Of Medals and Men: Understanding the Veterans' Ire

“We will not quickly join those who march on Veteran’s Day waving small flags, calling to memory those thousands who died for the ‘greater glory of the United States.’ We will not accept the rhetoric. We will not readily join the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars–in fact, we will find it hard to join anything at all and when we do, we will demand relevancy such as other organizations have recently been unable to provide. We will not take solace from the creation of monuments or the naming of parks after a select few of the thousands of dead Americans and Vietnamese. We will not uphold the traditions which decorously memorialize that which was base and grim…We are asking America to turn from false glory, hollow victory, fabricated foreign threats, fear which threatens us as a nation, shallow pride which feeds of fear.”

-John F. Kerry, The New Soldier, 1971

Not that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth need any help telling their story but I’m compelled to wade into the John Kerry/Vietnam debate. These veterans who served side-by-side with John Kerry certainly have a much clearer view of the man and, by virtue of their service, have ample right to judge his performance. I’m angered and disturbed by the fallout from the left. Please indulge a veteran from another generation to weigh in. Much is being said, on both sides of the argument, about the decorations of war — the ribbons and medals — and much more importantly, about service to one’s country. The Swifties have come out firing with a book and a very revealing commercial. And the Democrat response is the usual #1 play out of their playbook: attack the source — facts be damned. As President Bill Clinton’s Air Force Aide and author of the New York Times best seller Dereliction of Duty, a look at the many ways the Clinton administration failed us in regards to national security, I too have been in the maelstrom. I salute the Swifties and, most particularly, John O’Neill and Jerry Corsi, and I praise them for their service. Whatever fire the Swifties took on the Mekong Delta thirty-five years ago could not prepare them for the incoming they will receive now that they have engaged. And I proudly stand by their sides. The battle for the veteran’s vote is pitched and underway. The John Kerry forces have made it the strategic element of the war plan, striking at Republicans where they live — foreign policy and strong national defense. They stake their claim on Kerry’s four months of service in Vietnam and his inordinately full trunk of medals. Riding into Boston Harbor on a water taxi — the closest thing Dems could find to simulate a Vietnam era Swift Boat — surrounded by the only Vietnam vets they could convince to join Kerry’s “band of brothers,” the candidate himself brazenly “reported for duty” (though his weak salute has apparently atrophied over the years). It was Military 101 right in your face. The anti-Kerry forces are led into battle by Kerry’s fellow Swift Boat officers, his naval peers, Vietnam vet John O’Neill, and scholar Jerome Corsi, riding the blockbuster book Unfit for Command to the number one spot on the and bestseller lists. O’Neill and Corsi, supported by hundreds of other Swiftees and Vietnam vets, are directly and aggressively challenging Kerry’s qualifications for commander of the greatest military on earth and are pointing out some of the suspect nature of events during Kerry’s four months of combat service. Outside of veterans, why should red-blue America care? Because Kerry has made it the issue. More importantly, because it goes directly to the heart and soul of the man who would be our next commander-in-chief. Veterans don’t use the service as a vault for personal political ambition. They don’t use the service to promote self over the greater good. They don’t turn their backs on their brothers in time of war. And Americans need to understand the depth of the veterans’ ire. There is a brotherhood of arms…and Kerry isn’t a member Medals don’t make the man, morals do. In only four months in Vietnam, Kerry came home with a highly dubious Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. Most vets serving in much more intense combat arenas, engaging the enemy day by day, such as the Navy SEALs and Army Rangers didn’t come home with that kind of record. “The idea that John Kerry would have put in for three Purple Hearts during only four months in country is just ridiculous,” concludes Mel Howell, a retired Navy officer who flew helicopters in Vietnam. “Most of us came away with all kinds of scratches like the ones Kerry got but never accepted Purple Hearts for them.” For the uninitiated, let me describe the way the military award process is supposed to work. Individuals do not apply for their own awards. Their commander, supervisor or fellow officer would do that based on observing exemplary service or, in the case of Purple Hearts, being wounded while engaged with the enemy. In fact, in the instance of Kerry’s first Purple Heart request, his immediate commander, Grant Hibbard, denied the young sailor. No enemy fire, no medal. Kerry then committed the cardinal military sin. He apparently jumped the chain of command and pursued the medal request anyway. Instead of eventually receiving the award, he should have received a severe tongue lashing and been sent packing. The first and third of Kerry’s Purple Hearts were from self-inflicted friendly fire wounds. As I detail in my latest book, Reckless Disregard: How Liberal Democrats Undercut Our Military, Endanger Our Soldiers and Jeopardize Our Security, the fact that Kerry aggressively pursued his own medals speaks to sheer ambition, “ticket punching” as we refer to it in the service. Why three Purple Hearts? Kerry told fellow Vietnam officer Lieutenant Junior Grade Jim Galvin, “There’s a rule that gets you out of here and I’m getting out. You ought to do the same.” Of the 138 sailors in Kerry’s unit, only two others received more than two Purple Hearts. The only other officer to receive three chose to remain in combat with his men. Steve Hayes, one of Kerry’s fellow Swift Boat commanders remembers, “There was always something a bit odd about his time with us…I found him a bit aloof and imperious. After a twenty-four hour patrol, I remember Kerry would usually be in the squadron office writing. I never knew exactly what he was working on. Notes? Letters? His war diary? But he was always writing.” Two-hundred and fifty-four Swift Boat Veterans have signed a letter alleging that Kerry is unfit to be our next commander-in-chief. Compare that to the dozen or so vets he had on the stage behind him in Boston. What’s perhaps more telling is that Kerry’s Vietnam chain of command has signed that petition. As a former military officer, I can think of nothing more damning. The DNC has attacked the Swifties in typical fashion. Terry McAuliffe, of course, leapt to Kerry’s defense. They attacked the fact that the Swift Boat vets are funded, in part, by members of the Republican Party. (Guilt by association, I guess is the tactic). They attacked the fact that the vets were not actually part of Kerry’s crew. (That’s true (though they did serve with Kerry), but who better to judge a man than his peers, those officers who served alongside him in combat, who lived with him and ate with him every day?) The attacked the fact that the doctor who treated Kerry’s first “wound” with a band aid did not actually sign the treatment form. (A corpsmen signed it, under the direction of naval doctor Louis Letson who was on duty and saw Kerry that day.) The DNC is sorely out of touch with veterans, and their recent tactics illustrate just that. They will trash O’Neill and Corsi, calling them liars and political operatives. What the DNC does not understand is that there is a real band of brothers, and it’s not the guys hanging out with Kerry. It’s the 90 percent of veterans who served with Kerry and know him to be a careerist and an opportunist and, as the Swifties allege and document, a liar. It’s the millions of Vietnam veterans who served their country with dignity and honor and came home to America to be spit on because of people like John Kerry who characterized them as war criminals, murderers and rapists. And it’s the millions of veterans who have served since who value service before self, who take pride in defending our country and who could never conceive of fabricating medal citations, re-enacting combat scenes for future political expediency, or turning one’s back on one’s brother during war. John O’Neill and Jerry Corsi are cut from the same cloth. They understand honor and are appalled that America could elect John Kerry to be our next president. I join them in their fight. Please pick up a copy of Unfit for Command. The Democrats and Kerry have staked their claim on the Vietnam issue, and they will lose. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines know.