washingtonpost.com  > Live Discussions > Politics

Book: Unfit for Command

John E. O'Neill
Thursday, August 26, 2004; 12:00 PM

In his book, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," co-author John E. O'Neill questions numerous aspects of Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry's Vietnam service.

O'Neill was online Thursday, Aug. 26, Noon ET to take your questions and comments on the book as well as the accusations.

_____Free E-mail Newsletters_____

John Hurley, National Director of Veterans for Kerry, will be online Thursday, Aug. 26, at 2 p.m. ET. The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


John E. O'Neill: A lot of good information can be found at swiftvets.com. The readers will have to go to that site exactly because if you vary or alter the name in other ways or use search engines you are liable to reach bogus Kerry sites to divert people from our site. So you would have to use exactly the words swiftvets.com.

Another good place to get information is Unfit for Command the book to which over 60 of us contributed. The members of Swift Boat Veterans for truth are listed on the Web site and include over 260 Swifties led by Adm. Roy Hoffmann, our commander in Vietnam. I am simply one of many people involved in our organization.

We are here for two reasons. First Kerry lied about our record in Vietnam, both in 1971 and most recently in his authorized biography. Second, and less important to us, he exaggerated wildly his own short record in Vietnam.


Bethlehem, Pa.: Mr. O'Neill, you are questioning the validity of medals awarded to John Kerry by the U.S. government. Aren't you also by implication questioning the competency of the medal eligibility determinations made by U.S. military brass? If so, aren't you in reality calling into question the authenticity of every medal awarded to every U.S. serviceman? If so, how do we differentitate the "good" medals from the "bad" medals?

John E. O'Neill: A portion of the book deals with the incidents in which John Kerry obtained medals. With respect to John Kerry's first Purple Heart the book demonstrates that it was from a self inflicted wound in the absence of hostile fire. It was denied by the commanding officer at the time Grant Hibbard. It was granted only three months later when Kerry applied after all who had known the facts had left Vietnam. With respect to Kerry's third Purple Heart Kerry represented to the Navy that he had received shrapnel from an underwater mine. He know admits that he had wounded himself earlier in the morning playing around with a grenade. The would was minor and superficial. The Naval award system particularly with purple hearts depends on a self reporting system relying on integrity. Kerry gamed that system by submitting false information to the Navy. He used the three Purple Hearts to get out of Vietnam 243 days before his one year tour ended. No one else in the history of our unit ever reviewed a Purple Heart for a self inflicted wound. Neither did anyone else leave early because of three minor scratches. None of which resulted in an hour lost or involved more than bandaid and tweezers. The Naval System depends on the integrity of a Naval officer. Kerry didn't have it.


New York, N.Y.: You made a statement that you would have voted for John Edwards for President. What qualities do you think will make John Edwards a great VP choice for voters?

John E. O'Neill: I am a lawyer in Houston. I have heard only good things from other lawyers about John Edwards. He obviously has given up a successful career in order to pursue the public interest. I hope he has a long and successful career in public service. In the summer of 2003 I was contacted on this matter by the Boston Globe and indicated that I supported Sen. Edwards for President. Unfortunately that is not the hand we got dealt.


Arlington, Va.: How would you characterize your group's relationship with Benjamin Ginsberg?

John E. O'Neill: After we received threatening letters and complaints from at least two law firms representing the Kerry campaign it became apparent that we would need additional council in order to respond and represent us. We therefore retained the Patton-Boggs firm where we worked with several lawyers. We were happy for their assistance. We are proud that Mr. Ginsberg has decided to represent us as opposed to the much larger clients available. We were very surprised at the attacks on him and his firm given that many of the huge Kerry 527 organizations are represented by exactly the same law firm as his campaign. The attacks obviously hold us to a higher standard than the Kerry campaign and that is fine with us. We would want to adhere to a higher standard than the Kerry campaign.


St Augustine, Fla.: Mr. O'Neil, are you saying that John Kerry lied when he reported the information he had received about atrocities in Vietnam to Congress? Are you saying there were not attrocities committed in Vietnam or that they should not have been reported?

John E. O'Neill: All atrocities in Vietnam should have been reported to investigative authorities and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Neither John Kerry nor his associates in VVAW ever reported a single atrocity to the Naval investigative service or any other law enforcement authority. Instead Kerry made a general charge that rape, murder and mayhem was occurring on a day to day basis with the awareness of officers at all levels of command. On the Dick Cavett show in June 1971 I asked Kerry to itemize the specific atrocities that he had seen. He was unable to name any except generalizations. He lied to the United States Congress and to the world when he claimed that our policies in Vietnam were criminal policies and that our troops to the lowest levels were criminals carrying out murder and mayhem on a daily basis. It is one thing to be against the war in Vietnam, it is another to criminalize the kids that the country sent to fight it. Kerry did the second. That was wrong.


Fairfax, Va.: If you have all these issues with John Kerry, why wait 35 years to bring them public after he has served in the US Senate all these years? It seems that much of what we are hearing is literal gotcha that can easily be turned on anyone including yourself.

John E. O'Neill: First, when John Kerry made war crimes claims I debated him in June of 1971 after which he generally faded from public view. On many occasions his political opponents, democratic and Republican, contacted me and many other swifties for information to defeat him in political races. For more than 30 years we refused because we wanted the past to over and who Massachusetts picks does not affect the nation. It because apparent to all of us when John Kerry's name became to be considered with the office of Commander and Chief that we were now talking about a very serious matter that would affect our children, our grandchildren and the future of the entire nation. Under the circumstances more than 260 of us felt we had no alternative but to come forward. In addition as a matter of basic integrity and honor we could not allow Kerry's current misrepresentations in his biography Tour of Duty and at the Democratic Convention where he made his service the centerpiece of his campaign to continue without rebuttal. We owe that to our friends living and dead beyond politics.


Dayton, Ohio: Mr. O'Neill, I recently heard a portion of the White House audio tape of your meeting with President Nixon. I heard you tell President Nixon that you had gone to Cambodia on your swift boat.

I also heard you tell a reporter recently(on tape) that you had never been in Cambodia.

Did you lie to President Nixon or did you lie to the reporter?

Have you ever been in Cambodia, and if so, when did you go and did you go more than once?

If you have never been in Cambodia, how close did you ever get to the Cambodian border (in feet or miles)?

John E. O'Neill: I lied to no one. You quote the first half of the statement but ignore the following sentence. I clearly said that I was on the Cambodian border. I was on a canal system known as Bernique's Creek located about 100 yards south of the Cambodian border from which it would have been very difficult to get into Cambodia at least from a boat.

I never went to Cambodia. Unlike the Kerry story you are defensive about I don't believe I can ever fairly be interpreted as saying anything different. John Kerry on many different occasions said that the turning point of his life was being in Cambodia illegally for Christmas Eve and Christmas in 1968. This was in a different area than I was in and close approach to Cambodia was not possible for him in that area. In fact he was more than 50 miles away. How many people invent the turning point of their life and repeat it on the senate floor, in articles and more than 50 times in 35 years?


Washington, D.C.: Do you think George W. Bush honorably served his country during the Vietnam War?

John E. O'Neill: Our group has agreed we will take no position with respect to George Bush not because we don't have individual opinion on him but because we have no knowledge about him different than you have. In our letter of May 4, 2004 we called upon {President Bush to release all military records along with Kerry and called upon Bush's comrades to come forward with any information they have about his service. We are still in favor of that. We have no special information however about George Bush. We do have very first hand information about John Kerry which may be found at swiftvets.com and in Unfit for Command.


Warren, Mich.: Mr. O'Neill, were you ever on the same boat as John Kerry? Were you on the boat at the same time and day as Mr. Rood, who has first hand eyewitness knowledge of the events of that day? Have you read Mr. Rood's response to the Swift Boat ads?

John E. O'Neill: I was never on the same boat at the same time with either John Kerry or Bill Rood. Bill Rood was present only one event discussed in the book relating to John Kerry. This was the silver star incident. The account in our book is very similar to Bill Roods article except that Bill Rood's article makes the Vietcong killed by John Kerry into an adult clothed in pajamas whereas our book describes him as a young Vietcong in a loincloth. This is exactly the same description that the Boston Globe biographers of John Kerry reached on page 101 of their recent biography by Michael Kranish. In addition Mr. Larry Lee on Bill Rood's boat confirmed our description. More than 60 different factual eyewitnesses to the Kerry events participated in the book as described. Read Unfit for Command.


John E. O'Neill: Bill Rood is one of four officers at Anthoi who believe that John Kerry is fit to be president. 17 of 24 believe he is unfit to be president and have joined our group. We respect Mr. Rood's opinion but it is clearly a small minority opinion among those who served with John Kerry.


Essex, Conn.: You are accepting money from Bush supporters. You have personally donated money to the Republicans. You voted in a Republican primary. How can you claim, with a straight face, to be any sort of apolitical organization?

John E. O'Neill: Addressing your questions one by one. We will accept money from anyone except a political campaign who gives it to us. The vast majority of our money - some 32,000 individual donations totaling $2.2 million - have come from the public generally in one of the largest genuine outbursts of public support in political history. We are happy to take money form George Sorros. Whoever donates money to us does not control our message. The message is ours.

Second, I have donated relatively small amounts of money to Republican candidates but I have donate much greater amounts to Democratic candidates including $20,000 in 2003 to Democratic candidates Bill White and Ron Green. This does not make me a Democrat or a Republican. I tend to vote for the person.

Third, I did and have on occasion voted in Republican and Democratic primaries but most of the time I have not. Sadly Texas has become a one party state and often the only genuine choice is in the republican state. I would much rather prefer for Texas to have a two party system. Understand that my votes are for people and not for parties.

Finally I am one of 260 people. Most of them are retired sailors. They have little or no political affiliation with anyone. I have never run for any office nor managed anyone's campaign or played any serious role in politics for over 30 years. It took John Kerry running for Commander and Chief to bring us all out.


Arlington, Va.: Since there is no written record, produced to date, backing any of your group's claims and ample written evidence to the contrary, why should the American people continue listening to you? Aside from the affidavits you hold, which as a lawyer you know are worth no more than the paper they are written on, can you produce any documentation to back your claims?

John E. O'Neill: To the contrary the problem for the Kerry campaign is that the written records back us and not him. Numerous written records show that he was not in Cambodia on Christmas or Christmas Eve in 1968 including his authorized his biography Tour of Duty. With respect to the Sampan incident on January 20, 1969, Kerry describes the incident in the book Tour of Duty notwithstanding the fact that Kerry in tour says that there was a family of four in the boat, his written report to the United States Navy describes a nonexistent Vietnam squad and omits the small child he said he killed. With respect to Kerry's first Purple Heart, the causality report and the hostile fire report required for a Purple Heart are both missing because there was no casualty and there was no hostile fire. With respect to Kerry's third Purple Heart, the records show he reported shrapnel wound in his hip to the Navy as coming from an underwater mine. However his own book at page 313 and 317 makes clear that he wounded himself with a grenade. The single most powerful witness against John Kerry is John Kerry's through contrasting his own written accounts with what he reported to the Navy. See the book for a more complete answer since space here makes it difficult to go on.


Washington, D.C.: Earlier this week George W. Bush denounced your ad as well as the ads of all 527 groups. How do you react to the President's remarks? In light of his rebuke, will you pull these ads? Why or why not?

John E. O'Neill: The answer of Adm. Hoffman our leader was "full speed ahead." George Bush was not a part of our unit nor is he a part of our story. This is a matter deeply between Kerry and ourselves. It goes beyond politics and deeply involved the honor of our unit, the damage done by his false charges and his wild exaggeration of his service with our unit. We will continue through though the election with the last dollar we raise and the last energy we raise to bring the truth to the American public about the falsehood about Kerry's charges and the exaggeration of his service to the attention of the American people. We will do that not as a matter of politics but because we know he is unfit to command our children, our relatives and other American soldiers or sailors in a dangerous time in our nation.

Fortunately, the First Amendment and the commitment of the American public to fairness will assist us in doing so. We will let the chips fall where they may.


Albany, N.Y.: "I have donated relatively small amounts of money to Republican candidates but I have donate much greater amounts to Democratic candidates including $20,000 in 2003 to Democratic candidates Bill White and Ron Green. This does not make me a Democrat or a Republican. I tend to vote for the person."

Where can we find this information? A local publication couldn't. This is what they had to say:

'"I've given more to Democrats than Republicans," John O'Neill claimed on Fox but FEC records do not show a single contribution from John E. O'Neill to any Democratic candidates. When pressed, he said he gave to Democrats "at the local level" and Republicans "at the national level."

However, a search of records with the Texas Ethics Commission, keeper of contribution records, finds no contributions listed for John E. O'Neill.'


John E. O'Neill: Yes, you have looked at the wrong place. Check the City of Houston contribution records for 2003. In addition you are ignoring Democratic contributions that I have made in other elections to Democratic offices such as Ilene O'Neill and Kathy Stone.


John E. O'Neill: Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in this chat. I urge people to visit our Web site at swiftvets.com or to read the book Unfit for Command. I am satisfied that when the truth comes out the American People will reach a wise decision as they always have. Thank you.


© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive
Viewpoint: Paid Programming

Sponsored Discussion Archive
This forum offers sponsors a platform to discuss issues, new products, company information and other topics.

Read the Transcripts
Viewpoint: Paid Programming