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The Swift Truth (Continued) By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, August 26, 2004

FPM:  There are a lot of names on a black wall in Washington, D.C. because of what John Kerry did to encourage the Communist North Vietnamese to keep fighting, rather than reach peace.  But I want to clarify: They talk about your motive as if there is something horribly sinister here.  This book is apparently making a lot of money.  How much of it are you keeping for yourself?

O’Neill:  Zero.  I gave away every penny.  My total royalty from this book has been given to a military charity.  I think I prefer not to name the charity until they formally accept the donation.  But I have given every penny away and I won’t accept a penny from this book. [On Monday, August 23, O’Neill identified the charity as the Navy & Marine Relief Fund.]


FPM:  Do you think they would be pressured politically not to accept it if that was announced?


O’Neill:  That’s the only reason I don’t name them, Lowell.  I really want them to get the money, it’s my first choice.  If I mention them people will write letters to them, and that would be a shame.


FPM:  I can understand how appalling pressure politics have become.  I have a naïve question. Knowing very little about Swift boats, having been an Air Force ROTC person myself, when there is a combat incident, and we have all these disputes about what really happened, we’re told that it is your word, you 254 Swift boat veterans, versus actual U.S. Navy documents. How does a U.S. Navy document get created?


O’Neill:  Lowell, let me say first, on most of the things covered in my book, the problem that Kerry has had is that the U.S. Navy documents support me and not him. 


FPM:  Why the media doesn’t tell us that?


O’Neill:  Let me give you an example.  Just picking one incident, there was this terrible tragedy on January 20, 1969 in which Kerry’s boat, under Kerry’s command, opened up on a sampan, and the sampan had a father, a mother, a baby, and a child.  The father and the child were killed.  What clearly happened is the sampan got too close to the swift boat, the crew member - at least one of them believes Kerry was not watching the radar and says Kerry was not around at all - they reached a split-second decision and fired, they thought, to save themselves.


FPM:  Now you say, “They.”  You mean the subordinate reached the decision?


O’Neill:  Yes, the young gunners mate was the only one left because Kerry wasn’t around.  It was Kerry’s job to be around.


FPM:  Where was he? These boats aren’t that big?


O’Neill:  I don’t know.  He wasn’t there.  Maybe he was asleep.  But he clearly was not where he should have been.  They killed a father and a son and rescued a mother and baby out of the sampan.  In the course of war things like this happen, but what happened next was truly unbelievable.  What I did was go to the Navy archives and obtain the report that Kerry actually filed on this incident.  And by the way, as to the fact there was only a mother, a baby, and then the father and child were killed, Kerry’s autobiography says that, Tour.  So there is no question there were four people in that…one family.  In the Navy archives I obtained the actual report that he filed on this incident on January 20, 1969 in the name of PCF 44, his boat.  What he reported to the Navy, and by the way he said that the face of the child he killed would be with him forever, and so on.  When I got the actual report, what he reported to the Navy was that a squad of Viet Cong were there, 5 Viet Cong,  that he’d killed all of them.  The child who was killed disappeared from the report.  The mother and the baby became 2 Viet Cong, captured in action.  Even the little details, like there was 1,000 pounds of rice on the sampan, it got elevated to 5,000 pounds of rice.  This report went to the Navy and went up the chain of command.  Everyone said,  “Kerry ‘Bravo Zulus’ Congratulations, congratulations” over what was in fact a terrible human tragedy, not a victory.  And it was listed as one of the great accomplishments of our squadron in the first quarter of 1969.  This is a victory that he achieved only with a pen and paper.  He did it to stop people from asking, "Where were you?”  “How did this happen?”  “How did this kid get killed?”  “Why weren’t you watching the radar?”  “What occurred?”  That was sort of typical of the thing that I found with Kerry.


FPM:  To explain this, at least from my point of view, I never forget that John Kerry was the son of a State Department operative.  He grew up with a father who was a bureaucrat who knew that paper does not necessarily match reality, but it’s the paper that lasts.


O’Neill:  I agree completely.  That’s what he mastered more than anything.  These other guys were trying to fight a war.  He was trying to pick up medals quick and leave.  What’s very interesting is that even though the report is from his boat that night, and even though there’s no one else in the world who could have sent that report, other than the officer of his boat, he’s not willing to take it because it does not have his signature on it.  I mean, literally, if that sounds crazy, that’s exactly what his spokesman said last night. 


FPM:  Well, if he knew it was full of falsehood, maybe he went out of his way not to put his signature on it.


O’Neill:  A radio report is never signed.  It’s simply sent.  So what he basically is saying is because the transmissions were made by radio, he’s not responsible for them, even though there is no question but that he sent them.  So, when they say the Naval records support them, the truth is in most cases the bulk of the Naval records support us.  But this is a guy who did maneuver the records and lie in the records to support stories that were just crazy.


FPM:  Okay, but the essential thing for people to understand is when he says, “The Navy documents support me,” it turns out that he was the highly literate, the Yale graduate, the person familiar with playing bureaucratic games, as he’d seen his family do, and so there would be an incident and he would file a report depicting himself as a glorious hero, and this would go to a Naval commander who wasn’t on the scene, who didn’t see what happened, and who just apparently, in many cases, took Kerry’s word for it.


O’Neill:  Exactly.  It happened over and over.  For example, he picked up three Purple Hearts.  None of them are real Purple Hearts that involve any kind of real wound.  They are all “tweezer” and “band-aid.”  What he would do - if we took his third Purple Heart - he filed a report showing a rice wound in his fanny as coming from a hostile water mine.  So I guess the Naval report that he filed supports him in the sense that he filed one that says “rice wound,” I mean “shrapnel wound from water mine.”  But when you look at his actual book, his own journal, repeated on page 313 and 317 of the book Tour, he says it resulted from a grenade that he threw with no hostile fire anywhere around and no enemy that morning.  He simply threw a grenade into some rice, got a little bit of it in his fanny, then reported it to the Navy as if it came from a water mine.  So his story that, “Oh yes, the reports support me,” I guess in that sense the report he filed supported him, but it’s completely at odds with his own account.


FPM:  More than that, I understand from your book Unfit For Command, you point out that in one case John Kerry asked for a Purple Heart and he was turned down.  What did he do then?


O’Neill:  Without going through the circumstances, once again he was wounded by his own grenade in the absence of hostile fire on December 2nd.  He went to the division commander and the guy said, “Forget it. There was no hostile fire.”  He waited three months, until everybody who was knowledgeable about the incident had left Vietnam.  He then, somehow in Saigon, in a way we can’t tell, he got a Naval officer, now deceased, who knew nothing about the incident, to sign a Purple Heart citation of the same kind that had been refused three months earlier.


FPM:  So what do we make of someone who knew that this had been refused, and somehow he resubmitted it for consideration to people even less familiar with the circumstances?  That doesn’t sound like a very honorable thing to do.


O’Neill:  He was a man who “gamed the system.”  You’ve got to understand, we were just Navy guys there.  What we were trying to do was get through each day.  We were trying to survive, we were trying to do a good job, trying to get our guys through.  Nobody cared about medals.  We just didn’t care at all, and it would never have occurred to anybody that another Naval officer would be filing false reports, would be lying, and so on, and gaming the system.


FPM:  This is a man who your book also reveals brought an 8mm camera to Vietnam with him and re-enacted battles so he could have footage of himself looking heroic. One thing that fascinates me is that John Kerry says the documents are on his side, the Navy documents support him, and yet he seems unwilling to release all of his medical records, and so on, something that would only take one John Kerry signature on a form called a 180.


O’Neill: Exactly right, Lowell.  He won’t do that.  He has a journal that he pulls out every once in a while.  For example, he apparently is going to try and use his journal to support a theory that he went to Cambodia some other time, after being caught lying on this “Christmas in Cambodia” story.  But he won’t actually release the journal.  He only gives a peek to his friends.  The same thing is true of other records.  He releases the ones he picks, but won’t allow the government itself to directly release all the records.


FPM:  So in other words, Kerry himself is blocking the release of records about him.


O’Neill:  Exactly.  He acts as the gatekeeper.  With Form 180 the Government would become the gatekeeper.  In other words, if he executed Standard Form 180 any news organization could go down and get all the records relating to his military service or for his Vietnam period.  Instead of that, he simply gets records and parcels out a few and says, “This is all the records.” 


FPM:  You would think if he was open and honest…By the way, speaking of open and honest, the liberal establishment media had no trouble forcing out the records of Larry Thurlow, who you mentioned.  They had no trouble, for that matter, forcing out the sealed divorce proceeding records from a Republican Senate candidate in Illinois.  But the media seems unwilling to lift a finger to go into Kerry’s sealed divorce records or his Navy records.


O’Neill:  I think it’s fair to say that their intellectual interest has not been great in anything relating to Kerry’s background, other than simply portraying the same group of guys he shows up with, the same eight or nine, as opposed to the 254 of us who believe he lied about our unit and lied about his own record.


FPM:  I heard you say on a talk show the other day that you spoke to a Washington Post reporter who was in the process of doing a basic hit-piece on Larry Thurlow, and you said to him, “Come down, join us today, you can meet with a large number of us actual swift vets.” What did the Washington Post reporter say?


O’Neill:  “No.” He wouldn’t come. It was really funny. 


FPM:  Clearly he had a deep hunger and thirst for truth, didn’t he?


O’Neill:  We had 50 swift boat guys from the Kerry period right here, making plans for what we were going to do.  Actually, we had 6 who were direct witnesses to the March 13th “no man left behind” incident, and he wouldn’t come and talk to us.


FPM:  We talked about Kerry’s veterans spokesman John Hurley, whose own atrocities claim was touched on in the Brinkley book.   If we had time we could talk about Air Force General Merrill McPeak ( who in January The New York Times identified as a Howard Dean supporter) who has now gone over to John Kerry.  But in Saturday’s Chicago Tribune, one of their own editors, William Rood has come forward saying he was a Swift boat commander on February 28, 1969, and after repeated calls by John Kerry, apparently imploring him to come forward on Kerry’s side, Mr. Rood decided to do so.  Have you seen that article?


O’Neill:  I actually haven’t seen the article.  I understand what Rood has done is file an affidavit in connection with the Silver Star incident.  But the first problem they’ve got with that is that the account in my book, Unfit for Command – basically what I did is simply assume after checking, a lot of checking – that the factual account contained in Boston Globe reporter Michael Kranish’s biography of Kerry was correct.  I also assumed that the facts in Tour of Duty were correct….


FPM:  This is the Michael Kranish, who denied that he was paid by the Kerry Campaign, after groups like Amazon.com had reprinted from a publisher’s press release that he had been employed to write the preface to that book.


O’Neill:  Right.  What they’re trying to do is slander Unfit For Command by claiming that the factual account of the Silver Star incident is not correct.  Their problem is that I have used exactly the same account that was used in Kerry’s own autobiography, and the same one used by the Boston Globe in the friendly biography there.  I checked it out, by the way, with a crewman right on Rood’s boat, but Rood himself would not speak to me.  Evidently Kerry had better luck.


FPM:  It’s interesting because Rood himself, in his Chicago Tribune piece, says, “I can’t pretend those calls from John Kerry had no effect on me.”  In other words, he was persuaded by Kerry leaning on him.


O’Neill:  Apparently he did.  I haven’t seen the article.  What does he say exactly?


FPM:  Rood cites rather small differences.  He said he didn’t think that the man Kerry shot in the back was a boy in a loincloth, that he looked like an ordinary VC to us.  He said that we thought we were under enemy fire from the opposite bank, we were certainly returning fire or using suppressing fire in that direction.  But he didn’t talk about how much fire, and he talked about two Vietcong who basically had run away and this one VC was left.  So it’s all rather vague and amorphous. It’s just, “The Swiftboat vets are wrong, they’re telling falsehoods.  John Kerry called me.  I’m coming forward.”  But he doesn’t lay out any highly-detailed contrary facts.  At least that’s how I read it as a professional journalist.


O’Neill:  It’s interesting because I tried to call Rood and he wouldn’t return the call.  And whether the Vietcong was a man in pajamas or a teenager in a loincloth doesn’t seem to be very significant, but the way I got teenager in a loincloth was first from the Kranish biography, and second from various people on the scene.


FPM:  Rood also got a Bronze Star that day.  They were involved in beaching their boats in combat, something contrary to military policy at the time.  So maybe Rood has his own reasons for supporting John Kerry’s version of events. Thank you, John O’Neill, for your service for America.


[Chicago Tribune editor William Rood, having taken this shot at fellow veterans, refuses to do any television or radio interviews where he might be asked to answer questions about his claims or motives, or to give details about John Kerry’s telephone calls or behavior, or to face John O’Neill or other Swift Boat Veterans for Truth members man to man.]

Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.

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