By Don Bendell
Published 4/21/2004 12:05:22 AM
In the primary season and now with an eye on the White House, John F. Kerry has said that his fellow Vietnam vets constitute a fraternity of sorts, a "Band of Brothers." He has used this relationship quite effectively to brush away an awful lot of criticism: of his patriotism, his dovishness, and his strange affection for communist thugs.
One problem, however, is that his fellow vets may not be as willing as the general public to let bygones go by. Based upon tens of thousands of e-mails and entries on my website, which poured in in response to three recent editorials I wrote about the man, it seems that many Vietnam veterans despise John Kerry.
To wit, I appeared briefly on Fox News Live on March 30, discussing Kerry's candidacy, and several hundred e-mails greeted me when I returned home a few hours later. Only two disagreed with my position. Almost all of the calls were from Vietnam vets.
Why the outrage? Is he a phony war hero, undeserving of the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts? No, but then the medals do not make the man, and he did not seem to think much of them at the time.
In the view of many Vietnam vets, Kerry threw away his right to be regarded as a war hero when he tossed a handful of medals over the fence of the Capitol in 1971 in protest of the war. That action demonstrated an utter contempt for those medals, and all that they represented, including the boys still in the jungles of Vietnam. That they later turned out to be other vets' medals, which he only pretended were his own, only accentuated the gesture.
LIKE OTHER VETERANS OF the Vietnam War, I was there to experience the silence, spitting, and shaming for our involvement in that conflict. I was a volunteer, but there were many around my age: scared wide-eyed young draftees who went because their country called, their draft numbers came up, or maybe because their dads had served in World War II or Korea.
Now we are all older, wiser, a little thicker around the middle, and thinner around the hairline, and many of us, sometimes have that far-away look in our eyes. Many feel John Kerry helped put that look there and helped to bring about the mob mentality that animated many liberals in our country in the early '70s.
Why do we feel this way? The right or wrong of our country's involvement in the Vietnam War is inconsequential right now. Of much greater import is Kerry's eloquent Winter Soldier testimony before Congress in 1971, which launched his political career. Kerry based his testimony on the statements of about 150 supposedly highly-decorated veterans at the Winter Soldier Rally in Detroit, who made claims of committing horrible atrocities in Vietnam. He told Congress that the U.S. "murdered over 200,000 Vietnamese per year," a statement which the present Kerry campaign has gone to great lengths to distance itself from.
The Detroit claims were duly investigated and found wanting. It turned out that most of the claimants were phonies who had never been in the military. Some used stolen names of actual veterans; others refused to comply with investigators. So Kerry tarred his fellow vets as war criminals based on trumped up, unsubstantiated charges, in order to thrust his name into the spotlight.
Vietnam veterans who so strongly opposed Kerry's presidential bid this year see the senator now, for political expedience, reversing course. He proudly thumps his chest about being a decorated veteran, his past smearing of veterans notwithstanding. To see how transparently opportunistic this is, it's worth asking what he has done for his Band of Brothers in his 19 years in the Senate.
Not a hell of a lot, it turns out. I looked up his record on veterans issues since becoming a Senator on the Library of Congress website, and the results were predictable. In this presidential election year, Kerry proposed one veterans-related bill and signed on to six others. However, in the previous 18 years, he sponsored a total of only four veteran-related bills, and one amendment (all of which went nowhere) and he refused to co-sponsor any others.
I WATCHED KERRY WITH amazement a few months ago when he replied to reporters' questions about Bush's Air National Guard service. Kerry said he would not comment on anyone's decision back then to "join the Guard, go to Canada, be a conscientious objector, or go AWOL."
Nor was I the only veteran amazed at this performance. One hundred and forty Medal of Honor recipients were in the National Guard. Six thousand seventy-seven members of the National Guard or Reserves died in Vietnam, and John Kerry simply disrespected them all for political expedience. By this, he added to the tendency of born again liberal hawks to refer to the president as a draft dodger and deserter, in contravention of all available evidence.
When we examine the charcoaled remains left by the all the fires that Kerry has started or fanned -- tossing medals over the White House wall, accusing his fellow vets of genocide, comparing Guardsmen to deserters -- it is very easy to see why we have a very angry Band of so-called Brothers determined that this man not be our next commander-in-chief.