- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

World War II hero Bob Dole yesterday questioned whether presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry deserved the Purple Hearts he was awarded during the Vietnam War and said the issue could lead to the Democrat’s defeat.

Mr. Dole’s comments came in response to the book “Unfit for Command” by John E. O’Neill and Jerome R. Corsi and to television ads criticizing Mr. Kerry’s behavior during and after the war by members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Mr. Dole, a former Republican presidential nominee and Kansas senator, said he has a “quarrel” with Mr. Kerry for receiving three Purple Hearts while serving only four months in battle.

“I said John Kerry’s a hero. But what I will always quarrel about are the Purple Hearts. I mean, the first one, whether he ought to have a Purple Heart — he got two in one day, I think. And he was out of there in less than four months, because three Purple Hearts and you’re out,” Mr. Dole told CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.”

“But three Purple Hearts and never bled, that I know of? I mean, they’re all superficial wounds,” said Mr. Dole of the military decoration for troops wounded in battle.

“And as far as I know, he’s never spent one day in the hospital. I don’t think he draws any disability pay. He doesn’t have any disability — and boasting about three Purple Hearts, when you think of some of the people who really got shot up in Vietnam,” Mr. Dole said.

Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton said yesterday, “It’s unfortunate that Senator Dole is making statements that official U.S. Navy records prove false. This is partisan politics, not the truth.”

Mr. Dole received the Bronze Star for trying to save an injured radio man while fighting the Nazis in Italy and two Purple Hearts — one of them for life-threatening injuries from German machine-gun fire in the back and arm during the rescue attempt.

Mr. Dole joined the Army in 1942 and was injured in 1945 while serving in the 10th Mountain Division. He spent nearly three years in a hospital recovering from surgeries on his right arm, which was shattered beyond recognition and remains paralyzed today.

Mr. Kerry received three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star and the Silver Star while commanding a Navy Swift Boat crew in Vietnam for four months in 1968 and ‘69. He invoked a Navy regulation that allowed sailors with three Purple Hearts to request reassignment out of combat duty.

Mr. Kerry’s critics say that all of Mr. Kerry’s wounds were minor and that none required hospitalization. In one instance, they say shrapnel was removed with tweezers and covered with an adhesive bandage.

In “Unfit for Command,” some of Mr. Kerry’s fellow Navy veterans suggest that Mr. Kerry recommended himself for his first Purple Heart after his commander refused to do so and say the wound might have come from shrapnel from a grenade that Mr. Kerry fired himself from a grenade launcher. The authors also charge that Mr. Kerry exaggerated the combat conditions during which he suffered the wounds.

Mr. Kerry is accusing the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth of being a “front group” for the Bush campaign.

Kerry campaign manager Tad Devine yesterday called the book and ads “a pack of lies” and also questioned President Bush’s and Vice President Dick Cheney’s war records.

“Obviously, because of the president’s record of service during the time of the Vietnam War and the vice president’s record of a number of deferrals, they themselves cannot advance this argument against John Kerry,” Mr. Devine said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“They let others do their dirty work for them,” he said.

Democratic vice-presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards called the ads “the moment of truth for President Bush.”

“The American people have to hear directly that these ads need to come off the air,” he said while campaigning yesterday in North Carolina.

Mr. Kerry’s campaign yesterday released a new TV ad that repeats the theme and urges the president to “denounce the smear. Get back to the issues. America deserves better.”

The 30-second commercial will air in the same three states as the Swift Boat Veterans’ ad — Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan has repeatedly denied any connection to the group, but the Bush campaign discovered over the weekend that one of its volunteers appeared in a Swift Boat Veterans ad.

Retired Air Force Col. Ken Cordier was dismissed from the campaign on Saturday.

“Colonel Cordier did not inform the campaign of his involvement in the advertisement,” the Bush campaign said. “Because of his involvement, Colonel Cordier will no longer participate as a volunteer for Bush-Cheney ‘04.”

Col. Cordier spent six years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp and says in the latest Swift Boat Veterans ad that Mr. Kerry’s testimony to the U.S. Senate in 1971 that U.S. troops routinely committed atrocities caused more misery in the camps.

That ad, the group’s second, shows video of Mr. Kerry’s testimony before Congress after he returned from the war, saying that troops had “personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads” and committed other atrocities.

“I think this can hurt Kerry more than all the medal controversy,” Mr. Dole said of the ad.

“I mean, one day he’s saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons. The next day he’s standing there, ‘I want to be president because I’m a Vietnam veteran.’ ”

Mr. Kerry should apologize to Vietnam veterans and release his military records and personal journals, Mr. Dole said.

“I think this has certainly damaged Senator Kerry. And I think it’s partly his own doing,” Mr. Dole said.

He and other leading Republicans yesterday said the debate, instead, should be on Mr. Kerry’s Senate record.

The former Senate majority leader said he “can’t remember a single piece of legislation” that Mr. Kerry sponsored. “Maybe he did a lot of good work, but it wasn’t very obvious.”

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that voters want to hear about issues that will affect them today.

“I would hope that we could cease and desist, rev the Swift Boats down, put them in a dry dock, and let’s get on to other issues,” Mr. Roberts said.

Ken Mehlman, Bush campaign manager, agreed, telling NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the campaign should focus on Mr. Kerry’s judgment during his 20 years in office.

“This organization and its focus on Vietnam is not what our campaign is about,” Mr. Mehlman said.

The Swift Boat Veterans group is organized under section 527 of the federal tax code. Of the $63 million such groups have spent for campaign advertising, nearly all has targeted Mr. Bush and only $2.5 million has been aimed at Mr. Kerry, Mr. Mehlman said.

“It is my position, it is the campaign’s position, that all of these 527 ads are wrong, and they should all come down,” Mr. Mehlman said.

• James Lakely in Crawford, Texas, contributed to this report

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