August 22, 2004

Swift boat skipper: Kerry critics wrong -- Tribune editor breaks long silence on Kerry record; fought in disputed battle

William Rood, metro desk editor for the Chicago
Tribune, another name for the John P. O'Neill Wall of
Heroes...

Tim Jones, Chicago Tribune: The commander of a Navy
swift boat who served alongside Democratic
presidential candidate John Kerry during the Vietnam
War stepped forward Saturday to dispute attacks
challenging Kerry's integrity and war record.
William Rood, an editor on the Chicago Tribune's
metropolitan desk, said he broke 35 years of silence
about the Feb. 28, 1969, mission that resulted in
Kerry's receiving a Silver Star because recent
portrayals of Kerry's actions published in the
best-selling book "Unfit for Command" are wrong and
smear the reputations of veterans who served with
Kerry.
Rood, who commanded one of three swift boats during
that 1969 mission, said that Kerry came under rocket
and automatic weapons fire from Viet Cong forces and
that Kerry devised an aggressive attack strategy that
was praised by their superiors.
He called allegations that Kerry's accomplishments
were "overblown" untrue.
"The critics have taken pains to say they're not
trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did,
but their version of events has splashed doubt on all
of us. It's gotten harder and harder for those of us
who were there to listen to accounts we know to be
untrue, especially when they come from people who were
not there," Rood said in a 1,700-word first-person
account published in Sunday's Tribune.

Cleanse the White House of the Chickenhawk Coup and
Its War-Profiteering Cronies, Show Up for Democracy in
2004: Defeat Bush (again!)

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/specials/elections/chi-0408220343aug22,1,2916896.story?coll=chi-news-hed

JOHN KERRY'S WAR RECORD



Swift boat skipper: Kerry critics wrong -- Tribune editor breaks long silence on Kerry record; fought in disputed battle

By Tim Jones, Tribune national correspondent. Tribune
staff reporter Rick Pearson contributed to this report
from Crawford, Texas
Published August 22, 2004

The commander of a Navy swift boat who served
alongside Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry
during the Vietnam War stepped forward Saturday to
dispute attacks challenging Kerry's integrity and war
record.

William Rood, an editor on the Chicago Tribune's
metropolitan desk, said he broke 35 years of silence
about the Feb. 28, 1969, mission that resulted in
Kerry's receiving a Silver Star because recent
portrayals of Kerry's actions published in the
best-selling book "Unfit for Command" are wrong and
smear the reputations of veterans who served with
Kerry.

Rood, who commanded one of three swift boats during
that 1969 mission, said that Kerry came under rocket
and automatic weapons fire from Viet Cong forces and
that Kerry devised an aggressive attack strategy that
was praised by their superiors.

He called allegations that Kerry's accomplishments
were "overblown" untrue.

"The critics have taken pains to say they're not
trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did,
but their version of events has splashed doubt on all
of us. It's gotten harder and harder for those of us
who were there to listen to accounts we know to be
untrue, especially when they come from people who were
not there," Rood said in a 1,700-word first-person
account published in Sunday's Tribune.

Rood's recollection of what happened on that day at
the southern tip of South Vietnam was backed by key
military documents, including his citation for a
Bronze Star he earned in the battle and a glowing
after-action report written by the Navy captain who
commanded his and Kerry's task force and is now a
critic of the Democratic candidate.

Rood's previously untold story and the documents shed
new light on a key historical event that has taken
center stage in an extraordinary political and media
firestorm generated by a group calling itself the
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Allegations in the book, co-authored by one of the
leaders of the group, accuse Kerry of being a coward
who fabricated wartime events and used comrades for
his "insatiable appetite for medals." The allegations
have fueled a nearly two-week-long TV ad campaign
against the Democratic nominee. Talk radio and cable
news channels have feasted on the story.

Animosity from some veterans toward Kerry goes back
more than 30 years, when Kerry returned from Vietnam
to take a leadership role in the anti-war group
Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Anger reached a
boiling point with Kerry's presidential nomination and
his own highlighting of his service during the war, a
centerpiece of his campaign strategy against President
Bush, who spent the war stateside in the Air National
Guard in Texas and Alabama.

A poll released Friday by the National Annenberg
Election Survey reported that more than half the
country has heard about or seen TV ads attacking
Kerry's war record, a remarkable impact for ads that
have appeared in only a handful of states.

Kerry strongly disputes the allegations, and on
Saturday a spokesman for his campaign, David Wade,
responded to Rood's account by saying, "The truth is
being told, and it's the same and only truth
documented by the Navy 35 years ago and remembered by
those veterans without a Bush political ax to grind."

Wade added that "the real truth being told by veterans
who've had the courage to stand up to the Bush
Republican attack machine is all the honor John Kerry
needs in his life."

Last week, Kerry called on the White House to denounce
the TV ads and accused Bush of relying on the Vietnam
veterans "to do his dirty work." On Thursday, Kerry
challenged Bush to a debate on their respective war
records. Democrats point to unresolved questions about
whether Bush in fact served all the time he was
credited with serving in Alabama.

The Bush campaign has denied any association with the
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth but so far has refused
to condemn the book and the group's TV ads. It had no
direct comment Saturday on Rood's version of events,
instead criticizing the Kerry campaign for alleging
that the Bush team was providing tacit support to the
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and for not repudiating
all advertising by so-called 527 groups, political
organizations barred by law from coordinating their
efforts with campaigns.

"John Kerry knows that attack is false and baseless,"
said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt. "John
Kerry knows that the president has said [Kerry's]
service was noble service. John Kerry knows that there
is no connection between the Bush campaign and this
527 and . . . that President Bush has called on Sen.
Kerry to join him in condemning all of the shadowy 527
groups that are advertising."

Schmidt said Kerry "has remained silent" while
pro-Democratic 527 groups have run $62 million worth
of attack ads targeting Bush.

Kerry's campaign sought to turn up the heat on Bush
through an e-mail effort targeting veterans. The
effort resurrects Arizona Sen. John McCain's
complaints during the 2000 South Carolina Republican
presidential primary about Bush's failure to disavow
attacks on McCain's actions as a prisoner of war.

Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's campaign manager, said
Bush's refusal to disavow the advertising by the swift
boat veterans group was "an unfortunate and classic
move by a Bush-Rove campaign," citing the president's
senior political adviser, Karl Rove.

A report in Friday's New York Times disclosed
connections between the anti-Kerry vets and the Bush
family, Rove and several high-ranking Texas
Republicans. Some of the recent accounts from veterans
critical of Kerry have been contradicted by their own
earlier statements, the Times reported.

Rood's account also sharply contradicts the version
currently put forth by the anti-Kerry veterans. Rood,
61, wrote that Kerry had personally contacted him and
other crew members in recent days asking that they go
public with their accounts of what happened on that
day.

Rood said that, ever since the war, he had "wanted to
put it all behind us--the rivers, the ambushes, the
killing. . . . I have refused all requests for
interviews about Kerry's service--even those from
reporters at the Chicago Tribune."

"I can't pretend those calls [from Kerry] had no
effect on me, but that is not why I am writing this,"
Rood said. "What matters most to me is that this is
hurting crewmen who are not public figures and who
deserved to be honored for what they did. My intent is
to tell the story here and to never again talk
publicly about it."

Rood declined requests from a Tribune reporter to be
interviewed for this article. Rood wrote that he could
testify only to the February 1969 mission and not to
any of the other battlefield decorations challenged by
Kerry's critics--a Bronze Star and three Purple
Hearts--because Rood was not an eyewitness to those
engagements.

Ambush scenario

In February 1969, Rood was a lieutenant junior grade
commanding PCF-23, one of the three 50-foot aluminum
swift boats that carried troops up the Dong Cung, a
tributary of the Bay Hap River. Kerry commanded
another boat, PCF-94, and Lt. j.g. Donald Droz, who
was killed in action six weeks later, commanded
PCF-43. Ambushes from Viet Cong fighters were common
because the noise from boats, powered by twin diesel
engines, practically invited gunfire. Ambushes, Rood
said, "were a virtual certainty."

Before this day's mission, though, Kerry, the tactical
commander of the mission, discussed with Rood and Droz
a change in response to the anticipated ambushes: If
possible, turn into the fire once it is identified and
attack the ambushers, Rood recalled Kerry saying. The
boats followed that new tactic with great success,
Rood said, and the mission was highly praised.

In the book "Unfit for Command," Kerry's critics
maintained otherwise. The book's authors, John O'Neill
and Jerome Corsi, wrote that Kerry's attack on the
Viet Cong ambush displayed "stupidity, not courage."
The book was published by Regnery, a conservative
publisher that has brought into print many books
critical of Democratic politicians and policies.

"The only explanation for what Kerry did is the same
justification that characterizes his entire short
Vietnam adventure: the pursuit of medals and ribbons,"
wrote Corsi and O'Neill. Later in the war, O'Neill
commanded the same swift boat Kerry had led. O'Neill
is now a leader of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

In the book, O'Neill and Corsi said Kerry chased down
a "young Viet Cong in a loincloth . . . clutching a
grenade launcher which may or may not have been
loaded."

Rood recalled the fleeing Viet Cong was "a grown man,
dressed in the kind of garb the VC usually wore."
There were other attackers as well, he said, and his
boat and Kerry's boat took significant fire.

After the attack, the task force commanding officer,
then-Capt. Roy Hoffmann, sent a message of
congratulations to the three swift boats, saying their
charge of the ambushers was a "shining example of
completely overwhelming the enemy" and that it "may be
the most efficacious [method] of dealing with small
numbers of ambushers," Rood said.

In the official after-action message, obtained by the
Tribune, Hoffmann wrote that the tactics developed and
executed by Kerry, Rood and Droz were "immensely
effictive [sic]" and that "this operation did
unreparable [sic] damage to the enemy in this area."

"Well done," Hoffmann concluded in his message.

But more than three decades later, Hoffmann, now a
retired rear admiral, has changed his story. Today he
is one of Kerry's most vocal critics, saying the
attacks against the ambushers 35 years ago call into
question Kerry's judgment and show his tendency to be
impulsive.

Rood challenges that criticism, recalling that the
direction for the actions they took on the river that
day came from the highest ranks of the Navy command in
Vietnam.

"What we did on Feb. 28, 1969, was well in line with
the tone set by our top commanders," Rood said.

Asked for his response to Rood's account, O'Neill
argued that the former swift boat skipper's version of
events is not substantially different from what
appeared in the book. The account of the Feb. 28
attack draws heavily on reporting from The Boston
Globe, O'Neill said.

He said the congratulatory note from Hoffmann was
based on the belief that Kerry was under heavy fire
from the Viet Cong. But O'Neill claimed that "didn't
happen." Had Hoffmann known the true circumstances of
events that day, O'Neill said, he would not have
issued the congratulatory note. Attempts to reach
Hoffmann for comment were unsuccessful.

O'Neill said in a statement Saturday that, unlike
Rood, most of the officers who served with Kerry do
not support him.

"Bill Rood is one of 23 officers who served with John
Kerry at An Thoi," O'Neill said. "Seventeen of those
officers have condemned John Kerry."

He called Rood's criticism of "Unfit for Command"
"extremely unfair" and said Rood declined to be
interviewed for the book he and Corsi wrote.

"We strongly stand by the different judgments we
reached as to the advisability of beaching the Kerry
boat and chasing the wounded, fleeing Viet Cong
teenager," O'Neill said in the statement. "We also
stand by our judgment that while the action involved a
degree of courage, it was not compatible with the
description given to senior command nor worthy of the
Silver Star. We are joined in that judgment by many
Vietnam veterans who expressed similar views."

In his eyewitness account, Rood describes coming under
rocket and automatic weapons fire from Viet Cong on
the riverbank during two ambushes of his boat and
Kerry's boat.

Praise for the mission led by Kerry came from Navy
commanders who far outranked Hoffmann. Rood won a
Bronze Star for his actions on that day. The Bronze
Star citation from the late Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, then
commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam, singled out
the tactic used by the boats and said the Viet Cong
were "caught completely off guard."

Longtime debate

The war about the war between O'Neill and Kerry has
raged for more than three decades. O'Neill, who became
a lawyer in Houston after returning from Vietnam, was
recruited by the Nixon administration in 1971 to serve
as a political counterweight to Kerry, who by then had
left the military and was a vocal critic of the war.

The two debated the war on the Dick Cavett television
show in 1971, with O'Neill accusing Kerry of the
"attempted murder of the reputations of 2 1/2 million"
Vietnam veterans.

Rood acknowledged in his first-person account that
there could be errors in recollection, especially with
the passage of more than three decades. His Bronze
Star citation, he said, misidentifies the river where
the main action occurred.

That mistake, he said, is a "cautionary note for those
trying to piece it all together. There's no final
authority on something that happened so long ago--not
the documents and not even the strained recollections
of those of us who were there.

"But I know that what some people are saying now is
wrong," Rood wrote. "While they mean to hurt Kerry,
what they're saying impugns others who are not in the
public eye."
Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune


Posted by richard at August 22, 2004 11:01 AM