Some said they have not forgiven him for protesting the Vietnam War when he returned from the war in 1969. "That was a bad time for guys coming back, and he come back and was hooked with Hanoi Jane," said Elmo Pennington, a Vietnam War veteran, referring to Jane Fonda's war protests. "He never made no friends with that."
Still, others here mobbed Kerry at the stage and praised his push for veterans benefits and his comments protesting the troop realignment. "As a Korean War veteran, I don't think we can pull out of Korea," said Jack Carney of Florida.
Kerry in the past 10 days has been put on the defensive on national security with a barrage of partisan challenges to his Vietnam service record, his war wounds, his commendations for valor and his fitness to serve as commander in chief.
Clearly trying to recapture his voice on an issue that figured heavily at the Democratic National Convention last month -- his military service during the Vietnam War and his commitment to soldiers -- Kerry talked about his Senate work on Vietnam prisoners of war and the missing in action, and repeatedly tried to identify with the group, of which he is a member.
He also twice mentioned Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a decorated Vietnam War veteran who campaigned with Bush recently. Kerry pointed out that in a Senate hearing on Tuesday, McCain questioned the troop plan, saying, "I'm particularly concerned about moving troops out of South Korea when North Korea has probably never been more dangerous than any time since the end of the Korean War. I hope, as some critics allege, this is not a retreat to fortress America."
In discussing benefits, Kerry pledged to take care of those who serve, advocating better health care by keeping VA hospitals open.
He also reiterated his pledge to ensure that veterans can draw their pensions and disability benefits simultaneously. Today, veterans must give up a dollar of their pension for every dollar of disability assistance that they receive.
"In recent days, you have heard from some who have claimed that the job is getting done for veterans," Kerry said. "Well, just saying the job is getting done doesn't make it so."