Navy Commander, Journalist, Backs Kerry on Vietnam
By Carol Giacomo
PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - An American journalist who commanded a boat alongside John Kerry (news - web sites) in Vietnam broke a 35-year silence on Saturday and defended the Democratic presidential candidate against Republican critics of his military service.
Weighing in on what has become the most bitterly divisive issue of the 2004 campaign for the White House, William Rood of the Chicago Tribune said the tales told by Kerry's detractors are untrue.
"There were three swift boats on the river that day in Vietnam more than 35 years ago -- three officers and 15 crew members. Only two of those officers remain to talk about what happened on February 28, 1969," he wrote in a story that appeared on the newspaper's Web site on Saturday.
"One is John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate who won a Silver Star for what happened on that date. I am the other."
Before now, wanting to put memories of war and killing behind him, Rood had refused all requests for interviews on the subject, including from his own newspaper. "But Kerry's critics, armed with stories I know to be untrue, have charged that the accounts of what happened were overblown." he wrote.
"The critics have taken pains to say they're not trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did, but their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us.
"It's gotten harder and harder for those of us who were there to listen to accounts we know to be untrue, especially when they come from people who were not there," he added.
Kerry, a former Navy lieutenant, is a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, and his war service is essential to his ability to challenge President Bush (news - web sites) on issues of national security and leadership in the face of the Iraq (news - web sites) war and terrorism threats.
Increasingly, veterans opposed to Kerry and allied with Bush -- led by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- have tried to undermine Kerry's service record and credibility and the justification for his medals.
In the face of a new CBS poll showing Kerry's support among veterans has slipped since the Democratic convention, the Massachusetts senator has launched an aggressive counterattack.