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April 21, 2004
John O'Neill: Kerry No War Hero to Veterans

John O'Neill, who took over John Kerry's command of the swift boat he commanded in Vietnam after Kerry's return home, spoke out on television for the first time in over 30 years on CNN yesterday:

"I saw some war heroes ... John Kerry is not a war hero," said John O'Neill, a Houston lawyer who joined the Navy's Coastal Division 11 two months after the future senator left Vietnam. "He couldn't tie the shoes of some of the people in Coastal Division 11." ...

In an interview Tuesday on CNN's "Wolf Blitzer Reports," O'Neill said allegations about atrocities made by Kerry after his return render him "unfit" to be president.

"His allegations that people committed war crimes in that unit, and throughout Vietnam, were lies. He knew they were lies when he said them, and they were very damaging lies," said O'Neill, adding that other former sailors from the same unit also plan to come forward to take on Kerry, whose Vietnam service has figured prominently in his campaign for the White House.

O'Neill squared off against Kerry in 1971 on the Dick Cavett Show to debate Kerry's contention of widespread atrocities committed by US military personnel during the war, asking Kerry -- a Naval officer -- why he never reported any atrocities, as is required. On Sunday's Meet the Press appearance, Kerry admitted to Russert only that he had chosen his words poorly, specifically the use of the word "atrocities", but that he had told the truth about Vietnam and American soldiers and sailors. While Kerry plays word games, however, O'Neill makes it clear that the meaning of Kerry's infamous Vietnam Veterans Against the War campaign against the US military had little to do with the vocabulary used:

Asked whether Kerry's expressions of regret were sufficient, O'Neill pointed to the fact that Kerry on Sunday characterized his 1971 charges as "a little bit excessive."

"It's really not a matter of forgiveness. It's a matter of fitness to be the commander-in-chief of all U.S. forces," he told Blitzer. "The damaging lies that he told about war criminals have haunted people's entire lives. So it's just a little bit late, in the course of a presidential campaign, to say it's a bit excessive."

Tim Russert during the MTP interview replayed a clip from Kerry's 1971 MTP interview, and reviewed the list of specific charges that Kerry leveled during his VVAW days. Kerry refused to disavow any of his charges, and insisted instead that what he said back then was the truth, despite the later revelations of the fraudulence of the so-called "Winter Soldier" reports:

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, when you testified before the Senate, you talked about some of the hearings you had observed at the winter soldiers meeting and you said that people had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and on and on. A lot of those stories have been discredited, and in hindsight was your testimony...

SEN. KERRY: Actually, a lot of them have been documented.

MR. RUSSERT: So you stand by that?

SEN. KERRY: A lot of those stories have been documented. Have some been discredited? Sure, they have, Tim. The problem is that's not where the focus should have been.

Kerry may face a brewing storm over his inability to disavow his past testimony. O'Neill, who went gladly into obscurity after his 1971 tangle with Kerry, made it clear that he will be sticking around during the campaign this time, and he'll be bringing his own "band of brothers" to back him up -- the same people with whom Kerry served and then stabbed in the back once home. O'Neill lays a large part of the returning veterans' hostile reception on Kerry and his peers who made them appear to be baby-killing maniacs:

O'Neill said Tuesday that he and the others who served with Kerry -- who "would much rather have nothing to do with this" -- feel they have "no choice" but to come forward, which he said would dispel the notion that Vietnam veterans as a group are supportive of Kerry's candidacy.

"We were there, we know the truth, and we know that this guy's unfit to be commander-in-chief," said O'Neill, who took over command of Kerry's boat after he left. "I think you'll find that people are very, very angry at John Kerry. They remember his career in Vietnam as a short, controversial one, and they believe that only Hollywood could turn this guy into a war hero."

Kerry, who attempts to both run on and away from his war and anti-war record, may find his own "band of brothers" dwarfed by the Vietnam veterans who still deeply resent his blanket and inaccurate accusations that made their lives so difficult in the 1970s and perhaps ever since. Be prepared to see the Kerry campaign begin some character attacks on O'Neill and anyone else who joins in. It wouldn't be the first time that Kerry built his political career by the character assassination of this generation of American servicemen.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 21, 2004 5:43 AM

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