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Why the Swift Boat ad is neither dishonest or dishonorable

By Jeremy Reynalds
web posted August 9, 2004

A controversial ad produced by some Vietnam veterans accusing Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry of lying about his Vietnam War record and betraying his fellow veterans by later turning against the conflict has provoked an uproar.

"Unfair!" Democrats in general and the Kerry Campaign in particular are huffing. The attorney for the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee, the Associated Press reported, has even sent television stations a letter asking them not to run the ad, calling it "an inflammatory lie" by people purporting to have served with Kerry.

Sadly, Republican Senator John McCain has weighed in, telling the Associated Press (AP) in a recent interview that the ad "reopens all the old wounds of the Vietnam War ... I deplore this kind of politics ... I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable."

A scene from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad
A scene from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad

But when you look at the facts and step away from the worried alarmist Democratic rhetoric, the ad (online at www.swiftvets.com) is neither dishonest or dishonorable. It's evident to me that Kerry wants it both ways. He's made his service in the Vietnam War a centerpiece of his campaign while playing down his anti war activities following his return home from Vietnam.

In an attempt to find out some hard facts about the group responsible for the ad (and in so doing to gain a little more insight into Kerry's character as well), I recently interviewed by e-mail Weymouth Symmes, Treasurer and Steering Committee Member of www.swiftvets.com.

Symmes also served on the Swift boats. These craft were boats "specifically suited to perform the many missions needed to combat insurgent activities."

According to Symmes, impetus for the now famous group probably arose as a direct result of the book Tour of Duty by the "historian" Douglas Brinkley.

Symmes said, "In the book our commanding officer in Vietnam -- Rear Admiral Roy Hoffmann (Ret.) -- was unjustly portrayed as a cordite sniffing, body count loving figure. In fact, he is a revered figure by those he commanded. He started contacting many of us individually in early spring of this year, and our steering committee was formed in early April of this year."

I asked Symmes what he thought about Kerry's character. He said, "John Kerry is utterly lacking in the character required to be commander in chief of this great nation. He served only four months and 12 days in Vietnam, when a normal tour of duty was 12 months. He left using an obscure Navy rule, and is the only officer I am aware of that left early ... He didn't fulfill his obligation then, and then he came home and betrayed the people he served with, and those in uniform, by lying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about ‘war atrocities' committed by American forces in Vietnam."

Symmes said, "All of us in Swift Veterans for Truth can attest that we never saw, participated in, or were aware of any atrocities committed in our area of operations during our twelve month tours of duty. With those vicious comments about his fellow servicemen, how can he lead a War on Terror where our current brave men and women are in harm's way in Afghanistan and Iraq?"

My thoughts about Kerry's hypocrisy in wanting to use for political gain his service in the war that he made it quite clear he despised also occurred to Symmes.

"Kerry's record is one of crass political opportunism," Symmes told me. "From Massachusetts, he joined the radical ‘Vietnam Veterans Against the War' (a group allied with Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden types) after his return from his short time in Vietnam. Due to his anti-war record he was defeated in his first run for Congress in 1972. He reemerged as a ‘war hero' in 1984 and won a US Senate seat."

Symmes said he got involved with the group as a result of Admiral Hoffmann's call, and an invitation to attend the initial Dallas meeting "to decide what to do about Kerry. Ultimately, though, I became involved because it was the right thing to do. None of us have anything to gain by our involvement, and due to the vilification coming, much to lose, but we are committed to getting the truth out about John Kerry."

I asked Symmes to address one of McCains's complaints about the ad that no one featured in it served on the boat Kerry commanded. He said while McCain is correct in his charge that the point is "irrelevant."

"This was not an aircraft carrier," Symmes said. "These boats only carried a crew of six people: four enlisted, one Vietnamese and one Officer in Charge ... However, the people in the ad were either Kerry's superiors above him in the chain of command in Vietnam, were on the same operations with him, or were on other boats in close proximity with him. Commanding a crew of five is hardly sufficient grounds to be commander in chief."

I next asked Symmes to comment about one of the veterans on board the boat that day, Jim Rassmann, who said Kerry saved his life.

Symmes said that Rassmann was pulled out of the water by Kerry. "This is a routine event, not an act of heroism. People were blown off the boats frequently, or dumped overboard as the boats made sharp turns under fire. Where is the heroism--was Kerry supposed to just leave him in the water? I am sure Mr. Rassmann is appreciative, but pulling him out of the water hardly creates a hero."

Symmes said, "John Kerry did not deserve at least two of his Purple Hearts, and his military awards are questionable. He has refused to release his military records, which indicates he is lying about his service. We have called on him to sign Standard Form 180, which is a full disclosure of his entire military records, including medical. We are standing on the truth of our assertions--John Kerry should do no less."

Symmes has a distinguished record of service to his country (and who told me he has been surprised at the furor the ad has produced) joined the Navy in 1966. In his biography on the group's web site he writes, "I enlisted with no dreams of glory; rather enlistment seemed the most honorable course open to me. I could go to Canada, return to another college and avoid the draft as long as I could, or I could go because it was a lawful request by my country to do so. I chose the latter course."

According to Symmes' on-line autobiography, he was in Swift training from October, 1968 through January, 1969.

Commenting on his service in Vietnam, Symmes wrote "We served honorably ... (but) we came home to vicious rhetoric by the radical anti-war left. Many were spit on by their fellow Americans, and some threw their medals away because they believed America had turned their backs on them. Although the radical anti-war left was a minority, they received a disproportionate amount of media attention."

Symmes wrote, "We never participated in, observed, or knew of what Mr. Kerry called "atrocities" committed by Americans in our area of operations. His comments were a lie, and I believe he knew it."

I asked Symmes where he thinks America is headed if Kerry does get elected. He said, toward "appeasement, testing the wind instead of leadership, failure to stay the course, and untruthfulness, at least based on his Vietnam record."

The choice is clear. There is an overwhelming difference between Kerry and President George W. Bush. A man who has engaged in such scurrilous anti-war activity as Kerry has no business being Commander in Chief and we certainly don't want him "reporting for duty." However, it's up to you and your vote to ensure that such a nightmare never takes place. 

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico and is pursuing his PhD in intercultural education at Biola University in Los Angeles. He is married with five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work can be viewed here and weekly at www.americasvoices.org. He may be contacted by e-mail at reynalds@joyjunction.org.

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