I was on Mr. Kerry's boat in Vietnam. He doesn't deserve to be commander in chief.
BY JOHN O'NEILL
Tuesday, May 4, 2004 12:01 a.m.
HOUSTON--In 1971, I debated John Kerry, then a national spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, for 90 minutes on "The Dick Cavett Show." The key issue in that debate was Mr. Kerry's claim that 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." Now, as Sen. Kerry emerges as the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency, I've chosen to re-enter the fray. Like John Kerry, I served in Vietnam as a Swift Boat commander. Ironically, John Kerry and I served much of our time, a full 12 months in my case and a controversial four months in his, commanding the exact same six-man boat, PCF-94, which I took over after he requested early departure. Despite our shared experience, 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.
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, 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.
During my 1971 televised debate with John Kerry, I accused him of lying. I urged him to come forth with affidavits from the soldiers who had claimed to have committed or witnessed atrocities. To date no such affidavits have been filed. Recently, Sen. Kerry has attempted to reframe his comments as youthful or "over the top." Yet always there has been a calculated coolness to the way he has sought to destroy the record of our honorable service in the interest of promoting his political ambitions of the moment.
John Kennedy's book, "Profiles in Courage," and Dwight Eisenhower's "Crusade in Europe" inspired generations. Not so John Kerry, who has suppressed his book, "The New Soldier," prohibiting its reprinting. There is a clear reason for this. The book repeats John Kerry's insults to the American military, beginning with its front-cover image of the American flag being carried upside down by a band of bearded renegades in uniform--a clear slap at the brave Marines in their combat gear who raised our flag at Iwo Jima. Allow me the reprint rights to your book, Sen. Kerry, and I will make sure copies of "The New Soldier" are available in bookstores throughout America.
Vietnam was a long time ago. Why does it matter today? Since the days of the Roman Empire, the concept of military loyalty up and down the chain of command has been indispensable. The commander's loyalty to the troops is the price a commander pays for the loyalty of the troops in return. How can a man be commander in chief who for over 30 years has accused his "Band of Brothers," as well as himself, of being war criminals? On a practical basis, John Kerry's breach of loyalty is a prescription of disaster for our armed forces.
John Kerry's recent admissions caused me to realize that I was most likely in Vietnam dodging enemy rockets on the very day he met in Paris with Madame Binh, the representative of the Viet Cong to the Paris Peace Conference. John Kerry returned to the U.S. to become a national spokesperson for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a radical fringe of the antiwar movement, an organization set upon propagating the myth of war crimes through demonstrably false assertions. Who was the last American POW to die languishing in a North Vietnamese prison forced to listen to the recorded voice of John Kerry disgracing their service by his dishonest testimony before the Senate?
Since 1971, I have refused many offers from John Kerry's political opponents to speak out against him. My reluctance to become involved once again in politics is outweighed now by my profound conviction that John Kerry is simply not fit to be America's commander in chief. Nobody has recruited me to come forward. My decision is the inevitable result of my own personal beliefs and life experience.
Today, America is engaged in a new war, against the militant Islamist terrorists who attacked us on our own soil. Reasonable people may differ about how best to proceed, but I'm sure of one thing--John Kerry is the wrong man to put in charge.
Mr. O'Neill served in Coastal Division 11 in 1969-70, winning two Bronze Stars and additional decorations for his service in Vietnam.