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John Kerry's Swift Boat pals to T. Boone: Cough up $1 million

June 20, 2008 |  6:55 pm

We're in the thick of a pretty intense presidential campaign, but that doesn't mean all the scores from the 2004 election have been settled.

Veterans who served with John Kerry during the Vietnam Senator and former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry looking a little grumpy or dubiousWar released a letter and documents this week that they hope will put the lie to claims that Kerry's Navy service was anything less than exemplary.

The missive was delivered Thursday to Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, who said in November that he would pay $1 million to anyone who could disprove even a single claim made against Kerry by the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth."

That group launched a series of television ads against the Massachusetts senator and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee that undercut a crucial piece of his biography -- that he was a courageous war hero. Many Democrats felt the accusations helped kill Kerry's chances of defeating President Bush, so much so that they created a new verb form for unfair political attacks -- "Swift boating."

In their letter to Pickens, 10 of Kerry's comrades in arms said they were providing conclusive proof that the opposition group "lied about our skipper's and our service in Vietnam and in so doing, damaged our reputations and attacked the quality of our service to country."

The 15-page letter and 42 pages of Navy reports and other documentation focus principally on a 1969 engagement in which three boats under Kerry's supervision counterattacked after an ambush on a tributary of the Bay Hap River.

Kerry won a Silver Star for his actions, but critics contended he had exaggerated the incident and his own heroism. In this week's response, Kerry's crew offers details, after-action reports and the medal citation to prove that Kerry led with valor.

One of the most telling rebuttals to the anti-Kerry camp came from Bill Rood, who commanded one of the other swift boats that day. Rood, who went on ...

... to a long career as a journalist, had remained silent for years about the ambush. He told media colleagues it would be inappropriate for a journalist to get in the middle of a political snit.

But he finally came forward with a dramatic Chicago Tribune story in August 2004, rejecting the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" take down of Kerry. Rood said the anti-Kerry ads and other tales from the campaign group had "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," Rood wrote, "especially when they come from people who were not there."

Before and since that article, Rood has declined to say any more. Those who worked with him at the Los Angeles Times years earlier (including this reporter) recognized and appreciated Rood's just-the-facts style.

But some background information he did not share in that story give his account even greater credibility: Records at the time indicated that Rood was a registered Republican. And those who worked with him at The Times recall that Rood was no great fan of John Kerry.

He told fellow journalists at The Times that many swift boat veterans were furious at Kerry for returning from Vietnam and testifying before Congress about atrocities the young Navy lieutenant said had been committed there. The veterans felt Kerry's statements unfairly sullied all their reputations.

That made them no different than some of those who sent the letter to Pickens this week. "You should know that even some of us on his crew differed with John Kerry when he spoke out against the war," they wrote in the letter.

But the disagreements over Kerry's post-war conduct should not be an excuse for smearing his record in Vietnam, the veterans wrote.

The men asked to meet with Pickens, who helped pay for the attack ads against Kerry. They predicted the oil man would find the truth "unavoidable," adding that they planned to donate the $1 million to a veteran's charity.

A spokesman said Friday that Pickens was not prepared to respond because he had not yet seen the letter.

--James Rainey

Photo Credit: AP

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