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Veterans & Politics
Are we Our Own
WORST ENEMY?

Commentary by your Webmaster
C. Douglas Sterner
January 25, 2004


 

If anyone in America has an obligation to vote, it is most certainly Veterans--men and women who have personally sacrificed to preserve the principles that guide the greatest nation in the world.  As a voting-block, we rank with AARP as one of the single-largest groups that should be courted by any person seeking elective political office.  Sadly, there are fewer politicians serving in the United States Senate and House of Representatives than at any time in our history.  I believe most military veterans will quickly agree with me that we need more of our brothers and sisters in elective office.  I'm afraid, however, many of you will be quick to disagree with the issue I would like to address in this column.

There is great danger for any veteran who steps forward to seek elective office.  Sadly, it seems that veterans are quick to "eat their own."  Several years ago while attending a high-profile veterans function in Washington, DC, I was surprised to learn that the majority of the rhetoric was aimed at blasting Senator John McCain.  The web was full of negative stories about the former Prisoner of War, much of it sensational and tabloid journalism.  But the repetition of the criticism by so many veterans caused me to begin to wonder if my own admiring assessment of the man might be in error.

Then, while attending a Medal of Honor convention as a guest of the Society, I heard Medal of Honor recipient George Bud Day talk about his time at the Hanoi Hilton with John McCain.  One of the most decorated heroes in American military history, Colonel Day is an incredible hero and an American icon.  His respect for John McCain was quickly apparent, and I learned promptly the danger of giving too much credence to rumor and diatribe in the veteran community.  Whether stemming from jealousy, or from some other source, the easiest way to become the enemy of a small but highly vocal group of veterans is to become high-profile and successful.  Sadly, it can be a dangerous thing to be a veteran in the spotlight.  One of the first things to be called into question is the nature of one's service...and all too often it comes from fellow veterans.

During the last presidential campaign, as a conservative and as a Republican I supported George Bush.  Nonetheless, I was greatly disturbed to see veterans turn on Al Gore for the sheltered nature of his Vietnam service.  First and foremost, I could understand that.  If I had been the man's company commander, I'd have taken every step possible to keep the son of a prominent American politician out of harm's way.  Secondarily, Al Gore as a correspondent for Castle Courier, my own unit's newspaper, covered the Lam Son 719 mission in the field.  I was involved in that mission, earned the ARCOM with "V" for the initial assault, and may well have bumped into him in the early months of 1971.  I know he was not TOTALLY sheltered--there was NO safe place when we returned to Khe Sahn.

The bottom line is this:
The honorable service of no veteran should be called into question, purely for political purpose or because one disagrees with the affiliation of that politician.

In the days leading up to the war in Iraq, one of the most high-profile protestors of the war was a former Army chaplain who earned the Medal of Honor in Vietnam.  This man returned his Medal years ago in protest against other political policies, and continues to be involved in unpopular and often-radical movements.  What this man has done since his service in Vietnam may be offensive to many, but it does not diminish the acts of heroism that earned him the title "hero" in Vietnam.  Though he is not involved in the Medal of Honor Society, he is STILL a man who performed heroically under fire, and having heard first-hand from men who were there at the time, these still admire him for his courage in that moment in time.  We may disagree with his current political activism, even despise his anti-war activities in Iraq, but the man's personal service in Vietnam is deserving of our respect.

In recent years we've seen former Senator Robert Kerrey assailed by some in the veterans community, his Medal of Honor called into question, and his service in Vietnam scrutinized for every detail of sensational war-crimes.  As with Al Gore, I am certainly not a Kerrey fan politically, but I have ultimate respect for the man and his military service.  I am saddened that so many of his fellow veterans, men who were not there to witness the man's service, are quick to jump on the bandwagon to try and destroy an American hero.

Heroism, and the nature of one's service, is in the eye of the beholder.  As a historian, I could not begin to count the number of heroes I've heard bashed.  Recently, while doing a story on a WWII airman, I interviewed a crewman who flew on the mission in which this individual died earning the Medal of Honor.  "(Name) was an *****, this man told me.  He never deserved to receive the Medal of Honor, and the Army only gave it to him because he was killed."

A few days later I interviewed another member of the crew of that same aircraft.  This man was with the dying hero, indeed held him in his arms until the man died.  With great emotion he related, "(Name) was one of the greatest heroes of the air war.  It's sad so few people have ever heard his story."

I opted to make this the current topic for commentary, for we are now entering a new round of political maneuvering for the White House.  Recently my email has been full of messages from veterans assailing the military record of Democratic front-runner Senator John Kerry (no relation to Bob Kerrey and NOT a Medal of Honor recipient).  Despite the fact that Senator Kerry came home from Vietnam and engaged in radical anti-war activities, one cannot deny respect to his service before coming home that earned him the Silver Star, Bronze Star with "V", and three Purple Hearts.  Sure, you will hear veterans claim that his Purple Hearts were awarded for minor wounds.  The argument is unfair, many other Vietnam Veterans received Purple Hearts for minor wounds but I would certainly NOT take away from them the legitimate right to wear the award or to be rendered the respect it deserves.  Others will question the merits of John Kerry's Silver Star.  Almost without exception, the outcry will come from veterans who have never met the Massachusetts Senator and who have NO personal knowledge of the details behind the award other than the text of the citation.

I, for one, will not vote for John Kerry if he receives the Democratic nomination to run against George Bush.  I make this decision based SOLELY upon what John Kerry has done SINCE his military service in Vietnam, and based upon his current political agenda.  I will NOT, however, criticize his military service in Vietnam or downplay his medals.  For all the wrong things he may have done since the war, while in the uniform of the United States Navy he did some things VERY WELL, and I will honor that.

I hope that others of the veterans community will do likewise.

Doug Sterner


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As a Vietnam veteran and a candidate for Congress (First District of Arkansas), I share your feelings. My wife, pregnant at the time, was taunted by anti-war "protestors" who told her her husband was going to be killed in Vietnam. This kind of talk cannot be allowed to get started in THIS war -- do not allow self-serving politicians and "famous personalities" to do to this generation of young Americans what they did to our generation. Vernon Humphrey Republican for Congress First District of Arkansas www.vernonhumphrey.com
Vernon Humphrey <vernh@mvtel.net>
Mountain View, AR USA -
I struggle with this issue often when non-military friends and relatives ask about such controversy. I too loath disparaging another's service because of their celebrity (Jessica Lynch) or their politics (John Kerry). In the case of Kerry, his own decision to make his service, and specifically the quality of his service in comparison to Bush, an issue in his campaign makes this even more difficult. This is compounded by my own knowledge that awards, without knowing the person and the events leading to the award, speak little on thier own (although I remain in strict admiration of CMOH recipients). This is sad, but has been historically true, and the context of the award remains more important than the award itself. I am also painfully aware that too many deserving were not awarded for extraneous considerations of rank, race, favoritism and quotas, among others. With Kerry, I simply explain that he went to Vietnam and deserves the respect that goes with that. His self-aggrandizement and disparaging of the military service of his opponent speak for themselves.
Tim
Stockbridge, GA USA -
I don't know what Tim's "self-aggrandizement" means and frankly I didn’t bother to look it up but I think that there should be some disparaging remarks aimed toward George W. Bush. I was a helicopter-gunship pilot covering PBRs and Swift boats about the same time John Kerry was also placing his butt in harms way on a Swift boat down in the Delta. I don’t know if Tim has any clue what it’s like to be in real combat where they are shooting real bullets at you but I assure you that George W. Bush doesn’t. People who were there used to ask the: “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Answer: “To join the National Guard.” And then… he couldn’t even hack-it one weekend a month and went AWOL. John Kerry came back from Viet Nam and had the guts to speak-up and say that the country had screwed up by getting in a war to wrestle the rubber plantations back from Ho Chi Minh for our “friends” the French. I am 63. I have my fair share of medals and I wish I had had the courage to speak out about Viet Nam like John Kerry did.
Peter Hutchins <peterlvhutchins@yahoo.com>
Atlanta, GA USA -
Peter, I have a clue. I am neither particularly impressed with Kerry's few months service in Vietnam nor particularly trouble by Bush's few years in the National Guard. I don't find admirable Kerry's leadership in the VVAW and role in its Winter Soldier Investigation, support for the People's Peace Treaty and coziness with Jane Fonda. I'm not impressed with his opportunism and narcissism (look it up) in parlaying his hero turned protester status to gain political office. I am not impressed with his chairmanship of the POW/MIA Select Committee which was more interested in opening trade with Vietnam and collecting campaign contributions than repatriating our vets. I am not impressed with Kerry's political record concerning issues important to our intelligence services and military. Finally, this spurious AWOL charge from another vet is the height of stupidity. I've seen the records posted on the Internet. There is less there than the ridiculous fuss made over Boorda's V devices and Hackworth's Ranger tab.
Tim
Stockbridge, GA USA -
I, also feel veterans need to be careful of the attempt to minimize someone's service. Gunfire does not ask if you are a reservist or not. In the same vein, training accidents also don't care if you are a reservist or not. Sen. Kerry's service deserves a thank you from the public, but then again so does Pres. Bush's. Service to country whether in the Reserves or active duty is a credit to one's civic devotion. Does this mean that I have to vote for Senator Kerry because he served in Vietnam, and President Bush didn't? In that case,any votes for Bill Clinton against George H. W. Bush should not have happened. We decide who we vote for partially based on what the candidate will do for those of our brothers and sisters in uniform right now, in addition to other factors. Based on his activities after returning from Vietnam, and his voting record, I can't in good conscience vote for the senator. Please, whoever you support, go and vote! Our compatriots died defending the freedoms we cherish,one of those is the right to vote. Please do not squander that right.
Hector <hmm19@yahoo.com>
Orange, Texas USA -
I read that Bush flew F102s for the Texas National Guard and some hold it against him that his unit was not sent to combat in Viet Nam. As I remember it, control of the air was never a factor in Viet Nam; therefore, what reason would the Air Force have for sending a unit of F102s, a plane I believe was mainly designed for air combat, to Viet Nam. In Korea and Iraq the Air Force had opposition and in both theaters National Guard pilots flew numerous combat missions. It was just the luck of the draw that Chinese or Russian pilots weren't in the air over Viet Nam. Besides when I was in the service during the Korean War, fighter pilots augered in with great regularity, even without combat. At 600 + mph and only 5 minutes to get airborne flying can be a very dangeous business -- not a military occupational speciality for those who are afraid or want to live without danger.
R.B. Nelson <robertben2000@comcast.net>
corvallis, OR USA -
Senator John Kerry was only one on that boat who received the Silver Star for that action , which praise Sen Kerry..I have one question was Sen Kerry the only one on that boat who was friends with the Kennedy Family and why he and not others were rewarded the medal? Just thought as saw picture think was 1962 Kerry with president Kennedy on a boat cruse
Pete <pmdee@concentric.net>
Washington , DC USA -
I keep hearing about John Kerry's service aboard Swift Boats (PCF's) in the Mekong Delta. Kerry was not a member of the River Patrol in Vietnam. The Swift Boats were part of Operation Market Time (TF-115) and assigned to patrol the coastal waters in the ocean along shore. I am tired of the River Patrol wannabe's trying to hang their hats on the very dangerous service endured by the River Patrol Force, Operation Gamewarden (TF-116). All the Swift Boats that I am aware of were assigned to Antoi on Phu Quoc Island off the SW Coast of Vietnam. Kerry should at the very least quit talking about his service in the Mekong Delta and say it like it is......patrol along the coast of Vietnam.
Dick Godbehere <gsd.hawaii>
kalaheo, Hi USA -
I keep hearing about John Kerry's service aboard Swift Boats (PCF's) in the Mekong Delta. Kerry was not a member of the River Patrol in Vietnam. The Swift Boats were part of Operation Market Time (TF-115) and assigned to patrol the coastal waters in the ocean along shore. I am tired of the River Patrol wannabe's trying to hang their hats on the very dangerous service endured by the River Patrol Force, Operation Gamewarden (TF-116). All the Swift Boats that I am aware of were assigned to Antoi on Phu Quoc Island off the SW Coast of Vietnam. Kerry should at the very least quit talking about his service in the Mekong Delta and say it like it is......patrol along the coast of Vietnam.
Dick Godbehere <gsd.hawaii>
Kapaa, Hi USA -
I am particularly troubled by the media's voracious appetite when it comes to denigrating GW's National Guard service. The majority of men joining the Guard, during the Vietnam era, clearly wanted to avoid going to Vietnam. As a Vietnam vet who served two tours (a grunt with M co. 3/5, 1st MARDIV and a tour with 1st MAW, security), I don't find GW's actions particularly offensive. However, the "Chest full of Medals" GIVEN to John Kerry are quite another matter. So much is being made about his awards, I find it appalling that noone(in the MEDIA) seems to dare to question the fact that Kerry's decorations do NOT meet the criteria necessary for some of his awards... Particularly the Silver Star. Remember, the Silver Star is our Nation's THIRD HIGHEST award for VALOR. According to, both, his own crew member's statements and the official citation, it is abundantly clear that Kerry did NOT deserve such a high award. If, indeed, he deserved any award at all for that, so-called "action." The same could be said of his Bronze Star award .
richard montgomery <Rmontg5805@aol.com>
Palm Bay, FL USA -
Further to my previous email. My own Vietnam experience left me totally and permanently disabled (my VA rating is in excess of 170%). All of it COMBAT related. However, I am NOT entitled to wear even one Purple Heart. But, THAT is not the reason why Kerry makes me sick. The very idea that he would appeal to VN vets for support after his post-Vietnam actions is beyond bizzare. He won't be getting my vote..not now, not ever.
richard montgomery <Rmontg5805@aol.com>
Palm Bay, FL USA -
I am also curious about the nature of the acts that resulted in John Kerry's silver star. Does anyone have the exact citation. From the comments I've seen from others on his boat, his actions seemed more like a souvenir hunt (returing with the RPG launcher) that a heroic action. Also, I keep seeing the film footage of him in full grunt regalia trudging through the boonies. It always strikes me how 'staged' it looks. Perhaps someone here could tell me: was it normal for Navy swift boat personnel to 'dismount' and perform land-based ops?
Ralph Roberts <robrtr@comcast.net>
Laurel, MD USA -
I'm not a Veteran, though I did work full time in VA hospitals for 9 years and therefore have tremendous appreciation, respect, and gratitude for all of you (I was lottery # 263 in a year where it didn't go over 130). As an outsider, I won't join in your debate, but I am moved beyond words by Mr. Sterner's gracious loyalty and solidarity with Veterans of opposite political persuasions. I am also respectful of the Veterans who offered follow-up comments, whether in support or contrarian. Most of all, I just want to thank all of you for your service and sacrifice on behalf of the vast majority of us who did not serve but who depended on those who did. You have never let us down.
Larry Weisenthal <runnswim@aol.com>
Huntington Beach, CA USA -
I was impressed with Mr Sterner's entry above, and generally wish it were always true. But the impression I've been left with is that many, having hitched their support to GWB, are discovering his bio version of his military career left out several details (like going AWOL, like failing to report for his flight physical in 1972, like not flying again in his final two years of Guard duty) which should have come out in 2000. But since the press was too hard trying to prove Al Gore had a "truth" problem, they gave W a pass. Not this time. Remember, its Bush who's claimed on 3 separate occasions that he had released all his records, yet to this day has not (ie where's his DD214?). Yet these same people attack Kerry, who served in combat VOLUNTARILY!!! Or look at Ann Coulter,who has mocked and denigrated Max Cleland and how he lost his limbs!
John Haas <johnh@concentric.net>
Omaha, NE USA -
New revelations of Bush's National Guard record vindicate the President.Also NEWSWEEK reported that the president had inquired about serving in Viet Nam,but was denied because the the aircraft he was qualified in, the F-102,was not being used "in country".In this post 9-11 world, who do you want as Commander-in-Chief,Kerry,with his anti-defense and anti-intelligence senatorial voting record,or George W. Bush ,who has eliminated al-qaida and Taliban dominance in Afghanistan;liberated Iraq from a monstrous dictatorship;has caused Libya to give up it's WMD programs,and is about to bring N. Korea to the bargaining table.Our enemies respect strength ,and the willingness to use it.
Ed Foster <cfoster151@cox.net>
Pensacola, FL USA -
"I don't get worked up about medals, and think less of those who get excited over the ones they've got...." "As to the awarding of medals in general. It is spotty business. I've always considered the Medal of Honor winners I've met to have demonstrated the right attitude: "I bear this award for having been noticed doing something heroic on a particular day, but I'm no hero. For each one of us given this honor, there are hundreds if not thousands of men and women who dared more against greater odds whose feats of heroism are unknown or unrecognized because those who witnessed them are either all dead, or had not the skill with words to tell what they had seen so that others could comprehend the magnitude of what was done....""
Nick Beal (Quoting a Lt Col on Kerry as a war hero.) <GUJSTYYGMOBZ@spammotel.com>
Tulsa, OK USA -
Having served a tour flying out of Udorn RTAFB, I don't make much out of a persons praising their own "war record". To me the names of the real heroes of that war are on the granite wall in Washington D.C. The timing of the submission of the decoration recommendation and the writing skill of the person doing the submitting had a lot to do with many of the decorations awarded in that conflict. Beside that was 30 years ago. I will be supporting President Bush because of the leadership he has shown while in political office. I will campaign against John Kerry because of his voting record while in the Senate and because he like to tyalk out of both sides of his mouth. He had condemned the wall being built by the Isrealis when speaking before Muslims and praised the wall when speaking before Jews. He voted for the war in Iraq but against the defense budget that is paying for it. John Kerry is not an honorable man and will hurt this country deeply if elected.
Mike Dumiak <srboxman54@yahoo.com>
Sumter, SC USA -
As an ex-Naval officer that witnessed actions which later were twisted into a Navy Chief's Silver Star award. I now doubt many awards for supposed heroics. President Linden Johnson's actions that resulted in a Silver Star are very questionable. In my case,when shooting started a Navy Chief left our Navy landing party on the beach and took off with his landing craft instead of picking us up as ordered. It was our machine gun firing at the enemy not the other way around. Many hours later (at night) after verifying there was no shooting he returned to get us. His award told of how he heroicly rescued us while under enemy machine gun fire. Did any of Kerry's crew received awards for the same action that resulted in his Silver Star? As the senior officer on the scene I was never informed of the Chief's award prior to it being given. You can imagine the shock when the award ceremony was held on my ship months after the incident. Joe
Joe Langlois <caroleandjoe@earthlink.net>
Coral Springs, FL USA -
Kerry's Silver Star citation: "For conspicuous gallantry & intrepidity in action... on 28 Feb 1969. Lt. Kerry was serving as Officer in Charge of PCF-94.... As the force approached the target area... all units came under intense automatic weapons & small arms fire from an entrenched enemy force less than 50 ft away. Unhesitatingly, Lt. Kerry ordered his boat to attack... & beached directly in front of the enemy ambushers. The daring & courageous tactic ... succeeded in routing a score of enemy soldiers....captured many enemy weapons....the boats again were taken under fire from a heavily foliated area & a B-40 rocket exploded close aboard PCF-94; with utter disregard for his own safety... he again ordered a charge on the enemy, beached his boat only 10 ft from the VC rocket position, & personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy... an enemy rest & supply area which was destroyed. The extraordinary daring & personal courage of Lt. Kerry in attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire were responsible for the highly successful mission....
Tom Page <tompage@surfree.com>
Fort Dix, NJ USA -
John Kerry is a decorated war hero. Period. Anyone who says otherwise, either simply doesn't know the facts or is simply engaging in gutter politics & political smear campaign against him (or parroting those who do). Those with an axe to grind against Kerry for political/ideological reasons should not sink to the depths of questioning the service record in Vietnam. As the citation written by Kerry's commanding officer [above] clearly shows, Kerry served his country with great bravery & distinction. For more on this read: "Tour of Duty" by Douglas Brinkley - which contains multiple eyewitness accounts from his crewmates of all of the actions in which Kerry was awarded medals. See also this Urban Legends site which debunk all other politically inspired myths regarding John Kerry's service: http://www.snopes.com/politics/kerry/service.asp
Tom Page <tompage@surfree.com>
Fort Dix, NJ USA -
This message is in response to Tom Pages post. Kerry was assigned to TF 115 (Operation Market Time), stationed on Phu Quoc Island off the southwest coast of the mekong delta. When I was in Nam stationed with the River Patrol TF 116 (Operation Game Warden)in 196768, Swift boats were not allowed anywhere near the rivers of the Delta. Kerry beaching his boat after supposeably coming under fire from 15 feet away doesn't make anymore sense than three purple heart medals in 4 months and not missing a day of duty. You damn right I question his medals. Sounds real phony to me. Kerry doing all these heroic things and witnessing all the alleged atrocities sounds like total bullshit. In all the time I was in Nam I saw no weird conduct such as cutting off ears, and the movie like things such as cranking up electrical shock probes to testicals. Kerry is full of crap. Four months in country and running away on a technicality, real hero.
Dick Godbehere <gsd.hawaii@verizon.net>
Kapaa, USA -

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