- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Sen. John Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards, has said melodramatically: “Ask the men who served with him in Vietnam.” But now that men who served with Mr. Kerry in Vietnam are coming forward and contradicting Mr. Kerry’s version of events there, Mr. Edwards calls it a “smear.”

Apparently we are to listen only to those veterans hand-picked by the Kerry campaign.

One photo used by the Kerry campaign shows Mr. Kerry as a young Navy lieutenant, surrounded by 20 of his fellow service men in Vietnam — a “band of brothers.” But now a new book says a majority of the men in that photo objected to having their pictures used in support of Mr. Kerry’s candidacy.

Nearly 200 Vietnam veterans, including many from Mr. Kerry’s old unit, have organized as Vietnam Veterans for Truth to actively oppose John Kerry. And a new book titled “Unfit for Command” by John O’Neill repeatedly contradicts Mr. Kerry’s version of events in Vietnam.

There are of course other books with other views on the subject, notably “Tour of Duty” by Douglas Brinkley, with a pro-Kerry slant. If you enjoyed the movie “Rashomon,” where different people had radically different memories of the same events, you will love reading Mr. O’Neill’s book and Mr. Brinkley’s book together.

The Kerry version begins with his volunteering to serve in the Vietnam War. The O’Neill version has Mr. Kerry’s draft board rejecting his bid for a deferment and Mr. Kerry then enlisting in the Naval Reserve — not the Navy, as in Mr. Brinkley’s book.

Enlisting in the Naval Reserves is not very different from enlisting in the National Guard. The big difference is that John Kerry happened to get sent to Vietnam and George Bush did not. But those decisions were made by people far above them in the military chain of command.

Yet some in the media and elsewhere have acted as if it was heroic for John Kerry to have enlisted in the Naval Reserve and cowardly for George Bush to have enlisted in the National Guard. But none has bothered to show what essential difference — if any — there is between these two back-up branches of service.

Both Mr. O’Neill’s book and Mr. Brinkley’s book have numerous footnotes to document what they say about very specific events. With all the investigative reporters in this country, someone ought to be able to track down many of the controverted facts and settle these things.

But with Beltway journalists favoring Mr. Kerry’s election by 12 to 1, according to a New York Times poll, there may not be much zest for facts this election year.

One discrepancy that does not require much research arises from John Kerry’s statement he was in Cambodia at Christmas time 1968, while President Nixon was assuring the world there were no American forces in Cambodia.

Richard Nixon was not yet president of the United States in December 1968. He had been elected in November but, like other presidents, he did not take office until Jan. 20.

The ferocity of Mr. Kerry’s media defenders was exemplified in Chris Matthews’ browbeating of columnist Michelle Malkin on his “Hardball” program when she questioned Mr. Kerry’s Purple Hearts. Mr. Matthews repeatedly demanded to know if she was saying Mr. Kerry had deliberately shot himself.

That was never the charge made by the Vietnam Veterans for Truth. Those who on the scene say there was no enemy fire, that Mr. Kerry twice accidentally injured himself when shrapnel from his own grenades nicked him, and later an enemy mine also got him. The doctor who treated Mr. Kerry said he removed a tiny fragment with tweezers, applied a Band-Aid — and refused to certify it as a wound meriting a Purple Heart.

Mr. Kerry’s commanding officer at the time also rejected Mr. Kerry’s application for a Purple Heart, according to Mr. O’Neill. Later, Mr. Kerry got a Purple Heart through another commanding officer who knew nothing about the incident and took Mr. Kerry’s word for it.

Maybe the media could put some of the energy they spend trying to discredit Mr. Kerry’s critics into finding out the facts. Or don’t they dare risk finding out?

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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