The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth released the following letter to John Kerry, signed by 189 fellow veterans of the Navy vessels featured so prominently in the senator’s campaign ads. The group’s organizers explain that the veterans who have signed to date represent the large majority of those who served with Lt. Kerry in Vietnam. Scores of others are expected to join up in the days ahead.
May 4, 2023
We write from our common heritage as veterans of duty aboard Swift Boats in the Vietnam War. Indeed, you should note that a substantial number of those men who served directly with you during your four month tour in Vietnam have signed this letter.
It is our collective judgment that, upon your return from Vietnam, you grossly and knowingly distorted the conduct of the American soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen of that war (including a betrayal of many of us, without regard for the danger your actions caused us). Further, we believe that you have withheld and/or distorted material facts as to your own conduct in this war.
We believe you continue this conduct today, albeit by changing from an anti-war to a “war hero” status. You now seek to clad yourself in the very medals that you disdainfully threw away in the early years of your political career. In the process, we believe you continue a deception as to your own conduct through such tactics as the disclosure of only carefully screened portions of your military records. Both then and now, we have concluded that you have deceived the public, and in the process have betrayed honorable men, to further your personal political goals.
Your conduct is such as to raise substantive concerns as to your honesty and your ability to serve, as you currently seek, as Commander-in-Chief of the military services.
It is vital that the American public have as much information as possible about candidates for President of the United States. In various ways, you have rightly called upon President Bush to be fully accountable and to provide full disclosure. In the same spirit, now that you are the presumptive nominee of your Party, we believe it is incumbent upon you to make your total military record open to the American people.
Specifically, we the undersigned formally request that you authorize the Department of the Navy to independently release your military records (through your execution of Standard Form 180), complete and unaltered, including your military medical records. Further, we call upon you to correct the misconceptions your campaign seeks to create as to your conduct while in Vietnam. Permit the American public the opportunity to assess your military performance upon the record, and not upon campaign rhetoric.
Senator Kerry, we were there. We know the truth. We have been silent long enough. The stakes are too great, not only for America in general but, most importantly, for those who have followed us into service in Iraq and Afghanistan. We call upon you to provide a full, accurate accounting of your conduct in Vietnam.
Rear Admiral Roy Hoffmann, USN
Captain Charley Plumly, USN (ret)
Mr. Alvin A. Horne
Mr. Bill Lannom
Mr. John O’Neill
Mr. Wey Symmes
Mr. William W. Franke
Swift Boat Veteran’s Quotes about John Kerry:
“We resent very deeply the false war crimes charges he made coming back from Vietnam in 1971 and repeated in the book “Tour of Duty.” We think those cast an aspersion on all those living and dead, from our unit and other units in Vietnam. We think that he knew he was lying when he made the charges, and we think that they’re unsupportable. We intend to bring the truth about that to the American people.
We believe, based on our experience with him, that he is totally unfit to be the Commander-in-Chief.”
— John O’Neill, spokesman, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
“I do not believe John Kerry is fit to be Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the United States. This is not a political issue. It is a matter of his judgment, truthfulness, reliability, loyalty and trust — all absolute tenets of command.. His biography, ‘Tour of Duty,’ by Douglas Brinkley, is replete with gross exaggerations, distortions of fact, contradictions and slanderous lies. His contempt for the military and authority is evident by even a most casual review of this biography. He arrived in-country with a strong anti-Vietnam War bias and a self-serving determination to build a foundation for his political future. He was aggressive, but vain and prone to impulsive judgment, often with disregard for specific tactical assignments. He was a ‘loose cannon.’ In an abbreviated tour of four months and 12 days, and with his specious medals secure, Lt.(jg) Kerry bugged out and began his infamous betrayal of all United States forces in the Vietnam War. That included our soldiers, our marines, our sailors, our coast guardsmen, our airmen, and our POWs. His leadership within the so-called Vietnam Veterans Against the War and testimony before Congress in 1971 charging us with unspeakable atrocities remain an undocumented but nevertheless meticulous stain on the men and women who honorably stayed the course. Senator Kerry is not fit for command.”
— Rear Admiral Roy Hoffman, USN (retired), chairman, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
“During Lt.(jg) Kerry’s tour, he was under my command for two or three specific operations, before his rapid exit. Trust, loyalty and judgment are the key, operative words. His turncoat performance in 1971 in his grubby shirt and his medal-tossing escapade, coupled with his slanderous lines in the recent book portraying us that served, including all POWs and MIAs, as murderous war criminals, I believe, will have a lasting effect on all military veterans and their families.
Kerry would be described as devious, self-absorbing, manipulative, disdain for authority, disruptive, but the most common phrase that you’d hear is ‘requires constant supervision.'”
— Captain Charles Plumly, USN (retired)
“Thirty-five years ago, many of us fell silent when we came back to the stain of sewage that Mr. Kerry had thrown on us, and all of our colleagues who served over there. I don’t intend to be silent today or ever again. Our young men and women who are serving deserve no less.”
— Andrew Horne
“In my specific, personal experience in both coastal and river patrols over a 12-month period, I never once saw or heard anything remotely resembling the atrocities described by Senator Kerry. If I had, it would have been my obligation to report them in writing to a higher authority, and I would certainly have done that. If Senator Kerry actually witnessed or participated in these atrocities or, as he described them, ‘war crimes,’ he was obligated to report them. That he did not until later when it suited his political purposes strikes me as opportunism of the worst kind. That he would malign my service and that of his fellow sailors with no regard for the truth makes him totally unqualified to serve as Commander-in-Chief.”
— Jeffrey Wainscott
“I signed that letter because I, too felt a deep sense of betrayal that someone who took the same oath of loyalty as I did as an officer in the United States Navy would abandon his group here (points to group photo) to join this group here (points to VVAW protest photo), and come home and attempt to rally the American public against the effort that this group was so valiantly pursuing.
It is a fact that in the entire Vietnam War we did not lose one major battle. We lost the war at home… and at home, John Kerry was the Field General.”
— Robert Elder
My daughters and my wife have read portions of the book ‘Tour of Duty.’ They wanted to know if I took part in the atrocities described. I do not believe the things that are described happened.
Let me give you an example. In Brinkley’s book, on pages 170 to 171, about something called the ‘Bo De massacre’ on November 24th of 1968…. In Kerry’s description of the engagement, first he claimed there were 17 servicemen that were wounded. Three of us were wounded. I was the first…”
— Joseph Ponder
“While in Cam Rahn Bay, he trained on several 24-hour indoctrination missions, and one special skimmer operation with my most senior and trusted Lieutenant. The briefing from some members of that crew the morning after revealed that they had not received any enemy fire, and yet Lt.(jg) Kerry informed me of a wound — he showed me a scratch on his arm and a piece of shrapnel in his hand that appeared to be from one of our own M-79s. It was later reported to me that Lt.(jg) Kerry had fired an M-79, and it had exploded off the adjacent shoreline. I do not recall being advised of any medical treatment, and probably said something like ‘Forget it.’ He later received a Purple Heart for that scratch, and I have no information as to how or whom.
Lt.(jg) Kerry was allowed to return to the good old USA after 4 months and a few days in-country, and then he proceeded to betray his former shipmates, calling them criminals who were committing atrocities. Today we are here to tell you that just the opposite is true. Our rules of engagement were quite strict, and the officers and men of Swift often did not even return fire when they were under fire if there was a possibility that innocent people — fishermen, in a lot of cases — might be hurt or injured. The rules and the good intentions of the men increased the possibility that we might take friendly casualties.”
— Commander Grant Hibbard, USN (retired)
“Lt. Kerry returned home from the war to make some outrageous statements and allegations… of numerous criminal acts in violation of the law of war were cited by Kerry, disparaging those who had fought with honor in that conflict. Had war crimes been committed by US forces in Vietnam? Yes, but such acts were few and far between. Yet Lt. Kerry have numerous speeches and testimony before Congress inappropriately leading his audiences to believe that what was only an anomaly in the conduct of America’s fighting men was an epidemic. Furthermore, he suggested that they were being encouraged to violated the law of war by those within the chain of command.
Very specific orders, on file at the Vietnam archives at Texas Tech University, were issued by my father [Admiral Elmo Zumwalt] and others in his chain of command instructing subordinates to act responsibly in preserving the life and property of Vietnamese civilians.”
— Lt. Col. James Zumwalt, USMC (retired)
We look at Vietnam… after all these years it is still languishing in isolated poverty and helplessness and tyranny. This is John Kerry’s legacy. I deeply resent John Kerry’s using his Swift boat experience, and his betrayal of those who fought there as a stepping-stone to his political ambitions.”
— Barnard Wolff
“In a whole year that I spent patrolling, I didn’t see anything like a war crime, an atrocity, anything like that. Time and again I saw American fighting men put themselves in graver danger trying to avoid… collateral damage.
When John Kerry returned to the country, he was sworn in front of Congress. And then he told my family — my parents, my sister, my brother, my neighbors — he told everyone I knew and everyone I’d ever know that I and my comrades had committed unspeakable atrocities.”
— David Wallace
“I served with these guys. I went on missions with them, and these men served honorably. Up and down the chain of command there was no acquiescence to atrocities. It was not condoned, it did not happen, and it was not reported to me verbally or in writing by any of these men including Lt.(jg) Kerry.
In 1971, ’72, for almost 18 months, he stood before the television audiences and claimed that the 500,000 men and women in Vietnam, and in combat, were all villains — there were no heroes. In 2004, one hero from the Vietnam War has appeared, running for President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief. It just galls one to think about it.”
— Captain George Elliott, USN (retired)
“During the Vietnam War I was Task Force Commander at An Thoi, and my tour of duty was 13 months, from the end of Tet to the beginning of the Vietnamization of the Navy units.
Now when I went there right after Tet, I was restricted in my movements. I couldn’t go much of anyplace because the Vietcong controlled most of the area. When I left, I could go anywhere I wanted, just about. Commerce was booming, the buses were running, trucks were going, the waterways were filled with sampans with goods going to market, but yet in Kerry’s biography he says that our operations were a complete failure. He also mentions a formal conference with me, to try to get more air cover and so on. That conference never happened…”
— Captain Adrian Lonsdale, USCG (retired)
“I was in An Thoi from June of ’68 to June of ’69, covering the whole period that John Kerry was there. I operated in every river, in every canal, and every off-shore patrol area in the 4th Corps area, from Cambodia all the way around to the Bo De River. I never saw, even heard of all of these so-called atrocities and things that we were supposed to have done.
This is not true. We’re not standing for it. We want to set the record straight.”
— William Shumadine
“In 1971, when John Kerry spoke out to America, labeling all Vietnam veterans as thugs and murderers, I was shocked and almost brought to my knees, because even though I had served at the same time and same unit, I had never witnessed or participated in any of the events that the Senator had accused us of. I strongly believe that the statements made by the Senator were not only false and inaccurate, but extremely harmful to the United States’ efforts in Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. Tragically, some veterans, scorned by the antiwar movement and their allies, retreated to a life of despair and suicide. Two of my crewmates were among them. For that there is no forgiveness. “
— Richard O’Meara
“My name is Steve Gardner. I served in 1966 and 1967 on my first tour of duty in Vietnam on Swift boats, and I did my second tour in ’68 and ’69, involved with John Kerry in the last 2 1/2 months of my tour. The John Kerry that I know is not the John Kerry that everybody else is portraying. I served alongside him and behind him, five feet away from him in a gun tub, and watched as he made indecisive moves with our boat, put our boats in jeopardy, put our crews in jeopardy… if a man like that can’t handle that 6-man crew boat, how can you expect him to be our Commander-in-Chief?”
— Steven Gardner
“I served in Vietnam as a boat officer from June of 1968 to July of 1969. My service was three months in Coastal Division 13 out of Cat Lo, and nine months with Coastal Division 11 based in An Thoi. John Kerry was in An Thoi the same time I was. I’m here today to express the anger I have harbored for over 33 years, about being accused with my fellow shipmates of war atrocities.
All I can say is when I leave here today, I’m going down to the Wall to tell my two crew members it’s not true, and that they and the other 49 Swiftees who are on the Wall were then and are still now the best.”
— Robert Brant
“I never saw, heard of, or participated in any Swift boat crews killing cattle, poisoning crops, or raping and killing civilians as charged by John Kerry, both in his book and in public statements. Since we both operated at the same time, in the same general area, and on the same missions under the same commanders, it is hard to believe his claims of atrocities and poor planning of Sea Lord missions.
I signed this letter because I feel that he used Swift boat sailors to proclaim his antiwar statements after the war, and now he uses the same Swift boat sailors to support his claims of being a war hero. He cannot have it both ways, and we are here to ask for full disclosure of the proof of his claims.”
— James Steffes