Honor to the Soldier, and Sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his
country's cause. Honor also to the citizen who cares for his brother in the
field, and serves, as he best can, the same cause - honor to him, only less
than to him, who braves, for the common good, the storms of heaven and the
storms of battle.
-- President Abraham Lincoln, December 2, 1863
In 1971, a Vietnam veteran wrote a speech defending the honor of the servicemen and women who served in that war and its surrounding theaters of operation. He hoped to present it before Congress, but was prevented from doing so, while the Senate testimony of anti-war Vietnam vet John Kerry was splashed all over the media. John O'Neill's eloquent defense of the Vietnam veteran lay sleeping in old files for more than 33 years, but it retains its original power and deserves to be heard at this point in America's history.
Through political contacts, former Navy Lieutenant John F. Kerry, a
decorated Vietnam veteran from Coastal Division 11 (Swift boat patrols), became the public voice of disaffected and often radical men who claimed not only to be Vietnam veterans, but also to have witnessed or perpetrated war crimes in South Vietnam. Enamored of the tall, well-educated Kerry, Sen. William J. Fulbright (D-Ark), invited him to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971, about what his organization claimed was the criminal legacy of U.S. servicemen in Vietnam.
Kerry was the leading spokesman of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), an organization described in several books as having been started by Veterans for Peace, another radical group which had been identified and cited before the Congress as a Communist Party USA front organization. Kerry's Yale education and eloquence helped to deflect attention from the radical orientation of the VVAW, so that when he spoke on that April day before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, his words were printed across the front pages of the newspapers and heard on television -- words that charged U.S. servicemen with committing war crimes as a matter of policy.
The most damning part of Kerry's accusation was based on "testimony" at the VVAW's Winter Soldier hearings regarding war crimes: "They told stories that at times they had raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable tele-phones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war."
Kerry charged that these practices were normal, "crimes committed on a
day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of
command." [Kerry reportedly expanded on this theme in a speech that same
month before the New York Stock Exchange in which he said that "Guilty as
Lt. Calley (of My Lai massacre infamy) might have been of the actual act of
murder, the verdict does not single out the real criminal. Those of us who
have served in Vietnam know that the real guilty party is the United States
Meanwhile, another Navy Lieutenant from Coastal Division 11, John O'Neill,
wrote an equally eloquent defense of the Vietnam serviceman, but his efforts to testify before a Congressional committee failed to come to fruition. O'Neill, who had served a full year on the Mekong River and Mekong Delta waterways -- eight months more than Kerry -- and through many more firefights, would have presented a very different view of what he saw on the water and on the ground during his tour of duty. His words would have given the American people and the world a totally different image of those who fought for freedom in a land far, far away.
O'Neill represented a new group of Vietnam vets, Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace (VVJP), created as a counter-voice to the radicalism of the VVAW. The group included members from the 5th Special Forces, the Army, Marines, and Navy. Among the names of the VVJP leadership were those of Minarik, Kerns, Johnson, Siegal, Kesler and Zeller. Thousands more soon joined the group across the country, making it nearly equal in membership to the far more heavily publicized VVAW.
In April, 1971, O'Neill's mission was to publicly defend the honor of the
American Vietnam veteran, but he never got the chance to do so until July, when he faced off against Kerry on the Dick Cavett Show, and
according to most press reviews, cleaned his clock.
O'Neill's efforts to speak to Congress were described by syndicated columnist Holmes Alexander in an article for Human Events (weekly) on June 19, 1971: "Lt. John O'Neill served in the same unit that Kerry was in, Coastal Division 11, in the Mekong Delta, and O'Neill had asked his two Texas Senators and his San Antonio congressman to get him into the witness chair. This didn't pan out, but O'Neill would have made some remarks which I am able to produce here".
Alexander was only able to cite three paragraphs of O'Neill's three page speech. Today, we have the opportunity to read all of Lt. John O'Neill's stirring words in defense of his comrades in arms.
The Unheard Speech
I have come to speak for peace -- a just and lasting peace in Southeast
Asia. On the basis of almost three years spent in Southeast Asia, I believe
the best way to achieve peace and end the American involvement in the
Vietnam war is through the President's Vietnamization policy.
From the text of testimony given to this committee by Lt. John Kerry on the
22nd of April, 1971: "I am here as one member of the group of 1000, which is a small representation of a very much larger group of veterans in this
country and were it possible for all of them to sit at this table, they
would be here and have the same kind of testimony."
I am a Vietnam veteran. As a matter of fact, I served in the same unit as
Mr. Kerry, Coastal Division 11, while I was in Vietnam. On the basis of our
shared experiences, I would like to make a few observations. 500,000 Vietnam veterans have joined the VFW and American Legion. Does Mr. Kerry speak for them? Over 1 million of the 2-1/2 million Vietnam veterans remain in the Armed Services. Does Mr. Kerry speak for them? NO - Mr. Kerry speaks for no one except himself and his embittered little group of 1000 out of a total of 2-1/2 million Vietnam veterans.
Mr. Kerry speaks of "...crimes committed on a day to day basis with the
full awareness of officers at all levels of command." I served in Coastal
Division 11 for a year. I never saw one war crime committed by Allied
Forces. I served for much of the prior two years in waters adjacent to
Vietnam. I never saw one war crime committed by Allied Forces.
That is not to say that there are no war crimes committed in Vietnam. While
serving in Operation Seafloat in the Mekong Delta, I saw kidnappings of
minors and assassination utilized almost daily by Viet Cong forces in the
Even among Allied Forces, there are certainly war crimes. In the city of
Boston last year, there were 129 murders. Any group or city has psychotics.
To say murder is part of the public policy in Boston is a lie. To say war
crimes are commonly committed in Vietnam as a matter of policy is also a
Mr. Kerry said: "The country does not know it yet but it has created a
monster in the form of millions of men... who have returned with a sense
of anger and a sense of betrayal... we are angry because we feel we have
been used in the worst fashion by the administration of this country."
I am not angry. I have not been betrayed. I believe in America. I believe in the principle of self-determination, and from my own experiences, I believe that the Vietnamization policy of the President is the correct way to achieve this goal. So do the great majority of Vietnam veterans.
We don't often come to Washington. We have schools to attend, jobs to work
at or maybe we're still in the Armed Services far from home. The President
does our talking for us, as with most Americans. Mr. Kerry certainly does
According to Kerry's testimony: "We can not consider ourselves America's
best men when we are ashamed of and hated for what we were called on to do
in Southeast Asia."
When I belonged to Coastal Division 11 and earlier when Mr. Kerry belonged
to Coastal Division 11, everyone there including he and I were volunteers
for Vietnam. We always had a rule -- if you objected to a mission or to the
unit itself -- you could submit a request and be assigned elsewhere. He never left the service and neither did I. I am proud and not ashamed of my
service. Many of those who served in Coastal Division 11 in 1968, 1969, and
1970 are back in Vietnam. Those men, better men than either Mr. Kerry or
myself, are certainly not ashamed.
Mr. Kerry went on to say: "We found that the Vietnamese whom we had
enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take the fight
against the threat."
The unit Mr. Kerry and I served in does not exist any longer. The waterways
we once patrolled and fought on are now patrolled by South Vietnamese. To
paraphrase Winston Churchill "Give them the tools and they will finish the
job." The continuing efforts of the brave South Vietnamese men who fight on
the same rivers and canals we once fought on rebuts Mr. Kerry far better
than I could.
Finally, John Kerry testified that, "We found all too often American men
were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies."
In March 1970, while operating in Operation Seafloat, we had a very slow
moving American tug, escorted by a South Vietnamese swift boat. It was
ambushed by the Viet Cong from heavy bunkers on the river bank. The South
Vietnamese swift boat could have easily avoided the ambush. Instead, it
turned and beached and assaulted the bunkers. This was the single most
heroic act that I have witnessed during almost three years in Vietnam and it was done by South Vietnamese risking their lives to save American lives.
This is not an isolated example.
It is also interesting to take a look at Mr. Kerry's solution to Vietnam --
he wants those same South Vietnamese to die in those same rice paddies for
want of support from their allies -- the United States.
I could go on and on through the testimony of Mr. Kerry and others who
appeared before this committee and find the same sort of misrepresentations. There is one that particularly concerns me. This is the use by the anti-war movement of the American dead to justify their cause. We all remember the demonstration last November. I knew so many people from the Naval Academy and Coastal Division 11 who died in Vietnam. Ken Norton, Hal Castle - a lot of people. How much more perverse, how much more morbid can you get than to use the dead for purposes they never intended. Can't they allow them to rest with their sacrifice stand-ing alone as mute testimony to their love of America?
Shall a radical minority govern the complacent majority? Shall South Vietnam be governed by the 10% who sympathize with the Viet Cong because they are willing to throw bombs? Shall the government of the United States be dominated by 250,000 people because they are able to appear in Washington? Shall Mr. Kerry and his little group of 1000 embittered men be allowed to represent their views as that of all veterans because they can be mustered anywhere and appear on every news program? I hope not, for the country's sake.
General Douglas McArthur, famed hero of World War II and Korea, said in his farewell address to Congress in 1951 that "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away."
Not this time, General.
Today, an "old sailor" has stood up for one last mission. He has taken his
place on the bridge of the ship "America" to warn his country of the dangers from within, just as 9/11 warned us of the dangers from without. Though John O'Neill is a bit older and grayer than he was when he fought in Vietnam, he is back at his post once again, working to serve and protect his beloved country. And he is far from alone.
John O'Neill's weapons today are words, and his objective is to reclaim the honor of those who served so valiantly on the battlefields of Southeast Asia so long ago, even as a new generation of American servicemen and women are deployed once again on battlefields around the
world, protecting America from new enemies.
John O'Neill speaks for those who fell in the line of duty and in the cause of freedom -- those who can no longer speak for themselves -- to defend their honor and their sacrifice. He speaks for the silent majority of Vietnam veterans who want to proclaim to their country and the world that they served the cause of freedom with their honor and their blood, and that no one can ever take this away from them again. And lastly, he speaks for men such as veteran Jay McConville of Alexandria, Virginia, who wrote this to the editor of "National Review" last March:
"I was in the military many years after Vietnam, but there were still
veterans of that war in units alongside me. They were, without exception,
well adjusted, honorable, and patriotic men, deservedly proud of their
service. Perhaps by confronting Kerry's Vietnam lies, we can finally, as a
nation, fully acknowledge the heroism of these veterans, and remove the
undeserved badge of shame that has needlessly and wrongfully been affixed to them..."
The difference between 1971 and today is that Vietnam veterans now
have a chance to tell their side of the story, to refute the many attacks on their honor, and to defend their service of long ago.
They want to reclaim their honor, Senator Kerry.
They want it back now.
Max P. Friedman was a MACV-accredited correspondent in Vietnam for Human
Events weekly, and was the creator and co-editor of the Senate study "The Human Cost of Communism in Vietnam."
Last Updated Friday, October 22 2004 @ 09:10 AM MDT; 7,507 Hits