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John Kerry on NBC News' Meet the Press, April 18, 2004

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Note: This excerpt is taken from a longer interview. Click here for the complete transcript.

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MR. RUSSERT: Before we take a break, I want to talk about Vietnam. You are a decorated war hero of Vietnam, prominently used in your advertising. You first appeared on MEET THE PRESS back in 1971, your first appearance. I want to roll what you told the country then and come back and talk about it:

(Videotape, MEET THE PRESS, April 18, 1971):

MR. KERRY (Vietnam Veterans Against the War): There are all kinds of atrocities and I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire. I used 50-caliber machine guns which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search-and-destroy missions, in the burning of villages. All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare. All of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down. And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free-fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: You committed atrocities.

SEN. KERRY: Where did all that dark hair go, Tim? That's a big question for me. You know, I thought a lot, for a long time, about that period of time, the things we said, and I think the word is a bad word. I think it's an inappropriate word. I mean, if you wanted to ask me have you ever made mistakes in your life, sure. I think some of the language that I used was a language that reflected an anger. It was honest, but it was in anger, it was a little bit excessive.

MR. RUSSERT: You used the word "war criminals."

SEN. KERRY: Well, let me just finish. Let me must finish. It was, I think, a reflection of the kind of times we found ourselves in and I don't like it when I hear it today. I don't like it, but I want you to notice that at the end, I wasn't talking about the soldiers and the soldiers' blame, and my great regret is, I hope no soldier--I mean, I think some soldiers were angry at me for that, and I understand that and I regret that, because I love them. But the words were honest but on the other hand, they were a little bit over the top. And I think that there were breaches of the Geneva Conventions. There were policies in place that were not acceptable according to the laws of warfare, and everybody knows that. I mean, books have chronicled that, so I'm not going to walk away from that. But I wish I had found a way to say it in a less abrasive way.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, when you testified before the Senate, you talked about some of the hearings you had observed at the winter soldiers meeting and you said that people had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and on and on. A lot of those stories have been discredited, and in hindsight was your testimony...

SEN. KERRY: Actually, a lot of them have been documented.

MR. RUSSERT: So you stand by that?

SEN. KERRY: A lot of those stories have been documented. Have some been discredited? Sure, they have, Tim. The problem is that's not where the focus should have been. And, you know, when you're angry about something and you're young, you know, you're perfectly capable of not--I mean, if I had the kind of experience and time behind me that I have today, I'd have framed some of that differently. Needless to say, I'm proud that I stood up. I don't want anybody to think twice about it. I'm proud that I took the position that I took to oppose it. I think we saved lives, and I'm proud that I stood up at a time when it was important to stand up, but I'm not going to quibble, you know, 35 years later that I might not have phrased things more artfully at times.

MR. RUSSERT: The Boston Globe reports that your commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Grant Hibberd has suggested that you perhaps didn't earn your first Purple Heart and question whether you should have left Vietnam after six months. In order to deal with those kinds of issues, when I asked President Bush about his service in the Texas Guard, he agreed to release all his military records, health records, everything. Would you agree to release all your military records?

SEN. KERRY: I have. I've shown them--they're available to you to come and look at. I think that's a very unfair characterization by that person. I mean, politics is politics. The medical records show that I had shrapnel removed from my arm. We were in combat. We were in a very, very--probably one of the most frightening--if you ask anybody who was with me, the two guys who were with me, was probably the most frightening night that they had that they were in Vietnam and we're...

MR. RUSSERT: But you'll make all your records public.

SEN. KERRY: They are. People can come and see them at headquarters and take a look at them. I'm not going to--but I'll tell you this. I'm proud of my service. I'm proud of what we did. I know what happened. And the Navy 35 years ago made a decision and it's the Navy's decision and I think it was the right decision.

MR. RUSSERT: Your wife said recently--a few years ago--that you had bad nightmares, which were very frightening, about Vietnam. Do you still have nightmares?

SEN. KERRY: No, I don't. I don't, but I did for a period of time. You know, movement or sounds might jostle you into a kind of awareness. I don't know a lot of people who were in combat who haven't had them, but, no, I don't anymore, I'm glad to say. I don't even have nightmares about George Bush and this election, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more questions with John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president, right here on MEET THE PRESS.

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