Armada of honor

We now have the spectacle of the Kerry campaign trying to silence the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth for having the temerity, the unmitigated gall, to question the unquestionable: their candidate's medals.

This, coming from the party that invented the politics of personal destruction, qualifies the Kerryites for their own decoration — the Intimidation Medal with 'H' device for hypocrisy 'for conspicuous bullying above and beyond the call of partisanship.'

U.S. Naval Academy graduate John E. O'Neill, holder of two Bronze Stars with 'V' device for Valor, among other medals, served over a year in Viet Nam as a Swift Boat commander.  He and Jerome Corsi have authored Unfit For Command, which holds the ethical magnifying glass up to John Kerry's actions during and after Viet Nam.  Now O'Neill, his co—author, and 250 other Swift Boat veterans are being castigated for exercising their senses of honor and duty, their right to free speech.

Of course it is Kerry himself who invited this scrutiny by making his service and his medals the emblematic cynosure of his campaign.  More than anything else, they define him and the Viet Nam persona he created: the one he had filmed using his crews as extras, his boats as props, the jungle as scenery.

The Swift Boat veterans who have decided to oppose him have done so reluctantly to 'counter the false war crimes charges that Kerry repeatedly made against Viet Nam veterans who served in our units and elsewhere, and to accurately portray Kerry's brief tour as a junior grade Lieutenant.'

These men are Republicans and Democrats, independents and those who, like their shipmates, feel honor— and duty—bound to campaign against a fellow Swiftee they know to be a faux hero, a naval miles glorious who amassed five bogus medals in four months.

As I have written previously, LT(j.g.) Kerry's actions were so objectionable that LT Tom Wright and other fellow Swift Boat officers told Kerry they didn't want him in their unit:  'I had a lot of trouble getting him to follow orders,' recalled Wright.  'Those of us with direct experience working with him found him difficult to work with; oriented towards his personal, rather than unit goals and objectives.'  Knowing that a third Purple Heart, however earned, meant you could leave Viet Nam, LT Wright and fellow officers encouraged Kerry to go, and he did.

Among the 250—strong group are a dozen retired captains, a number of Annapolis graduates, other Swift Boat officers and the tough, loyal crewmen; a highly decorated group of true heroes who repeatedly sailed into harm's way on the rivers and canals of Kien Giang and An Xuyen provinces, doing their duty in the valorous tradition of the U.S. Navy.

Captain Roy Hoffmann led them in Viet Nam.  Retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffmann leads them now, this Armada of Honor, challenging Kerry and his 'Band of Brothers.'  Like King Henry V exhorting his men on the eve of Agincourt, the Swiftees value honor above all else and have now entered the political fray to fight for it.

For these men, it is not just about the medals.  It is about an officer who falsified after—action reports; who lied about actions and incidents in his war journal; who never reported the groundings of his boat; who would take off in his boat on a whim and not report his whereabouts; who lied about war crimes atrocities to the Fulbright Committee; whose activities with Viet Nam Veterans Against The War included 1971 meetings in Paris with Viet Cong Peace Talks delegate, Madame Nguyen Thi Binh.

As the authors of Unfit for Command state at the end of their book,

The question is one of fitness and character.  The loyalty that is indispensable to successful command cannot simply be restored because a person now wants to be leader.  John Kerry might well continue as Senator, but as commander—in—chief he has, unfortunately, breached the trust to hold his band of brothers together.  In the end, our objection to John Kerry is not his past; it is the future as predicted by his past.

And so, the armada of honor has set sail, borne forth by the winds of truth.

John B. Dwyer is a military historian