NASHVILLE, Tenn. — John Kerry was politely received by the American Legion yesterday, delivering a speech focused on veteran pocketbook issues and President Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq without addressing the attacks leveled against him last month by fellow veterans.
“I’m proud to be here, and I’m proud to be a Legionnaire,” he said after saluting the several thousand veterans seated in the giant hall.
“When I am president, you will have a fellow veteran in the White House who understands that those who fought for our country abroad should never have to fight for what they were promised back here at home,” Mr. Kerry said.
The audience politely responded to most of Mr. Kerry’s pauses for his applause lines and gave him a standing ovation.
It was the candidate’s first appearance before a major national veterans group since sailors who served near Mr. Kerry in Vietnam launched a series of TV ads severely critical of his conduct protesting the war and questioning whether he deserved his medals.
In addition, Mr. Kerry’s campaign added more-experienced Democratic operatives on Tuesday, including President Clinton’s White House press secretary Joe Lockhart amid Democrat charges that the old team was too slow to respond to the ads by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which have hurt Mr. Kerry’s standing in polls.
Vietnam veteran Manny Mirailh from South Canaan, Pa., was among a handful of veterans who walked out as Mr. Kerry began speaking.
“We, we, we, we,” he said, rolling his eyes. “When did he join the Legion? He must have a mouse in his pocket.”
Although Mr. Kerry was clearly critical of Mr. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, his speech emphasized his understanding of basic issues affecting veterans.
“In recent weeks, you have heard from some who have claimed that the job is getting done for veterans,” he said. “Well, just saying the job is getting done doesn’t make it so.”
He leveled several charges at Mr. Bush over the president’s handling of Iraq.
“President Bush now admits he miscalculated in Iraq,” Mr. Kerry said. “In truth, his miscalculation was ignoring advice that was given to him, including the best advice of America’s own military.”
In a conference room off the main convention hall, several anti-Kerry veterans distributed fliers, buttons and CD-ROMs filled with information about Mr. Kerry, including a full-page advertisement that ran in Nashville’s Tennessean newspaper this week.
“The wounds inflicted by John Kerry on millions of veterans go to the heart and soul,” veteran Dexter Lehtinen said in the ad about Mr. Kerry’s testimony before Congress 33 years ago accusing U.S. soldiers of committing atrocities. “These wounds never go away.”
The speech came one day after Mr. Bush addressed the same conference and received several standing ovations.View Entire Story
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