Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Veterans against Kerry?

From CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, full transcript here, this interview with John O'Neill. O'Neill was a decorated Vietnam vet who commanded a swift boat, like Kerry. After the war, O'Neill debated Kerry on the Dick Cavett show (excerpt in green, below) about the "atrocities" by American soldiers and Kerry's association with the anti-war group Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Here's the O'Neill section:

BLITZER: O'Neill challenged Kerry to debate and they did, first on "The Dick Cavett Show."

KERRY: I did take part in search and destroy missions in which the houses of noncombatants were burned to the ground.

O'NEILL: I think there's something particularly pathetic about me having to appear on nationwide television and trade polished little phrases with you to defend the honor of 55,000 people that died there, the 2.5 million of us that served there. I think further that the justification that Hanoi uses for keeping our POWs is that they were engaged in criminal acts there. BLITZER: Kerry now says his use of the word atrocities to describe soldiers' actions was inappropriate.

KERRY: I think some soldiers were angry at me for that. And I understand that. And I regret that because I love them. But the words were honest but on the other hand they were a little bit over the top.

[Blitzer voice-over] O'Neill, himself awarded two Bronze Stars in Vietnam, was encouraged by President Nixon to give it to Kerry.

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Go on some of these TV shows, like the Cavett thing, you're going to get banged. You'll feel terribly discouraged. You have to remember to get back and reassure people that those few that come back, like Kerry and the rest, don't speak for all.

BLITZER: O'Neill, the son of a Navy admiral, had spent his last 12 months in Vietnam patrolling enemy waters as the officer in charge of a swift boat, in fact, O'Neill says, the same vessel that John Kerry had led before he returned home.


BLITZER: Today, John O'Neill is an attorney. He's turned down Republican overtures to speak out during John Kerry's previous campaigns. This year, he has not given any interviews until now.

John O'Neill is joining us now live from Houston.

Mr. O'Neill, thanks very much for joining us.

Why have you decided you want to speak out against John Kerry right now?

O'NEILL: I have no choice, Wolf. I would far rather be home or on the other side of a TV camera than being on television.

I haven't been on television in many, many years, had very little involvement in politics. But I was in Coastal Division 11 with John Kerry. I arrived about two months after he left and I had the same small boat he did. His allegations that people committed war crimes in that unit and throughout Vietnam were lies. He knew they were lies when he said them. And they were very damaging lies.

That speech you played for example in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was broadcast for POWs when they were actually being held in Hanoi. The admiral, Admiral Zumwalt, whose son was my closest friend who gave him that medal in the picture you showed, that was one of the people that John Kerry was claiming was a war criminal. Admiral Zumwalt was one of the greatest heroes in the Navy. He was a man that introduced women to the Naval Academy, who stood and saved ships in World War II by himself. And, finally, I had no choice but to come forward.

BLITZER: He did say on "Meet the Press" on Sunday that some of the words he used were probably inappropriate. He says he wouldn't use those words today, but he was young and he was passionate and he was anti- -- very anti-war. Can you forgive him for that?

O'NEILL: Actually, what he said was -- or at least the part I got was that it was a little bit excessive. It's really not a matter of forgiveness. It's a matter of fitness to be the commander and chief of all U.S. forces.

There's a book that he published, it's a book called "The New Soldier." And I hope you can see this book. It costs $1,700 to buy the book now that he published because they won't permit the reprinting of the book because they don't want the American people to see the book. He's the author of the book "The New Soldier." And every American should take a look at this book. It begins with a caricature making fun of the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima.

My father was on Iwo Jima. The damaging lies that he told about war criminals have haunted people's entire lives. So it's just a little bit late in the course of a presidential campaign to say it's a bit excessive after, you know, coming forward with lies for a period of more than 30 years.

BLITZER: As you well know, there will be charges made that you're getting involved now for political reasons, because maybe you're a Republican -- I have no idea -- or the Bush people are encouraging you to do so. Tell our viewers why exactly you are doing this now.

O'NEILL: It's not just me, Wolf. I think you are going to find many people, many people from Coastal Division 11 are coming forward now. I've been in contact with them. We drew the black name.

We would much rather stay at home. Most of us would much rather have nothing to do with this. I have been contacted at least 50 times over the past 30 years by Kerry's opponents at various times. I have refused to do it. Why are we coming forward? Because we were there. We know the truth and we know that this guy is unfit to be the commander in chief.

BLITZER: One final question, I've been to several rallies of Kerry supporters. I see a lot of Vietnam veterans there, Max Cleland, the former U.S. senator from Georgia. So many of these guys are passionate about John Kerry, especially those who worked with him, served with him, in Vietnam. How come they have such a different impression of him than you do?

O'NEILL: Wolf, what you've got is the same seven or eight people recycled over and over again. I think you'll find when you match numbers out of Coastal Division 11, the people that knew him, the people that came from the unit like I did, I think you'll find that he'll get less votes than a Republican would get in South Boston.

I think you'll find people are very, very angry at John Kerry. They remember his career in Vietnam as a short, controversial one. And they believe only Hollywood could turn this guy into a war hero. I saw some war heroes, Wolf. John Kerry is not a war hero. He couldn't tie the shoes of some of the people in Coastal Division 11.

BLITZER: John O'Neill, thanks very much for joining us on this very, very sensitive subject.

O'NEILL: Thank you, sir.

hat-tip = National Review Online.

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