Some Vietnam vets come out against Kerry

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Some Vietnam vets come out against Kerry

By LANCE GAY
Scripps Howard News Service
04-AUG-04

WASHINGTON -- Some of John Kerry's Vietnam War compatriots are questioning the circumstances of how Kerry was awarded one of the three Purple Hearts he received in 1968.

The Kerry campaign responded it has been 35 years since the medals were awarded and no one raised the issue before Kerry got involved in the race for the White House.

Grant Hibbard, a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander and Kerry's direct supervisor for three months in 1968 and 1969 when Kerry commanded a five-man, 50-foot swift boat, said he never approved of the Purple Heart award for the wound Kerry received Dec. 6, 1968.

"He informed me of a wound," Hibbard said. But Hibbard said the wound he saw on Kerry's arm was so minor, "I basically said forget it, or words like that."

Hibbard said that although as Kerry's superior he was the person who would initiate such an award, he only learned Kerry received the award sometime after he left Vietnam. The award for the December action was stamped approved Feb. 28, 1968, under the signature of Donald Still, chief staff officer for the U.S. Naval Support Systems in Saigon, who has since died.

Hibbard, who now lives in Gulf Breeze, Fla., is a member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The group this week launched advertising campaigns in battleground states, questioning the circumstances under which Kerry, then a Navy lieutenant, earned three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star during the five months he served in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969.

The organization also is publishing a book, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry" by John O'Neill, who followed Kerry as commander of the Vietnam swift boat. O'Neill questions details of another Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Kerry was awarded.

Kerry's campaign contends Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is an organization created for this year's election to destroy Kerry's record as a war hero.

"It's really a sign of desperation about the support veterans are giving Kerry that a group of Republicans are doing this," said Michael Meehan, spokesman for the Kerry campaign. "Putting a lie on TV doesn't make it true.

Meehan said Hibbard had an opportunity 35 years ago to question Kerry's leadership abilities, and yet drafted a glowing fitness report. "To say this 35 years later makes some difference when it comes to the truth," Meehan said.

In a fitness report dated Jan. 8, 1969, Hibbard said Kerry "has had a most demanding job" and said he found him as someone who would be "most valuable" to the Navy officer corps. The Kerry campaign has posted all of the documentation for his medals and the fitness reports on its Web site, www.johnkerry.com.

Hibbard said he hasn't raised the issue before because Kerry's political career was in Massachusetts and Hibbard lived in Florida. "It didn't affect us," he said.

But since Kerry began his run for the White House, "deep in my heart I felt a call to come out now and refute these falsehoods. As commander in chief, he would be over our sons and daughters, and that scares the hell out of me."

Retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffman, of Richmond, Va., said he began organizing the anti-Kerry group in March, when it became clear Kerry would be the Democratic presidential nominee. He said the organization now has 254 officers and enlisted men from Vietnam opposing Kerry's presidential bid.

Hoffman was a captain in Vietnam and Kerry was one of the officers under his command during the Operation Sea Lords campaign. Hoffman said he was embittered that Kerry returned to the United States as leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War to charge that American officers were involved in atrocities in Vietnam.

"I knew him well enough to know him," Hoffman said. "He's the most vain individual I've ever met _ aloof and arrogant."

Kerry's campaign points out that 11 of the 12 enlisted men who served on the swift boats under Kerry's command are supporting his presidential campaign. Several appeared with Kerry during last week's Democratic National Convention.

The 12th, Steve Gardner of Clovis, S.C., who served as gunners mate under Kerry, said he doesn't think Kerry is fit to be president. "I watched John Kerry's movements. He was very erratic, very indecisive," Gardner said. "I'm totally against him."

Jack Chenoweth of Montgomery, Texas, who was a lieutenant in charge of one of the swift boats that fought with Kerry in the Mekong Delta, charged that Kerry set out in Vietnam to create a myth that he was a war hero.

"There was an agenda there from the beginning," he said.


(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)SHNS.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com)
 

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