war and as people who know me will testify, it is not easy for me to talk about my experiences in Vietnam. However, because of these new ads and, I understand, a new book recently published by an old Charles Colson "Enemies List" hit man, I feel compelled to speak out. Unfortunately, the veterans featured in these attacks are being used by extreme right wing Bush supporters to spread their lies and malign John Kerry.
I feel that most of these veterans who are joining this attack are against Kerry for what he did after he was home from the war than for what he did in the war. If they are against him for his stance against the Vietnam War, that certainly is their right, but to spread lies and malicious innuendos about his time on the rivers of Vietnam is not morally right and does a disservice not only to Kerry, but to all those who served and were wounded or died in that war. The people who are using these veterans for their own means obviously do not care about that. They did the same thing to Senator John McCain and Congressman Max Cleland in 2000 with no remorse or care for the consequences.
To me what is worse is that by their silence, the current administration has not, with any real meaning, disavowed itself or distanced itself in anyway from any of these scurrilous attacks, past or present. I feel that this truly shows the Bush administration for what they really are and ultimately, who is truly responsible for these attacks.
Since I happened to be along on one of the "excursions" where the boats that we were on were attacked and after which Lt. Kerry was cited for valor, I thought it appropriate to give my recollection of that event. This happened on March 13, 1969. I was assigned as Psychological Operation Officer for the Swift Boat group out of An Thoi, Vietnam, from January 1969 to October 1969. As such, I was on No. 43 boat, skippered by Don Droz who was later that year killed by enemy fire. We were second in line while exiting the river and going through the opening in a fish trap when a mine blew up under the No. 3 boat directly in front of us and we started taking small arms fire from the beach. Almost immediately, another mine went off somewhere behind us. All boats, except the one hit, immediately wheeled toward the beach that most of the fire came from (a tactic devised by Lt. Kerry, I later learned) and commenced showering the beaches with so much lead, that it could probably be now mined there. The noise was of course, deafening.
Three things that are forever pictured in my mind since that day over 30 years ago are: (1) The No. 3, 50-foot long, Swift boat getting huge, huge air; John Kerry thought it was about two feet. (He was farther away from it than I). I think it was at least four feet and probably closer to six feet; (2) All the boats turning left and letting loose at the same time like a deadly, choreographed dance and; (3) A few minutes later, John Kerry bending over his boat picking up one of the rangers that we were ferrying from out of the water. All the time we were taking small arms fire from the beach; although because of our fusillade into the jungle, I don't think it was very accurate, thank God. Anyone who doesn't think that we were being fired upon must have been on a different river.
The picture I have in my mind of Kerry bending over from his boat picking some hapless guy out of the river while all hell was breaking loose around us, is a picture based on fact and it cannot be disputed or changed. It's a piece of history drawn in my mind that cannot be redrawn. Sorry, "Swift Boats Veterans for the Truth"- that is the truth.
To say that John Kerry or any of us were on that river to intentionally collect Purple Hearts really does every soldier and sailor, past and present, a disservice. We were going up those rivers (with an ongoing casualty rate of 86 percent at the time) on the orders of the same people who approved of Kerry's medals and who are now joining in the attacks against Kerry. Unbelievable.
I would hope that the American public sees these evil extreme right wing attacks for what they really are and also pray that the veterans being used by these unpatriotic right wing extremist political operatives will divorce themselves immediately from them and speak to the real issues as to why they oppose John Kerry. I just don't understand how anyone can align themselves with those who intentionally and gleefully painted a decorated triple amputee (Max Cleland) from Vietnam as unpatriotic. I think that this is the most disastrous, un-American thing that can be done to our servicemen and women, especially now with another unending war going on. Your ends cannot possibly justify these means. Come on!
Vietnam veteran, USN (1966-71)