The new documentary “Stolen Honor” documents how a young John Kerry jumpstarted his political career by denouncing American soldiers -- and how the Vietnamese used his actions to torture, demoralize and threaten American Prisoners of War. In production before the Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth splashed onto the scene, the documentary’s producers say “Stolen Honor” juxtaposes Kerry’s work with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War with the words of veterans who were still in Vietnam when Kerry was leading the antiwar movement.
Retired Captain James H. Warner -- a Marine who was held in North Vietnam for five years, five months -- is a recipient of the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, 11 Air Medals and the Navy Commendation Medal. Warner gives some of the most powerful testimony of how John Kerry’s words were used against POWs in “Stolen Honor:”
In the Spring of 1971, I was taken with 35 others to a camp outside of Hanoi. All of us were put in solitary confinement, and we were told this was a camp for punishment guys who were misbehaving. From the moment we were on the ground we were constantly fed propaganda, and the propaganda from home was always about the antiwar movement. After we had talked for quite some time, the interrogator showed me a transcript of testimony that my mother had given at something called the Winter Soldier hearings. I had no idea what these were. I read her testimony and it wasn’t damning, but then I saw some of the other stuff that had gone on at this Winter Soldier hearing, I wondered how did somebody get my mother persuaded to appear at something like this.
Shortly thereafter he showed me some statements from John Kerry. He said that John Kerry had helped organize the Winter Soldier hearings because he was so motivated because he had been an American officer, served in the U.S. Navy. And then he started reading some of the statements that John Kerry had made. I’m sorry I can’t quote them, but essentially he accused all of us in Vietnam of being criminals, that everything we had done was criminal. The North Vietnamese had told us from the time that we got their hands on us that we were criminals, that we were not covered by the Geneva Convention, so It was okay for them to do whatever they wanted to do to us. And they told us that they were going to put us on trial and some of us would be executed.
One of the things I remember being told that Kerry had said was that he demanded an immediate unilateral withdrawl of U.S. troops from Vietnam. Well, the only reason they were keeping us alive at all was to use as a bargaining chip to get U.S. troops out of Vietnam. It looked as though there’s rising pressure in the States for this [and] if the government gave in to that pressure and unilaterally withdrew the troops, what would be the purpose in keeping us alive? They would have executed us.
The interrogator went through all of these statements from John Kerry. He starts pounding on the table see, “Here, this naval officer, he admits that you are a criminal, and you deserve punishment”...I dind’t know what was going to come next. And for the rest of the time that we were in that camp I was very ill at ease...
[John Kerry] abandoned his comrades. He burned up his “Band of Brothers” membership card when he did that.
Retired Colonel Leo K. Thorsness -- a Vietnam Air Force veteran and recipient of the Medal of Honor, Silver Star, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, 10 Air Medals, two Purple Hearts and the Good Conduct Medal -- spent five years and 19 days as a POW. In “Stolen Honor” he reports:
A measure of patriotism is his loyalty to those still in uniform. That’s totally contrary to what he did. That makes him totally unpatriotic or loyal. He was over there fighting, he came home and there were still people he knew over there fighting, and he starts talking about war crimes and the atrocities we’re committing. He’s putting them in dire jeopardy. Every military combat guy I’ve talked to from Vietnam said their greatest fear was not being killed; it was becoming a POW. As you know, there were people captured in South Vietnam who were literally skinned alive…And Kerry’s giving the captors ammunition to treat people like that if they’re captured. And these are people he knew. Where in the world is his loyalty to the people in the military?
Thorsness says Kerry's actions caused them to be imprisoned -- and tortured -- longer than they would otherwise have been. He also mentions the (successful) North Vietnamese strategy to drag out the war in hopes that the antiwar movement would cause America to defeat itself:
Without question, we were held captives longer, because of the antiwar people, from the Kerrys to Fonda and Hayden...They encouraged the enemy to hang on. And the enemy would have hung on to us forever had not a man by the name of Richard Nixon gone in there with B-52s in December of 1972 and said enough is enough. They understood force, but they were experts at the PR.
Air Force Veteran Retired Lt. Colonel Thomas S. Pyle echoed Thorsness:
It’s come out since the war, you read what the Vietnamese have said about the war, what they’ve written about the war, their strategy was they recognized that they could not win the war militarily. The only way they could win the war was to destroy the will of the American people to support the war. And that was the strategy all along. They knew they would have to suffer horrendous losses to be able to do that and they were willing to do it, that was part of their plan up front.
Pyle earned two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, the Legion of Merit, Air Medal and Meritorious Service Medal. He spent six-and-a-half years in the Hanoi Hilton.
Retired Air Force veteran Captain Kevin McManus -- who received the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Distinguished flying Cross, Air Medal and Purple Heart -- spent five years and eight months in the prison camps. He says:
The first knowledge of John Kerry, really, that I can recall now was after we came back, he had made apparently some statements that essentially said that all the Americans over there were war criminals and committed atrocious acts. I had a big problem with that, not so much for me...but thousands of guys who died had no chance to hold their own against Kerry. So essentially he desecrated all the war dead and their families, with no chance of them ever replying.
Retired Lt. Ralph E. Gaither, U.S. Air Force veteran and author of With God in a POW Camp, spent more than seven years as a POW. He reports in the documentary that Kerry's antiwar action proved deadly to his colleagues:
We didn’t realize how powerful the movement was until toward the end of the war. I dedicated the book I wrote to John Frederick – he died 6 months before we came home. John would probably have been alive had the antiwar movement not been doing what they were doing. The Vietnamese grew great relish in the movement in support for their cause. I’m convinced that they held on to the war until after Nixon was reelected. They felt Nixon would not be re-elected, that the antiwar movement would be strong enough to get him out of office.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Robinson Risner, who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, won two Air Force Crosses, Distinguished Service Medal, two Silver Stars, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star and eight Air Medals. Risner remembers how the anti-American demonstrators gladdened his captors' hearts during his seven years, four months as a POW in Vietnam:
I was in pain a lot of the time. I was being treated inhumanely… I know we had more than one person come to Vietnam, who the Vietnamese told me [were helping them win] the war in the streets of America. I certainly didn’t approve of that. I didn’t think it was right for an American to come over and bolster the Vietnamese morale.
The Swift Vets have used much of the same information and footage from Kerry’s testimony in their television advertisements against the Democratic presidential nominee, which seem to be having a significant impact on Kerry’s campaign. On Aug. 26, Noelle Straub reported in the Boston Herald, “although Kerry has stayed roughly even in national polls, his support among veterans -- a significant voting bloc -- has dropped significantly since the group launched its first ad.”
While there is no official connection between “Stolen Honor” and the Swift Vets, former Vietnam POW Paul Galianti, who spent seven years in the Hanoi Hilton, has participated in both projects. He is seen in the Swift Vets second advertisement, stating, “John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I and many of my comrades in North Vietnam, in the prison camps, took torture to avoid saying.”
Galianti was held in the same prison camp as Arizona Senator John McCain. Carl Limbacher at Newsmax.com reported on Aug. 5, 2004, that although McCain has criticized the Swift Boat Vets recently, he himself spoke out against John Kerry and other antiwar protestors in a 1973 US News and World Report article.
In a piece he wrote for the May 14, 1973, issue of U.S. News & World Report, the POW-turned-senator charged that testimony by Kerry and others before J. William Fulbright's Senate Foreign Relations Committee was "the most effective propaganda [my North Vietnamese captors] had to use against us…
“All through this period,” McCain told U.S. News, his captors were “bombarding us with anti-war quotes from people in high places back in Washington. This was the most effective propaganda they had to use against us.”
Texas Representative Sam Johnson has also explained how the Vietnamese used Kerry’s words against prisoners like himself in Vietnam. During an interview with Newsmax.com’s Limbacher in May, 2004, Johnson said:
“[Kerry] let the veterans down. When you're in a war you don't go out there badmouthing your fellow soldiers,” he noted, referring to Kerry's 1971 speech. “You know, that's a disservice to the veterans.”
“Anybody who comes back and works against the best interests of the United States, in my view, doesn't deserve to be president of the United States,” he said.
“Stolen Honor” is produced by decorated Vietnam veteran Carton Sherwood, who served as a Marine in Vietnam's De-Militarized Zone. Sherwood, who has won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Peabody Award, covered John Kerry’s role in the antiwar movement. It is a project of Carlton’s Red White and Blue Productions, Inc.
The documentary's promotional material summarizes:
“Little did the American prisoners of war imagine that half a world away events were conspiring to make their precarious situation even more desperate, that an American Naval Lieutenant after a 4-month tour of duty in Vietnam was meeting secretly in an undisclosed location in Paris with a top enemy diplomat. That this same lieutenant would later join forces with Jane Fonda to form an antiwar group of so-called Vietnam veterans, some of whom would be later discovered as frauds, who never set foot on a battlefield. All this culminating in John Kerry’s Senate testimony that would be blared over loud speakers to convince our prisoners that back home they were being accused and abandoned. Enemy propagandists had found a new and willing accomplice…”
“The war, [Kerry] said, was a criminal endeavor driven by a ‘policy of atrocities.’ The 2.5 million men who served in Vietnam were akin to ‘Genghis Khan’s barbaric hordes,’ thugs and psychopathic war criminals who wantonly plundered the Vietnam countryside, murdering, raping and bombing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians - old men, women and children -- each and every day. Lt. Kerry's widely televised statements were dramatic and persuasive, made all the more credible by the fact he had been there, said he had witnessed many of these same atrocities...It also permanently branded in the American psyche the image of Vietnam veterans as murderous ‘baby killers’ and ‘drugged out losers,’ a perception that persists today, one deeply embedded in our history.”
Kerry still has yet to offer any real answers or explain his own contradictory statements about his service in Vietnam, which are detailed in the John O'Neill's and Jerome Corsi’s Unfit for Command, settling only on denouncing his fellow Vietnam veterans as a front group for the Bush campaign.
The American Legion Convention's tepid response to Kerry further shows his low popularity among veterans. On Sept. 1., Charles Hurt of the Washington Times reported, “John Kerry was politely received.” Hurt reported a number of veterans actually walked out as Kerry began speaking, and that a group of anti-Kerry veterans passed out buttons and fliers sporting an advertisement run by them in Nashville’s Tennesseean last week. The ad also criticized Kerry for “wounds inflicted by John Kerry on millions of veterans,” Hurt said.
Of course, Kerry's cool reception isn't surprising. In his 1971 book, The New Soldier, which sports a parody of the famous Iwo Jima flag raising, in which a group of scruffy soldiers are planting a flag upside down on the cover, Kerry said, “We will not quickly join those who march on Veterans’ Day waving small flags, calling to memory those thousands who died for the 'greater glory of the United States.’ We will not readily join the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.”
Now, it seems many, many veterans will not readily join John Kerry at the polls in November.
1. In the interests of full disclosure, the Honorable James H. Warner is also a frequent contributor to Front Page Magazine.