The following is the last of three speeches given by Swift Boat Vets at Restoration Weekend, on November 17, 2004. Click Here to return to the second speech. Click Here to go to the first speech. Click Here to order a copy of John O'Neill's book Unfit for Command for only $19.95 from the FrontPage Magazine Bookstore. See a preview of our forthcoming DVD.
David Horowitz: If you happen to have an Oxford English Dictionary, the unabridged version, and you look up the word tenacity, the preferred definition, the first definition – and I've looked it up and checked – is John O'Neill. Believe it.
Over 30 years ago, John O'Neill identified the danger of John “What's Wrong With Betraying My Country?” Kerry. For decades, John O'Neill refused to yield the truth to the pressure of lies. While nobody ever does anything really single-handedly, we can credit John O'Neill for contributing as much and more than most for keeping our glorious republic from the hands of unscrupulous liars.
John O’Neill: Thank you all. It’s a tremendous honor to be here. The truth is an acorn that can grow into a mighty tree. And a small group of people, even amateurs, armed with the truth can sometimes be a mightier force than all of the forces of the mass media and big money in the United States.
I’d like to briefly tell you our story. It’s a story that you’ve heard before. It’s the story of David and Goliath. I was in a small unit in Vietnam, Coastal Division 11, and the people in that unit were fabulous people. As a matter of fact, in a one-year period we lost 72 percent of our people, who were either killed or so badly wounded that they had to be evacuated to the United States. We had one bad apple in the entire unit, and that was John Kerry. He briefly passed through our unit in about a two-month period, spending a total time of four months in Vietnam. His reputation in our unit was terrible, but when he got back to the United States and he gave the speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it was a day that none of us ever forgot. It was like the Challenger disaster or the death of John Kennedy. It struck directly at our souls and at the reputations of our friends who had died there.
So in April of this year, when it became apparent that John Kerry could be the president of the United States, we got together where there were six or seven of us with over 100 people listening on the telephone. The total political experience of everybody there consisted of one person, Bill Franke, who over 30 years ago managed the first of John Danforth’s campaigns. I had debated Kerry in 1971 and spoke at the 1972 Republican Convention, and I had no involvement in politics in over 30 years – and that was it. That was not a very impressive political resume. We had absolutely no one who knew anything about the mass media. Instead we had Bill Lanham, a farmer and sports goods store owner from Grinnell, Iowa; Ray Sims, a retired banker from Missouri-Montana; Barry Thoreau, who is the greatest hero of our unit, a teacher and an oilfield worker from Kansas; and Admiral Roy Hoffman, the man who actually organized this, a 78-year-old sailor whose ship was first sunk in the Korean War, where he almost died in the Sea of Japan, and who was with us and led us in Vietnam over and over. Every single person there had been seriously wounded in Vietnam, except for me. I was the only one who wasn’t.
We knew we had a terrible problem, but we also knew that we had one thing, that was a message that somehow we had to get to the American people. The message was first, that our service and those of our friends who died in Vietnam was honorable, that they were not war criminals, that they were not the army of Genghis Khan. Second, and more important, that Kerry was unfit to be the commanding officer of the United States, unfit to be the president of the United States. We were desperate to have the America people learn something about him before the election, as opposed to learning through tragedy in four years after he had been elected.
We went to Washington, and we had a press conference at which 17 of us spoke, including the entire chain of command of John Kerry in Vietnam. It included many of the sailors from our unit, and we presented a letter signed by 194 different Swiftees, about 60 percent of all of them in the world. This got coverage only on C-SPAN. Each of the major networks ignored us, and the sole coverage that we got were attack pieces from the New York Times and CBS.
We had to figure out still, with the desperation of people that knew they had an important message, to somehow get the message to the American people. I talked to Ken Cordia, a prisoner of war. He said what you need is the tap code. The tap code was the methodology that the prisoners of war used to abate their guards, the North Vietnamese. He said you need some way to speak to the American public that isn’t dependent upon the gatekeepers’ big media. So we sat and thought and came up with ideas. One idea was to go back to the technology of the 15th or 16th century and write a book. So we wrote the book Unfit for Command. The second thing was to come out with ads. We had very little money, but we produced an ad responding to John Edwards’ invitation of, if you really want to know about John Kerry, ask the people who were in Vietnam with him. I think what he really meant was a few of the people who were in Vietnam with him, in retrospect.
We engaged and utilized free media. The first response of the Kerry campaign and Big Media was to ignore us. The next response was to try to intimidate us. When our first ad came out, it was scheduled to appear on over 20 stations. The Kerry campaign, with two large law firms, threatened all 20 stations directly with suit if they put the ad up. This was an unprecedented action, I believe, in American political history. The thing I’m really proud of is that all 20 of those stations – Democrats, Republicans, some getting as little as $250 – put that ad up. As a result of the publicity, miscalculation, and the stupidity of the Kerry campaign, within two weeks 71 percent of the American people had seen our ad, which we obviously couldn’t have reached a tiny fraction of 1 percent without their help.
The next thing we did was publish the book Unfit for Command. Jeff Cordell had the courage to publish that book, and Gary Crawford and Rowena Ito and a lot of other wonderful people at that publisher helped get that book out in an amazingly short period of time. Kerry’s campaign once again served a demand letter on Regnery Publishing, threatening them with an immediate suit if they continued to publish the book. The response was we’re not going to suspend publication of the book, Senator Kerry, but we will publish your book The New Soldier, the 1971 book, if you would like. That was an offer that John Kerry never took up.
The next thing that happened is we had one single donor, a friend of mine, a homebuilder in Houston, a man named Bob Perry, he gave us $200,000, which was the basis that we used to actually film our first ad. We began setting up our Web site, and the like, and they actually began picketing directly at his house. As many as 200 people showed up in the little neighborhood where he lived. I called him and I apologized for getting him involved as a friend. He said he was actually enjoying it. Apparently, picketing Mr. Perry didn’t work quite as well as they anticipated, because he ended up giving us a total of $7 million for our campaign – more money, by the way, than he’s ever given in the aggregate to anything in his life. I think they inspired him.
Our greatest hero was a man named Larry Thurlow. He was a guy that on March 13, 1969, climbed on the boat PCF3 in the incident where Kerry took off and bailed out. Thurlow got aboard that boat, actually took his clothes off and began stuffing them in the holes of the engine compartment to stop the boat from sinking, so the people could be saved. He was portrayed as a nut. As a matter of fact, he was called a nut. We also had Al French, who appeared in our first advertisement. He was fired from his job, a 20-year job as an assistant district attorney in Clackamas County, Oregon, because of his appearance in that ad. Instead of intimidating people, this simply inspired people. You know, the funny thing about us and our friends – people like Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, Matt Drudge and Robert Novak – [we're] not people that intimidate very well, based on my observation.
So, what happened is our Web site came up, and in the end over 150,000 people contributed money at that little Web site. Some of the ads were downloaded as many as 4 million times. A total of $27 million was raised, and we had more than 4,000 interviews on talk radio and television. Our ads were shown extensively. As a matter of fact, we showed more of our ads in Ohio in the last three weeks than either of the two presidential campaigns combined. The little book that we wrote and that Regnery put out in just a few weeks printed in excess of 900,000 and sales ran very close to that amount. It was the New York Times best seller and number one for many weeks and is still on their best-seller list. It gives me great joy to see the New York Times Review of Books and know that they have to print Unfit for Command.
I won’t speak of the effect of what we did on the election, because I feel strongly that the election was won by President Bush and it was lost by the author of his own defeat: John Kerry. But it did have these effects: It reclaimed the honor of our service in Vietnam, particularly of our friends who died there, and I believe very strongly that other than Douglas Brinkley and a few other left-wing historians, no one will ever claim that the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam were anything like the army of Genghis Khan or that their service was anything but honorable or that they were other than kids trying to do the very best they could for our country.
I think the second thing it did is force John Kerry, master of disguise, to move out of the Vietnam hero motif and to a goose hunter motif that he maintained until the NRA ads. I wasn’t quite sure who he actually was at the end, and I don’t think the country was, either. I think that it demonstrated the total lack of credibility of Big Media, and it marked a period when a whole new media came about, where people began to get their information from alternate media or at least recognized that’s where their information was coming from.
Finally, I can tell you it had a real effect on our troops in Iraq and in Afghanistan. I think that they knew that there were people back here who shared common experiences, who knew that you don’t refer to our allies as the “coalition of the bribed and coerced,” who don’t call our intervention a “mistake” or a “diversion” and then ask kids to die for it. I know that on the day these election results were announced, at least the kids in the 1st Marine Division and the people who are in Fallujah literally stood on the tables and clapped at the results.
The second thing I would like to talk about is the story of the election. To me, there is just one story, and the story is that the heart and soul of the country, of the United States, is still there. You can see it in VFW halls, American Legion conventions and PJ’s Bar, where I had a debate. You can see it with our kids in Fallujah, It’s still beating. And people who thought that Ohio, where my roommate at the Naval Academy is buried in Pickaway, would vote based on a pocketbook have learned a lesson that most of us knew for a long time: that Ohio votes its heart in matters of patriotism, and not its pocketbook.
As to the Democratic campaign, I think we’ve been too kind to them, much too kind. Also, people lost in the Goldwater campaign and the McGovern campaign, but they were proud of being involved in those campaigns even though they lost by a lot. But they didn’t lose pretending to be something they were not. This was a Democratic campaign where John Kerry opposed the military in every vote, but pretended that we needed two more divisions that he would have been in favor of, pretended to be a hawk where he changed his position on almost every issue. Well, in addition to being defeated, I think that they should know the country realized that they were deceiving the country itself.
I think finally that the true story of the election is that we faced a mass force of Big Media, of Big Money, and of special interests that made up a perfect storm that could have brought defeat. I believe that this perfect storm crashed against the nation’s core values of patriotism, its belief in human freedom, and of right and wrong. That’s why the Democrats lost the election. We obviously won the electoral battlefield, and I think we reclaimed the battlefield in honor of Vietnam.
I’d like finally to claim one last battlefield, and that’s a final bit of history. You know, the Kerry campaign claimed that they were a small “band of brothers.” What they tried to do was hijack the great English victory of Agincourt in the 14th century, where Henry V gave a speech to the small army that he had assembled. He had 2,700 men facing a French army of 17,000. They asked, “Should we surrender?” And he gave a speech that inspired his men. That changed the Middle Ages, and actually won the battle. Kerry claimed that they were the little band of brothers. My first observation is they were a very little band of brothers; probably all the Vietnam veterans in the world who voted for Kerry sat on that stage in Boston that night.
Second, we can all imagine what the English would have done at Agincourt with someone like Kerry, who left at the beginning of the battle, met secretly with the French – in Kerry’s case the North Vietnamese – then came back and took the position that his comrades were war criminals, and people opposing them were like the army of George Washington. This is a historical analogy in other words that Kerry cannot be left with.
At the end of Henry V’s speech, he’s asked, wouldn’t it be better if we had more soldiers? The Duke of Buckingham asks him why not have more people here? Henry V said, look, we don’t want any more people. We’d have to share the victory with a lot more people. He said that some day people will sit down and they’ll talk about Buckingham, and they’ll talk about Salisbury and Gloucester, and they’ll tell their children about them, and their names will live in history.
I would like to say that we met a real band of brothers here. We’re very happy that CBS, ABC, NBC and the New York Times didn’t give us a fair hearing. We don’t have to include them in the story. When we tell this story, all of us together in future years will simply be the story of Steve Gardner, Van O’Dell and Larry Thurlow. There will also be the story of brave Laura Ingram, Robert Dole, Fred Barnes, Michelle Malkin, Larry Elder, Thomas Sowell, Joe Scarborough, David Horowitz, Brit Hume, Gretchen and Rebecca, and of many other people who helped us out. You should understand that in the realm in which we operate, that is the very biggest coin that we can have to spend, and this is the best thank you that we can give all of you. Thank you. We’ll never forget you. Not ever, not any of us.
Click Here to return to the second speech. Click Here to go to the first speech. Click Here to order a copy of John O'Neill's book Unfit for Command for only $19.95 from the FrontPage Magazine Bookstore. See a preview of our forthcoming DVD.