John Kerry to Vietnam: 'Send Me'?

Larry Elder
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Posted: Aug 26, 2004 12:00 AM

"During the Vietnam War," said former President Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, "many young men -- including the current president, the vice president and me -- could have gone to Vietnam but didn't. John Kerry came from a privileged background and could have avoided it too. Instead he said, 'Send me.' When they sent those swift-boats up the river in Vietnam, and told them their job was to draw hostile fire -- to show the American flag and bait the enemy to come out and fight -- John Kerry said, 'Send me.'"

From the beginning, the Kerry campaign said to voters: Vote for me because I volunteered to go to Vietnam, faced hostile fire and came back a decorated war hero.

John O'Neill, who took over Kerry's swift-boat after Kerry left Vietnam, and co-author of the new book, "Unfit for Command," questions whether Kerry's attitude toward Vietnam was, indeed, "Send me":

John Kerry has often implied that he volunteered for the military right after college. But Kerry petitioned his draft board for a student deferment. At Yale, Kerry's antiwar political views were well known. He . . . used his commencement address in 1966 to criticize the foreign policy of President Lyndon Johnson, especially with regard to Vietnam. When he approached his draft board for permission to study for a year in Paris, the draft board refused and Kerry decided to enlist in the Navy. . . . The top choice was the Navy Reserves where the duty commitment was shorter and a larger proportion of the period could be served stateside on inactive duty.

John Kerry's service record indicates that on February 18, 1966, he enlisted in the United States Naval Reserves, status 'inactive,' not in the U.S. Navy. These details are conveniently left out of all pro-Kerry biographies. Douglas Brinkley records that Kerry entered Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island; however, again he fails to note that Kerry was seeking to be an officer of the U.S. Naval Reserves.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- consisting of some 250 Democrats and Republicans -- now run ads attacking Kerry's record. They accuse Kerry, among other things, of lying repeatedly about being in Cambodia on Christmas 1968. Kerry said, "I have that memory which is seared -- seared -- in me." In 1979, Kerry wrote,

I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which president Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real.

Steve Gardner, who served as Kerry's gunnery mate for most of Kerry's four-month stint in Vietnam, says that Kerry was never in Cambodia, and was over 50 miles away on that Christmas. The Kerry campaign now acknowledges that, no, on Christmas 1968, Nixon was not president. And, no, Kerry actually went to Cambodia in January 1969. But, no, Special Operations sent Kerry to Cambodia on a "top secret" mission, for which no paperwork exists to corroborate Kerry's presence. Convenient.

The Democrats' new-found affection for a commander-in-chief with military experience simply boggles the mind. In 1992, Bill Clinton -- who, let's say, finessed his way out of the draft after receiving his draft notice -- ran against George Herbert Walker Bush.  President Bush-41 received a Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism and extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as pilot of a torpedo plane, who, although his plane was hit and set afire, continued his plunge toward the target and scored damaging bomb hits before bailing out of the plane. At 19, Bush was the youngest Navy pilot, at that time, during WWII. In 1996, President Clinton then ran against Bob Dole, who nearly lost his life from wounds he sustained during the 1944 invasion of Italy. Dole received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.

Where were the we-need-a-president-with-military-experience Democrats then?

Former presidential contender Bob Dole said,

I respect (Kerry's) record, but three Purple Hearts -- he never bled that I know of. They were all superficial wounds. As far as I know, he never spent one day in the hospital, I don't think he draws any disability pay. He doesn't have any disability. And he's boasting about three Purple Hearts, when you think of some of the people who really got shot up in Vietnam. . . . Maybe he should apologize to all the other two-and-a-half million veterans who served. He wasn't the only one who was in Vietnam. I think Senator Kerry needs to talk about his Senate record, which is pretty thin. That's probably why he's talking about his war record, which is pretty confused.

"I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty," said Kerry, during his speech at the Democratic National Convention. Again, from the very beginning, Kerry made his service in Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign. And to this, the Swift Boat Veterans now say, "Bring it on."