When John Kerry testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971 that American troops in Vietnam were ravaging the country with widespread atrocities, it was based on a pack of lies. I know, because I told some of those lies after Kerry coached me on what to say.
I was wounded in 1969 and when well enough to walk and return to the US I was spit on, ridiculed and had feces thrown at my uniform. I was mad at my country for sending me to a war it was not committed to win and bitter at being vilified for serving my country.
After discharge from the Army I met a representative of "Vietnam Veterans Against the War." He wore jungle fatigues, spoke like a Vietnam veteran and held out a hand of friendship, a kind of Vietnam era VFW. I joined, not knowing they were radicals.
After several VVAW meetings my recruiter said we were needed in a Detroit meeting called Winter Soldier to support members recounting bad experiences in Vietnam, and there would be a free concert.
I rode to Detroit with John Kerry and others in a freezing cold van. While Kerry was interested in atrocities, I hoped to meet pretty women.
In Detroit Kerry pressed me to testify but I told him I didn't see any atrocities in Vietnam. They needed me for their purpose because I was one of the few present who had been in combat.
During a break, John Kerry and some moderators surrounded me. Kerry said, "I need you to say you saw war crimes and atrocities in Vietnam." Others said "Come on man, the brothers need you!" and "Don't you want to help save lives in Vietnam?" Someone whispered in my ear "It's a long walk back to Baltimore."
I reluctantly agreed to say something, and Kerry said "OK, we're going to have a dialogue with you recorded before you go out there. I need you to talk about the beating of civilians and enemy personnel."
Kerry coached me to "Specify indiscriminate artillery on villages, racism, brutality and rape." He said he'd help me with specifics.
When the camera came on, Kerry asked "What brings you here to Detroit?" Was he kidding? I felt betrayed, I tried to evade by mumbling how hard that was to answer and I felt a strong desire to leave.
But I didn't. Following Kerry's prompting I told false stories, a rambling bunch of generalities sprinkled with references to racism, atrocities, and an organized underground in country, along with some half-truths to please the mob.
When it was over I went on with my life, rejoined the military, and buried VVAW as a dark memory. When I later discovered Kerry had been meeting with the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong in Paris and repeating their talking points in the US while our boys were still dying, I was sick at having helped him.
I have noted the backlash against veterans who speak out against Kerry now that he wants to be President. Many call it dirty politics. But it makes no difference to me whether Kerry is a Democrat or Republican; this is a matter of keeping faith with my country. Whatever you say about me, I now must tell the truth about Kerry and about myself.
Recently in Washington DC a group of Vietnam vets held a rally. At the last minute I was given a few moments to speak to the crowd of thousands. I nervously stepped up on the stage, gripped the podium with shaking hands and as I confessed to the crowd what I had done long ago I could see anger on their faces. But when I asked them to forgive me, I heard someone shout "You're already forgiven!" I saw aging veterans, wives and their adult children standing in the sun with tears on their faces. There were also smiles. From these people I felt closure, my dark conscience brightened. As I stepped off the stage, many lined up to shake my hand and hug me, and I was overwhelmed.
I failed those I owed the most loyalty long ago. That's my fault, not John Kerry's. But Kerry did use me, and he knowingly used lies to denounce a generation of fine American troops.
Kerry played on people's fears to gain his own political advantage 33 years ago, no matter the danger to our troops. He's doing the same thing again today.
This time it's Iraq.
Boca Raton, Florida
See also: Yesterday's Lies: Steve Pitkin and the Winter Soldiers by Scott Swett
Last Updated Thursday, April 19 2007 @ 12:27 PM MDT; 7,151 Hits