Swift Boat Veterans' Claims All Wet

The New York Times leads today with a story that blows away any lingering credibility of the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the Republican donor-funded Viet Nam veterans group who have launched attacks on John Kerry's integrity and honesty about events that happened during the Viet Nam war. Between the New York Times piece and the Washington Post piece (which uses official military records to demonstrate that Larry Thurlow lied when he said there was no gunfire the day that Kerry saved Jim Rassmann's life and won a Silver Star) it seems clear that this group has major credibility problems. When asked for a copy of the citation for the Bronze Star he received the same day as Kerry won his Silver Star, Thurlow came up with some ridiculous story that his ex-wife has it and he can't stand to talk to her. But that didn't stop the journalists from the newspaper that exposed Watergate; they simply filed a Freedom of Information Act request and got the records themselves.

The military records show that Thurlow's boat was full of bullet holes. In fact, the official report describes "enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire" directed at "all units" of the five-boat flotilla. Thurlow's citation praises him for providing assistance to a damaged Swift boat "despite enemy bullets flying about him." Sounds to me like the five swift boats were in a very difficult and dangerous combat situation. And there was plenty of gunfire when Kerry fished Rassmann out of the water.

What's really odd about this story is the fact that these same men who are attacking John Kerry's heroism on the Bay Hap River that day have made statements as recent as last year praising his heroism. Roy F. Hoffmann, a retired rear admiral and a leader of the group, told Douglas Brinkley that although he had not agreed with Mr. Kerry's antiwar positions, he said, "I am not going to say anything negative about him." He added, "He's a good man." In a feature piece about Kerry that ran in The Boston Globe in June 2003, Hoffmann said of Kerry's actions that won him a Silver Star: "It took guts, and I admire that." Group members George Elliott and Adrian Lonsdale both praised Kerry's courage in Viet Nam and campaigned for him in 1996. The New York Times futher reports that Mr. Londsdale told reporters and camera crews at the Charlestown Navy Yard that "Senator Kerry was no exception." "He was among the finest of those Swift boat drivers."

Kerry's military records were released earlier this year. Those records show Mr. Elliot in 1969 ranking Kerry as "not exceeded" in 11 categories, including moral courage, judgment and decisiveness, and "one of the top few" -- the second-highest distinction -- in the remaining five. In written comments, he called Mr. Kerry "unsurpassed," "beyond reproach" and "the acknowledged leader in his peer group."

Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that the same group is airing a new ad which completely distorts Senator Kerry's testimony to Congress after he came home from the war. Kerry was reporting to Congress about the Winter Soldier investigation and described what other vets had told him about atrocities they had seen committed. The new ad deletes Kerry's preface to his remarks, which explain their source, and merely runs Kerry's descriptions of atrocities committed by U.S. troops in Viet Nam.

When asked by Sean Hannity on Fox News about Kerry's accusations of U.S. atrocities in Viet Nam, General Tommy Franks refused to contradict Kerry. He affirmed that atrocities were committed, telling a surprised Sean Hannity: "[the] things Kerry said are undeniable," explaining that "things didn't go right" in Viet Nam.

A cold, clear reading of the evidence in this case tells me that the Swift Boat Veterans' story is as full of holes as Larry Thurlow's boat was on the day that Thurlow got a Bronze Star and Kerry earned a Silver Star. I think the Swift Boat Veterans are starting to be a liability rather than an asset to the Bush campaign. Time to bail out and find a new tactic: like discussing the current war, instead of one that was over forty years ago.

Posted on August 20, 2004

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