08/29/04 — Fellow sailors speak for Kerry

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Fellow sailors speak for Kerry

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on August 29, 2004 8:20 AM

Thirty-five years ago, John Kerry defended their lives on rivers in southern Vietnam. Saturday, two of Kerry's brothers in arms came to Goldsboro to defend his reputation.

Del Sandusky and Elliott "Skip" Barker said that Kerry is nothing like he's been portrayed in television and Internet ads by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

"Those other guys you've seen on TV did not serve with John Kerry," Sandusky said. "I've know him 35 years and he's never lied to me. You don't know what that means to me."

Barker called Kerry someone who could have avoided military service but instead went to Vietnam and served with honor and distinction. He continues to be a man of intelligence and compassion, Barker said.

"He is the person we need in the White House," he said.

The lunchtime rally at Wilber's Barbecue and similar events in Greenville and Fayetteville were organized to counter some of the publicity given to recent attacks on U.S. Sen. Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president.

Kerry has campaigned as a war hero, having been awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam.

But the Swift Boat Veterans group, which is financially backed by President Bush's supporters, have claimed that Kerry should not have received some of the honors. Their ads have included men who have claimed to have known Kerry in Vietnam.

Both Sandusky, the senior enlisted man on PCF-94, skippered by Kerry, and Barker, skipper of PCF-31, which operated jointly with Kerry's boat, denied knowing any of the featured veterans.

"There may have been one or two that I might have known well enough to say hello to in a bar, but that was it," Sandusky said.

The group of men who served with Kerry remain close, Barker said. "In the crucible of combat, there is borne a relationship, a bond that is so hard to explain to someone who has not been there."

They recalled their own meetings with Kerry, then a recent graduate of Yale University who voluntarily entered the military.

"You could tell right away that he was somebody special," said Sandusky, a Florida resident. "Not only because he was a tall drink of water but because he had a lot of charisma."

Their swift boat came under daily fire, often repeatedly in the same day, said Barker, now an Alabama lawyer and cotton farmer. "At times when we were being ambushed, he would turn the boat and destroy the ambushers."

Kerry's military service matters because it would inform the decisions he would make as president, Barker said.

Every person who has fought in a war has seen buddies carried away on stretchers, he continued. "The question always is, was it worth his life? The answer has got to be yes."

Kerry would be able to take decisive military actions but wouldn't do so unless he was certain that it was necessary, he said. "Life is too precious to him."

Sandusky recalled that his crew had saved a puppy from a Vietnamese dinner table by trading some chocolate for it. That dog became a boat mascot. During firefights, Kerry would pick the puppy up and tuck it inside his flak jacket. "That's one of the things I love about John Kerry," he said.

Sandusky said that he has talked with several current U.S. servicemen who are serving or have served in Iraq. They are increasingly losing confidence in President Bush and the chain of command, he said. "What's ever happened to Osama Been Forgotten?"

They are also worried that they will be slandered as Kerry has been, Sandusky said. "Are they going to be welcomed home, or are their medals going to be questioned?"