08/10/04 — War record: Is it above a challenge, or grist for the political mill?

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War record: Is it above a challenge, or grist for the political mill?

Sen. John Kerry should respond more fully to statements that some of his former Navy comrades have made about what he did in the Vietnam War.

So far, the primary response has been that challenging a candidate’s war record is somehow sacrilegious, that the record of anyone who served in the war is above scrutiny.

There might be a smidgen of truth to that except for one thing: Kerry has made his military record a central partof his campaign. As columnist Robert Novak has written, his war record got more attention at the Democratic National Convention than did his plans for the country.

Kerry brought out crewmen on a so-called Swift Boat, a river gunboat, that he commanded. These veterans since have proudly campaigned with the senator.

Meanwhile, 18 of his ex-comrades have questioned the candidate’s accounts of some of his adventures, particularly the ones that got him three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star. The members of this group are officers who served on Swift Boats in the same squadron as Kerry.

The fact that they were not actually aboard Kerry’s boat does not discredit them. The boats in the squadron patrolled together, and they were witnesses to what happened.

These veterans, called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, note that none of Kerry’s three Purple Heart wounds — which authorized him to shorten his stay in the combat area — was serious enough to cause him to miss any time on duty.

And they deny Kerry’s assertions that war crimes were committed by the Swift Boat crews.

Many of these men stayed in the military, and one is a retired admiral. All said Kerry was unfit to be commander in chief. Absent a more thorough rebuttal than we have seen, they are credible.

Published in Editorials on August 10, 2004 12:48 PM