Let's put "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" under a microscope:
1.__ Their call for Kerry to release his Naval records is a little odd, because, uh, Kerry's already released all his Naval records. The original documents can be downloaded from his web site here. I emailed "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" to let them know where they can find the records (although the exact words I used were slightly less polite). You may want to do the same.
2.___ "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" says "We have every commanding officer he ever had in Vietnam." That's just completely false, or, more diplomatically put, "a fucking lie." "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" also says, "They all signed a letter saying he is unfit to be commander-in-chief."
Hmmm... There are 29 pages of officer evaluation reports on Kerry (scroll down to "Fitness Reports" if you want to download) that were filled out by Kerry's commanding officers while he served in the Navy. How in the world could "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" read the following descriptions from Kerry's C.O.'s as "unfit"?
October 19, 1967, evaluation from Captain Allen W. Slifer:
A top notch officer in every measurable trait. Intelligent, mature, and rich in educational background and experience, ENS Kerry is one of the finest young officers I have ever met and without question one of the most promising.
September 3, 1968, evaluation from Captain E.W. Harper, Jr.:
LTJG KERRY is an intelligent and competent young naval officer who has performed his duties in an excellent to outstanding manner.
December 18, 1969, evaluation from LCDR George M. Elliott:
In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action LTJG Kerry was unsurpassed. He constantly reviewed tactics and lessons learned in river operations and applied his experience at every opportunity. On one occasion while in tactical command of a three boat operation his units were taken under fire from ambush. LTJG Kerry rapidly assessed the situation and ordered his units to turn directly into the ambush. This decision resulted in routing the attackers with several enemy KIA.
LTJG Kerry emerges as the acknowledged leader in his peer group. His bearing and appearance are above reproach. He has of his own volition learned the Vietnamese language and is instrumental in the successful Vietnamese training program._
During the period of this report LTJG Kerry has been awarded the Silver Star medal, the Bronze Star medal, the Purple Heart medal (2nd and 3rd awards).
Evaluation co-signed by Joseph Streuli and George M. Elliott on January 28, 1969, and March 17, 1969, respectively:
... exhibited all of the traits of an officer in a combat environment. He frequently exhibited a high sense of imagination and judgment in planning operations against the enemy in the Mekong Delta.
March 2, 1970 evaluation from Admiral Walter F. Schlech:
... one of the finest young officers with whom I have served in a long naval career.
I could continue with more positive evaluations of Kerry's service, but quite frankly all the excellence is boring me a bit._
There aren't any negative descriptions. None.
3.__ _Perhaps more important than Kerry's C.O. evaluations are the evaluations of the men under his command. From USA Today (a Rupert Murdoch-owned paper) [correction: I'm wrong USA Today, as several helpful readers have pointed out, is owned by Gannett, but the point remains that they're no lefty outfit. My apologies for the mistake]:
Interviews with 18 officers and enlisted sailors who served with Kerry in Vietnam mostly portray a young leader with an aggressive command style. Many recall a warm, compassionate officer who cared deeply about his working-class crew. They also remember a warrior who ferried pregnant women and hungry villagers down river for medical care and food.
They recall how he initiated water-balloon fights to break the tension. How he asked his crew to call him "John" on the river and "sir" back at base. And how he listened to their problems in a way that foretold a career in politics.
"His concern for us was overwhelming," says Fred Short, a PCF-94 gunner's mate who would get the shakes when the adrenaline of battle wore off. "He would come around then and put his hand on your shoulder and ask if you're all right," says Short, 56, of North Little Rock "I never had another officer do that."
Even those soldiers who didn't like Kerry had respect for him:
"John was a master at looking out for John," says Larry Thurlow, a fellow boat commander. "John has never been bashful about saying, 'Man, I'm a war hero.' "
Yet, except for one crewmate, even those who felt betrayed by Kerry for later leading Vietnam Veterans Against the War and who call themselves Bush supporters acknowledge that he showed courage under fire. "He was extremely brave, and I wouldn't argue that point," Thurlow says. _
Stephen Gardner is the one guy who served alongside Kerry who has negative things to say about his courage under fire (some "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" guys claim they "served with" Kerry, but actually I think it would be more accurate for them to say they served "around the same time," and perhaps on a different planet, than Kerry did):
Stephen Gardner, a gunner's mate on PCF-44, spoke out for the first time last month after hearing conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh question Kerry's war credentials. Gardner, who says "this country's in a world of trouble" if the Democrat is elected president, calls Kerry a "hesitant" commander who shunned danger.
Gardner, 56, claims Kerry retreated during a firefight under the pretense that he wanted to get Gardner medical attention. "It was a panic run," says Gardner, who calls his wound superficial. While he refuses to call Kerry a coward, he recalls "a guy who was protecting himself most of the time."
That view does not square with the recollections of eight other enlisted sailors who served with Kerry and were interviewed for this story. Kerry and other PCF-44 veterans say the shooting was over when they turned back to base.
"I never saw John back down from anything," crewmember Bill Zaladonis says.
"I have no idea where he's coming from," Kerry says of Gardner.
Rassmann also dismisses the idea of a cautious Kerry. He says he is alive today because of Kerry's courage during a vicious battle in March 1969. The special forces soldier had been blown off PCF-94 by a mine that also injured Kerry's right arm. Swimming in the river while being strafed from both banks, Rassmann was convinced he was about to die before Kerry's boat returned. As the soldier struggled to climb scramble nets draped over the boat's bow, Kerry reached down with his uninjured arm and pulled him on board.
"He was frankly nuts coming up to the bow and exposing himself" to the barrage of bullets and mortars, Rassmann says.
4.__ _Okay, so who's behind "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth"? Two really terrific guys. Meet...
Rear Admiral Hoffman (ret.) was a Captain who headed up a Coastal Surveillance Force unit under which Kerry served. Douglas Brinkley writes about him on pages 177 and 178 in Tour of Duty:
...The new commander, hawkish Captain Roy Hoffman was ecstatic about Sealords. He knew that military reputations were made in wartime, and he was determined to make his in Vietnam. What's more, he had a genuine taste for the more unsavory aspects of warfare, and truly wanted to smoke the Viet Cong out of their tunnels, burn their jungle outposts, and annihilate them once and for all. Decades later, many Swift boat veterans under Hoffman's command would compare him with the rough-hewn colonel in the movie Apocalypse Now who boasted that he "loved the smell of napalm in the morning." In short, Captain Hoffman sought to convince his Swift boat skippers to do whatever it took to notch splashy victories in the Mekong Delta and thereby get him promoted.
Kerry would never forget how ardently Captain Hoffman lauded the exploits of one "enterprising officer" from the Danang Swift division. The officer had surprised some thirty Vietnamese who were fishing in round, floating baskets just off the shore of a peninsula in an area that was, unfortunately for them, a free fire zone. Hoffman considered it ideal military thinking that the Swift skipper had shown the presence of mind to sneak his boat in between the baskets and the shore, cutting the fisherman off from escape and then opening fire on them. All the baskets were sunk, and so were the fishermen. "Fantastic," Hoffman reportedly proclaimed upon hearing the news. Kerry himself would later hear Hoffman praise such "industriousness" at a remarkable meeting in Saigon. Clearly, the Navy had undergone a sea change. Not only were cowboy antics on the rivers of Vietnam no longer frowned upon, they were rewarded with medals.
Sounds like one hell of an American._
Months ago, Hoffman told The Boston Globe that Kerry was a problem and asked to get more specific he said:
"He was just going off on excursions that were not part of the plan at the time." But Hoffman said those problems were corrected and that he admired the gutsy way Kerry later went after the enemy.
It sounds like Hoffman values ingenuity less than gutsiness, and perhaps discretion least of all.
The other "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" point person is...
After Kerry made a mark as an anti-war veteran in 1971, he earned a spot on Nixon's enemies list. On the Nixon tapes, White House special counsel Charles Colson can be heard assuring Nixon that "We'll keep hitting him [Kerry], Mr. President." In addition to putting Kerry under FBI surveillance, Colson and Nixon recruited cleancut Vietnam vet and toe-the-line right-wing ideologue John O'Neill, who had an hour-long meeting with the President in which Nixon coached him to "Give it to him, give it to him." I've seen a picture of O'Neill and Nixon sitting in front of that White House fireplace. I suppose O'Neill saw his "Kerry character assassination" assignment from Nixon as a 33 year gig.
Although O'Neill had taken over Kerry's Swift boat command after he left Vietnam, before they met on a Dick Cavett Show debate he had never seen Kerry in person. But he despised him. He admonished Kerry everywhere for standing up against Nixon: "The President does our talking for us, as with most Americans. Mr. Kerry certainly does not."
33 years ago O'Neill wanted everyone to shut up so Richard Nixon could lay down the law, just as I'm sure he'd like to crush all dissenting voices to Bush's today. John Kerry stood up then to Nixon, and he stands up now to Bush.
According to Brinkley, O'Neill "truly believed in the U.S. incursions into Cambodia and Laos." That's pretty much all you need to know about the guy, that he would provide unwavering support for a war in Cambodia that was not only blatantly illegal, entirely secret, and abhorrently inhumane, it was also a complete tactical failure. It accomplished absolutely nothing except multiples of thousands of deaths of poor Cambodians. I can't even begin to understand somebody whose ideology is so unclean that he can see goodness in that. You could take a stroll with O'Neill and spot some dogshit and he'd try to convince you that it was a delicious green apple.
Tomorrow, I'll get a little deeper into O'Neill's ideology and the roots of his hatred for Kerry...