Sunday, August 29, 2004

Sen. John Kerry will break presidential-election tradition this week by addressing the American Legion during the opposing party’s nominating convention.

Mr. Kerry will speak to the veterans group in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, the third day of the Republican National Convention in New York. President Bush is scheduled to speak to the group tomorrow.

The Massachusetts senator’s address to the nation’s largest veterans group comes after recent ads began running by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth criticizing his Vietnam War service and conduct.

Polling conducted since the Swift Boat ads began airing show that Mr. Kerry is falling slightly behind Mr. Bush in key battleground states such as Ohio, Missouri and Wisconsin. The erosion particularly has been evident among veterans.

The Swift Boat group aired a third ad last week after raising more than $2.5 million this month from 37,000 contributors. It focuses on a Swift Boat Veterans for Truth claim by Mr. Kerry — one that his campaign has since backed away from — that he spent Christmas Eve of 1968 on a secret mission in Cambodia.

A second group of anti-Kerry veterans — Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry — also will begin airing television spots around military bases today in eastern North Carolina.

That ad highlights Mr. Kerry’s involvement in Vietnam Veterans Against the War — for which he was national spokesman — after he returned from Vietnam. The ad focuses on a plot considered by the anti-war group to assassinate several of the most pro-war members of the U.S. Senate.

Mr. Kerry has denied that he attended the 1971 meeting in Kansas City where the plot was voted down, but according to Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry — the ad, FBI reports from surveillance of the meeting and several veterans in attendance place Mr. Kerry at the meeting.

Retired Rear Adm. William L. Schachte — who served with Mr. Kerry — has stepped forward in his first on-the-record interview to cast doubt about whether Mr. Kerry deserved his first Purple Heart.

“Kerry nicked himself with a M-79 [grenade-launcher],” Mr. Schachte told Robert Novak for a column that ran in Friday’s Chicago Sun-Times. “Kerry requested a Purple Heart.”

He said that he was “astonished” to read Mr. Kerry’s version of events from that day, saying that he inflated his injuries and his heroism. Kerry supporters say that Mr. Schachte wasn’t on the same boat as Mr. Kerry during that action.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush praised Mr. Kerry’s military service in interviews with The New York Times and NBC’s “Today” show.

He told The New York Times last week that Mr. Kerry “should be proud of his record” and that “I don’t think he lied” about what he did to earn his medals.

When asked by NBC whether he thought he and Mr. Kerry “served on the same level of heroism,” Mr. Bush replied, “No, I don’t. I think him going to Vietnam was more heroic than my flying fighter jets. He was in harm’s way and I wasn’t.”

“On the other hand, I served my country. Had my unit been called up, I would have gone,” Mr. Bush said.

Excerpts of the interview, conducted Saturday for broadcast today, were released by NBC.

Veteran Ted Sampley, who is orchestrating the anti-Kerry ads in North Carolina, said that Mr. Bush and other politicians calling for their halt “just don’t understand veterans.”

“They don’t understand how important this is to us,” he said. “If George Bush or anybody else came and told me to take down my ad, I’d tell him to go fish.”

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