- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Sen. John Kerry’s bid to become commander in chief of wartime America has opened old wounds among some former Vietnam-era prisoners of war who bristle over the Massachusetts Democrat’s anti-war activism.

His activities and statements, pushed out of sight by a campaign that spotlights Mr. Kerry’s service in Vietnam, were used by the POWs’ North Vietnamese captors to sap the morale of prisoners and U.S. troops still in the field in South Vietnam, say former POWs.

“They were always talking about [anti-war demonstrations], and they picked right up on Kerry’s throwaway line, ‘Don’t be the last man to die in a lost cause, or die for a lost cause,’” said Kenneth Cordier, an Air Force pilot who spent 2,284 days as a prisoner. “They repeated that incessantly.

“They used these photographs and inputs, voice tapes, whatever, from these peace people to try to convince us the whole country had turned anti-war and we were showing a very bad attitude and would never go home.”

Jim Warner, a prisoner of the North Vietnamese in the Hoa Lo prison complex — known to U.S. servicemen as the Hanoi Hilton — does remember. In 1971, a North Vietnamese guard and interrogator nicknamed “Boris” by the prisoners pulled papers from his pocket and gave them to Mr. Warner to think about, he said.

Apart from clippings from a leftist newspaper in the United States, there was a typewritten transcript of Mr. Kerry’s testimony before a U.S. Senate panel in which he repeated charges that U.S. troops were committing atrocities routinely, attacked the war and said communism was not a threat in Vietnam.

Mr. Warner said Mr. Kerry and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which had staged large demonstrations in Washington, were often mentioned in the radio broadcasts that played incessantly over the camp’s loudspeakers.

Mr. Cordier doesn’t recall Mr. Kerry’s name being used in interrogations, propaganda broadcasts on radio or during “attitude checks” — political indoctrination sessions.

But he said he remembers the North Vietnamese using photographs of war veterans throwing military medals over the White House fence.

Mr. Cordier and Mr. Warner said that although the war protest propaganda was sometimes disheartening, the North Vietnamese failed in their attempts to use it to break the prisoners’ will.

“It didn’t make us want to give up, it just made us feel discouraged that there were people who felt that way about us,” Mr. Warner said.

During the Democratic National Convention in Boston last week, many anti-Kerry veterans’ groups participated in demonstrations opposing his campaign for the nation’s top job. Other groups are planning more demonstrations.

Mr. Cordier said he is bothered not just by Mr. Kerry’s anti-war past, but his record till now, including his voting against funds for troops in Iraq.

“The measure of a person’s character is their whole history up until the present,” Mr. Cordier said.

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