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Swiftees Strike Back at Kerry

More on the biggest political fistfight of the year

An intense political firefight broke out this week when a group of U.S. Navy Swift Boat veterans–calling themselves Swift Boat Veterans for Truth–released a television advertisement accusing John Kerry of lying about his record in Vietnam. At the same time, Regnery Publishing, a sister company of HUMAN EVENTS, released excerpts from Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, a book out next week that is deeply critical of Kerry’s Vietnam experiences. Both the ad and and a copy of an embargoed chapter were first exclusively available on Human Events Online (see the ad here; get a free chapter here).

The television ad brought a swift response from Kerry’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. On August 5, two lawyers representing the campaign and the Democratic National Committee, sent a letter to television station managers, which was first revealed here at Human Events Online, claiming some statements in the ad were “demonstrably and unequivocally false, and libelous” and darkly warning station managers that if they ran the ad their stations would be “responsible for the false and libelous charges made by this sponsor.”

On the Record

Meanwhile, in the excerpt from Unfit for Command, authors John O’Neill and Jerome R. Corsi say Kerry sought a Purple Heart after he fired a grenade from too-close range into a shoreline where it exploded, sending a small piece of shrapnel back to slightly wound his arm.

Kerry’s boat did not come under enemy fire the night Kerry received this minor wound, the authors say. Kerry did not require hospitalization or even a single stitch for it. And Kerry’s commanding officer refused Kerry’s request that the officer recommend Kerry for a Purple Heart as a result of the incident.

That officer told O’Neill and Corsi his story on the record.

O’Neill, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, took command of the very same Swift Boat Kerry had commanded in Vietnam, after Kerry went home in March 1969 after serving only four months of the standard one-year tour in the country. He took advantage of what O’Neill and Corsi call in the book “an obscure regulation that permitted release of personnel with three Purple Hearts.” Corsi holds a Ph.D from Harvard.

In Tour of Duty by historian Douglas Brinkley, Kerry described the night he received the shrapnel wound in terms reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.

He was paddling down a dark bay, on a mission to stop the Vietcong from moving contraband from one shore to the other. Spying a group of sampans sneaking onto a beach, he fired a flare.

“The entire sky seemed to explode into daylight,” Brinkley writes in Tour of Duty. “The men from the sampans bolted erect, stiff with shock for only an instant before they sprang for cover like a herd of panicked gazelles Kerry had once seen on TV’s ‘Wild Kingdom.'”

“We opened fire,” Kerry told Brinkley. “The light from the flares started to fade, the air was full of explosions. My M-16 jammed, and as I bent down in the boat to grab another gun, a stinging piece of heat socked into my arm and just seemed to burn like hell. By this time one of the sailors had started the engine and we ran by the beach, strafing it. Then it was quiet.”

But O’Neill and Corsi tell a different story. Kerry went out that night in a Boston Whaler (called a “skimmer” by the Navy) with a more senior officer.

Doctor’s Diagnosis

“The truth is that at the time of this incident Kerry was an officer in command (OinC) under training, aboard the skimmer using the call sign ‘Robin’ on the operation, with now-Rear Admiral William Schachte using the call sign ‘Batman,’ who was also on the skimmer,” the authors write. “After Kerry’s M-16 jammed, Kerry picked up an M-79 grenade launcher and fired a grenade too close, causing a tiny piece of shrapnel (one to two centimeters) to barely stick in his arm. Schachte berated Kerry for almost putting someone’s eye out. There was no hostile fire of any kind, nor did Kerry on the way back mention to PCF [Swift Boat] OinC Mike Voss, who commanded the PCF that had towed the skimmer, that he was wounded.”

The authors quote at length Dr. Louis Letson, who they report treated Kerry after the incident. “It did not require any sutures to close the wound,” Letson says. “The wound was covered with a band-aid. No other injuries were reported and I do not recall that there was any injury to the boat.”

Letson appears in the TV ad, saying: “I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart because I treated him for that injury.” In their letter, the Kerry and DNC lawyers accuse Letson of “pretending to be the doctor who treated Senator Kerry for one of his injuries” and say he “was not the doctor who actually signed Senator Kerry’s sick call sheet.”

In Unfit for Command, however O’Neill and Corsi quote Letson as saying: “I remember that Jess Carreon was present at the time and he, in fact, made the entry into Lt. Kerry’s medical record.”

A footnote to this quotation states: “Kerry’s campaign has tried to deny Dr. Letson’s treatment of Kerry by pointing to the different signature on Kerry’s medical report. The report was signed by the corpsman assigned to Dr. Letson, Jess Carreon, now deceased, according to U.S. Navy records.”

Retired Navy Commander Grant Hibbard, who headed the Naval division to which Kerry was assigned, also spoke to the authors on-the-record.

“The next morning at the briefing, I was informed that no enemy fire had been received on that mission,” said Hibbard. “Our units had fired on some VC units running on the beach. We were all in my office, some of the crewmembers, I remember Schachte being there. This was 36 years ago; it really didn’t seem all that important at the time. Here was this lieutenant, junior grade, who was saying, ‘I got wounded,’ and everybody else, the crew that were present were saying, ‘We didn’t get any fire. We don’t know how he got the scratch.’ Kerry showed me the scratch on his arm. I hadn’t been informed that he had any medical treatment. The scratch didn’t look like much to me. I’ve seen worse injuries from a rose thorn.”

The authors asked Hibbard if Kerry wanted Hibbard to recommend him for a Purple Heart. “Yes, that was his whole point,” said Hibbard. “He had this little piece of shrapnel in his hand. It was tiny. I was told later that Kerry had fired an M-79 grenade and that he had misjudged it. He fired it too close to the shore, and it exploded on a rock or something. . . . I told Kerry to ‘forget it.’ There was no hostile fire, the injury was self-inflicted for all I knew, besides it was nothing really more than a scratch. Kerry wasn’t getting any Purple Heart recommendation from me.”

When asked how Kerry did get a Purple Heart for the incident, Hibbard told the authors: “I don’t know. It beats me. I know I didn’t recommend him for a Purple Heart.”

The “Drudge Report” website, which featured excerpts from the book this week, said that the Kerry campaign believes the book is “the dirtiest of dirty tricks ever played on a candidate for President.”

Author O’Neill debated Kerry 33 years ago–rebutting Kerry’s 1971 Senate testimony that U.S. forces routinely committed war crimes in Vietnam–on an episode of the Dick Cavett Show that was replayed on CSPAN earlier this year. He is a member of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the non-profit “527” group that produced the television ad attacking Kerry’s record that has so excited the ire of the Kerry campaign and the DNC. The group is made up solely of military personnel who served on Swift Boats in Vietnam (“swiftees” as they call themselves) or in affiliated commands. In May, 190 members of this group signed a letter to Kerry asking him to sign a Navy Standard Form 180, which would authorize the independent public release of all Kerry’s war records. That would allow them to be reviewed in full by the public and press, and allow people to better judge who is telling the truth in this controversy. Thus far, Kerry has not signed the form.

With a Democratic convention that focused heavily on Kerry’s war record, and with the release of the swiftees’ TV ad and the O’Neill-Corsi book, Kerry’s role in Vietnam and in the anti-war movement is certain to be a burning hot issue as the presidential campaign heads toward the fall.

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