Vets line up to describe former colleague as 'vain' opportunist unfit for presidency

Posted: May 4, 2004

During his time in the Vietnam war, John Kerry was seen by colleagues as a self-serving, "loose cannon" who came only to launch a political career, said the commander over his swift boat division, who spoke at a press conference in Washington with 17 other veterans.

John Kerry receving medal for Vietnam service.

Retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffman, who headed Coastal Division 11, is one of more than 200 veterans who have signed a letter asking Kerry to authorize the Department of the Navy to release all of his military records, including health documents.

Hoffman said Kerry "arrived in country with a strong anti-Vietnam War bias and a self-serving determination to build a foundation for his political future."

"He was aggressive, but vain and prone to impulsive judgment, often with disregard to specific tactical assignments," Hoffman said. "He was a loose cannon."

The press conference and letter was organized by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which contends the Massachusetts senator and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is unfit to be commander in chief.

The group's spokesman, John O'Neill, who took over as commander of Kerry's swift boat not long after the senator was given an early dismissal, told reporters Kerry recently had been on the phone with Hoffman for 45 minutes, trying to discourage the group from going forward.

O'Neill wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial today that he could not remain silent as Kerry sought the nation's highest office.

Kerry served about four months of a 12-month tour of duty in Vietnam, winning the Silver Star and Bronze Star. After receiving three Purple Hearts, he requested and received reassignment to the United States, which is allowed under Navy regulations.

But O'Neill said in an interview on the Tony Snow radio show today, he and his colleagues were perplexed at the time by Kerry's early departure.

"No one could actually figure out why he left," O'Neill told Snow. "He went through swift boat school before me. No one had any idea why he left."

O'Neill's group said it includes the entire chain of command above Kerry: Lt. Cmdr. Grant Hibbard, Lt. Cmdr. Elliott, Capt. Charles Plumly, Ret. Capt. Adrian Lonsdale USCG and Hoffman.

The veterans group said it also includes enlisted men, officers, men who served with Kerry, men who served in the same group of swift boats and "men intimately familiar with the operations and conduct of swift boat operations during the war." Among them are Marine Lt. Col. James Zumwalt, representing his late father, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, and late brother, Lt. Elmo Zumwalt III.

Zumwalt who criticized Kerry for concocting "falsehoods" in his congressional testimony about fellow veterans, said the senator "has a personality disorder."

O'Neill, now a Houston lawyer, appeared in 1971 on "The Dick Cavett Show" in a debate with Kerry, who then was national spokesman for the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

The key issue then, as now, O'Neill said, is Kerry's claim American troops were committing war crimes in Vietnam "on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."

"Despite our shared experience," O'Neill wrote, "I still believe what I believed 33 years ago - that John Kerry slandered America's military by inventing or repeating grossly exaggerated claims of atrocities and war crimes in order to advance his own political career as an antiwar activist."

"His misrepresentations played a significant role in creating the negative and false image of Vietnam vets that has persisted for over three decades," he said.

O'Neill asserted, "Neither I, nor any man I served with, ever committed any atrocity or war crime in Vietnam. The opposite was the truth. Rather than use excessive force, we suffered casualty after casualty because we chose to refrain from firing rather than risk injuring civilians."

More than once, he said, "I saw friends die in areas we entered with loudspeakers rather than guns."

"John Kerry's accusations then and now were an injustice that struck at the soul of anyone who served there," O'Neill declared.

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