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Kerry 'Unfit to be Commander-in-Chief,' Say Former Military Colleagues

By Marc Morano
CNSNews.com Senior Staff Writer
May 03, 2004

(2nd Add: Includes additional details about Sen. John Kerry's ad campaign.)

(CNSNews.com) - Hundreds of former commanders and military colleagues of presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry are set to declare in a signed letter that he is "unfit to be commander-in-chief." They will do so at a press conference in Washington on Tuesday.

"What is going to happen on Tuesday is an event that is really historical in dimension," John O'Neill, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy as a PCF (Patrol Craft Fast) boat commander, told CNSNews.com. The event, which is expected to draw about 25 of the letter-signers, is being organized by a newly formed group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

"We have 19 of 23 officers who served with [Kerry]. We have every commanding officer he ever had in Vietnam. They all signed a letter that says he is unfit to be commander-in-chief," O'Neill said.

O'Neill, currently a Houston, Texas, based attorney, is no stranger to Kerry. O'Neill served in the same naval unit as Kerry and commanded Kerry's swift boat after Kerry returned to the United States. Kerry's command of the PCF boat lasted four months and ended shortly after he received his third Purple Heart. According to naval regulations at the time, any sailor who received three Purple Hearts could request a transfer out of the combat zone.

Kerry and O'Neill engaged in a nationally televised debate in 1971 on The Dick Cavett Show over Kerry's allegations that many Vietnam soldiers had routinely engaged in atrocities such as raping and cutting off ears and heads of Vietnamese soldiers and citizens. Kerry was the then spokesman for the anti-war group Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

"We are going to be presenting a letter that deals with Kerry's unfitness to be commander and chief that has been signed by hundreds of swift boat sailors, including most of those who served with Kerry," O'Neill explained.

"The ranks of the people signing [the letter] range from admiral down to seaman, and they run across the entire spectrum of politics, specialties, and political feelings about the Vietnam War," he added.

Among those scheduled to attend the event at the National Press Club and declare Kerry unfit for the role of commander-in-chief are retired Naval Rear Admiral Roy Hoffmann, who was the commander of the Navy Coastal Surveillance Force, which included the swift boats on which Kerry served.

Also scheduled to be present at the event is Kerry's former commanding officer, Lt. Commander Grant Hibbard. Hibbard recently questioned whether Kerry deserved the first of his three Purple Hearts that he received in Vietnam. Hibbard doubted both the severity of the wound and whether it resulted from enemy fire.

"I've had thorns from a rose that were worse" than Kerry's wound for which he received a Purple Heart, Hibbard told the Boston Globe in April.

Organizers are confident that Tuesday's event and the letter with hundreds of signatures will educate people about Kerry.

"It is one of the largest outpourings of concern about him being commander-in-chief that anybody could have in a presidential campaign and it is by the people who know him best," O'Neill said.

'Unfit Commander-in-Chief'

Swift Boat Veterans For Truth maintains that Kerry's fellow Vietnam veterans are almost uniform in their disdain for his military service and anti-war protests.

"Not only a majority of the people who served with him feel that way, but a vast and overwhelming majority," O'Neill said. He added that more than "ninety percent of the people contacted by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth responded to the request to sign their name, with only 12 declining to sign.

"Comrades who actually served with him, almost all of them, are opposed to him, and believe he would be an unfit commander in chief and intend to bring the truth of his actual record to the attention of the American people," O'Neill said.

O'Neill hopes the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth can reveal to the American people what he sees as Kerry's flawed character.

"In the military, loyalty between commanders and the troops serving them is a two-way street. We have here a guy (Kerry) that with all of us in the field [in Vietnam] -- actually fighting the North Vietnamese -- came home and then falsely accused all of us of war crimes at a time when the people in uniform couldn't even respond," O'Neill said.

"And he did that knowing that was a lie," he added.

'Real John Kerry'

B. G. Burkett, author of the book Stolen Valor and a military researcher, believes that Tuesday's event will not be dismissed easily by Kerry's campaign as a "partisan" attack.

"There are probably just as many Democrats amongst sailors who sailed swift boats as there are Republicans. What Kerry fails to realize is this has nothing to do with politics -- this has to with Vietnam Veterans who served, who have a beef with John Kerry's service, both during and after the war," Burkett told CNSNews.com.

"The American people do not know John Kerry and hopefully the swift boat crews and other Vietnam veterans will make sure that the American public knows the real John Kerry," he added.

Jim Loftus of Kerry's press office referred questions about Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's event on Tuesday to spokesman David Wade. Wade did not return CNSNews.com's requests for comment.

Kerry has launched an ad campaign touting his service in Vietnam in an effort to counter the criticism ahead of Tuesday's press conference.

The $25 million ads show photographs of a young Kerry as a Navy lieutenant on the Swift boat he commanded in Vietnam's Mekong Delta as well as photos of him in fatigues holding a rifle.

Beginning Tuesday, the ads will run in 17 battleground states, as well as Colorado and Louisiana, which President Bush won in 2000.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), speaking on Fox News Monday, defended Kerry and blasted the president for using "$60 million worth of negative advertising" to try to tear down Kerry. Levin called Kerry's latest ad, "a very strong, a very positive ad."

"This is a positive statement about strength of service of Senator Kerry, and I think the public is going to welcome it," said Levin.

The Michigan Democrat called Kerry "very likeable," adding that "he'll come through as who he is, which is a very thoughtful, very sincere and a…person with a great deal of integrity and a great deal of sincerity."