"I understand that the Vietnam Veterans, opposed to the war, have been given until four-thirty to vacate the Mall. . . . I trust we are not going to use force to throw them out. . . . They are getting tremendous publicity; they have an articulate spokesman; they are being received in a far more sympathetic fashion than other demonstrators."
So, I wrote President Nixon through chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, April 21, 1971 -- the week that made John Kerry famous.
"(I)f we want a confrontation," I added, let's not have it with the "Bonus Army," a comparison of Kerry's Vietnam Veterans Against the War to the World War I vets run off Anacostia Flats by Gen. MacArthur.
Though the White House had the approval of Chief Justice Burger to remove the vets from the Mall, Nixon let Kerry & Co. stay and carry out their now-famous medal toss on Friday, April 23.
Those days have come back to haunt Kerry, not only because of the slanders about U.S. troops routinely committing "atrocities" in Vietnam. Far more significant is the story of the VVAW's leadership meeting in Kansas City, Nov. 12-15, 1971.
In his biography "Tour of Duty," historian Douglas Brinkley writes that Kerry resigned as a VVAW coordinator in an official letter dated Nov. 10, 1971. Who told him this? According to Brinkley, Kerry did, though Brinkley searched VVAW archives and never found the letter.
Kerry's campaign has also insisted he resigned from VVAW before the Nov. 12-15, 1971, meeting. Asked about it by the Kansas City Star, candidate Kerry sent word that he had "never, ever" attended the Kansas City meeting.
When disabled vet John Musgrave, a thrice-decorated Marine, told a reporter he recalled Kerry at Kansas City, he was phoned by Kerry staffer John Hurley. Hurley, says Musgrave, told him to "call that reporter back and tell him you were mistaken about John Kerry being there."
Musgrave is outraged. As he told the New York Times, "I felt like John Kerry who I've admired all these years, was trying to make me look like I was lying. . . . And I don't take kindly to that."
What difference does it make whether Kerry was at Kansas City?
Only this. At Kansas City, Vietnam vet Scott Camil proposed the assassinations of U.S. Sens. John Tower, John Stennis and Strom Thurmond. Some VVAW attendees say the idea was debated and voted down. Others say it was just late-night beer talk.
Terry DuBose, a Texas vet, says he was approached by several vets. "They wanted me to shoot John Tower," he told the Times, "They had a list of six or eight senators."
According to vet Randy Barnes, Kerry opposed the assassination idea and orally resigned right after the vote. Barnes heads Missouri Veterans for Kerry. Musgrave says the assassination idea was voted down on Nov. 15, after Kerry had resigned and left Kansas City. But, Musgrave adds, Kerry could not have been ignorant of the rancorous argument about assassinations.
What makes this deadly serious is that 1971 was mid-point in an 18-year period in which JFK, Malcolm X, George Lincoln Rockwell, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, and killers stalked Nixon, shot George Wallace, twice tried to shoot Gerald Ford and wounded Ronald Reagan. Eighteen months after Kansas City, Sen. John Stennis was shot outside his D.C. home, reportedly by robbers.
How do we know Kerry was in Kansas City? Because the FBI was there. Why were they checking on VVAW and Kerry? Perhaps because VVAW harbored hotheads like Camil. Perhaps because Kerry had met with the Viet Cong in Paris in 1970.
But the FBI has disclosed no record of assassination talk at Kansas City and absolves Kerry of any suggestion of violence.
Still, Kerry's conduct raises questions. Why did he and his campaign so hotly deny he was at Kansas City to the point that fellow vets and Gerald Nicosia, the pro-Kerry author of "Home to War," now believe Kerry and his campaign have been lying and covering up?
Why deny he was at Kansas City, unless he knows something rotten went on in Kansas City? And if Kerry took the assassination talk seriously enough to resign there, why did he not take it seriously enough to tell police?
Kerry cannot answer these questions credibly now. Having told reporters repeatedly he has no recollection of being at Kansas City, how can he say what is likely the truth, that he heard the crazy talk, deplored it, denounced it, and got out of Dodge.
Nevertheless, America has a right to know if Kerry ever heard talk of assassinating U.S. senators, and, if so, what he did about it, and what were those philosophical differences that caused him to quit the VVAW so hastily in the middle of that meeting in Kansas City?