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Transcript

Kerry's Vietnam Record

John Hurley
Veterans for Kerry National Director
Thursday, August 26, 2004; 2:00 PM

Members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have challenged several aspects of John F. Kerry's military record in addition to his account of the March 13, 1969, mission on which he was awarded the Bronze Star; Kerry's campaign has vigorously defended his record.

John Hurley, national director of Veterans for Kerry, was online Thursday, Aug. 26, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the recent allegations surrounding Kerry's Vietnam service.


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John E. O'Neill, co-author of "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," will be online Thursday, Aug. 26 at Noon 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.

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John Hurley: Hi everyone. Thank you for joining me today. This is John Hurley, National Director of Veterans for Kerry. I appreciate this opportunity to talk with you about John Kerry and his service in Vietnam. You are probably aware that Veterans across the country have been pouring out in support of John Kerry throughout the primaries and the general election. We have veterans coordinators in all 50 states and we're building an organization that will be one million veterans strong by election day.

During the Iowa Caucuses, when John Kerry's campaign was behind Howard Dean's campaign, it was veterans who came forward and made the difference. When we were in Iowa, veterans from 16 different states paid their own way to come to Iowa to campaign for John Kerry. By the time we got to New Hampshire, veterans from 27 states paid their own way to come to New Hampshire and campaign for John Kerry. And that surge of support for John Kerry has continued into the general election.

Veterans are supporting John Kerry in an unprecedented manner. They are responding to his lifetime of service and strength. In him, they see a combat veteran like themselves.

By way of introduction, I would tell you that I have known John Kerry for 34 years. He is one of the most principled and honorable individuals that I have ever known. I do not regularly get involved in political campaigns, but John Kerry's campaigns are an exception, because he is an exceptional human being and will make a great Commander-in-Chief.

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Troy, Ala.: Mr. Hurley, is it true that a total of ten men served as crewmen on the two swiftboats that Senator Kerry commanded? And that nine of these ten fully support him and endorse him?

What credibility can reasonably be given to those who were never on his boats?

John Hurley: Actually, a total of 12 men served on the swift boats that John Kerry commanded, and eleven of those twelve support him whole heartedly. He is honored by the support and encouragement that they provide him as he seeks the presidency.

John O'Neill and Swift Boat Veterans for Bush claim to know about John Kerry's service in Vietnam. John O'Neill never met John Kerry for one moment in Vietnam. Nor did he even try to interview any of the men who served on those boats with John Kerry. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is an organization that has been discredited by the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and countless other newspapers across the country. As John McCain has said, their efforts to smear John Kerry are "dishonest and dishonorable".

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Dulles, Va.: Mr. Hurley,

How is your group effectively countering the allegations put forth about Kerry's service? And do you feel it is possible to do so without appearing partisan or tied in any way to the Kerry campaign in the same way the "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth" has alleged ties with the Bush/Cheney campaign?

John Hurley: We are countering the lies by SBVT by getting the truth out. All of their charges have been proven false. Every single document created by the US Navy in 1969 supports John Kerry and the award of his medals to him. Keep in mind, John Kerry served two tours of duty in Vietnam. He volunteered to serve his country in Vietnam at a time when others were avoiding the call to duty. John Kerry was awarded three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star.

The SBVT has been proven to be liars by their own words. For instance, Larry Thurlow has claimed that there was no hostile fire the day that John Kerry won his Bronze Star. The Washington Post through a Freedom of Information Act request obtained a copy of Thurlow's own Bronze Star citation in which the United States Navy made clear that they were under hostile fire on March 13, 1969.

This attack by SBVT is financed by Republican contributors in Texas and elsewhere. The web of connections between SBVT and George Bush's White House is extensive. The New York Times has reported on this web and two officials of the Bush/Cheney campaign have been forced to resign in the last three days because of their connections to SBVT.

Make no mistake about it. This attack is not about John Kerry's service and medals in Vietnam. This attack is a smear campaign that is designed to benefit President Bush's campaign.

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Boca Raton, Fla.: Why should Swift Boat Veterans for Truth not be able to exercise without restriction their First Amendment rights?

John Hurley: They have every right to exercise their First Amendment rights.

They do not have a right to lie.

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Walnut Creek, Calif.: Please answer O'Neill's description of the Silver Star Sampan Incident....

It sounds like Kerry was negligent by allowing that vessel to approach his PCF. The implication is that Kerry was asleep at the radar.

And the subsequent death of a young child and his father was turned into a massive Viet Cong attack thwarted by Kerry's heroism....according to Kerry's after action report.

How does Kerry respond to this ?

John Hurley: There was no Sampan Incident involved with John Kerry's Silver Star.

John O'Neill is going around the country ridiculing John Kerry's Silver Star. In doing so, he is dishonoring all those men who fought bravely and courageously with John Kerry that day, February 28, 1969.

Here are the facts. Three swift boats and 19 men fought with great courage and honor that day. The United States Navy awarded John Kerry a Silver Star and awarded those men who fought with him at least four Bronze Stars and 14 Navy Commendation Medals with Combat "V" for valor.

When the SBVT attack John Kerry's Silver Star, they are dishonoring the courage and bravery and service of 18 other men. That is why Bill Rood, Chicago Tribune editor, broke 35 years of silence to write a front page story honoring those men who fought with John Kerry because he was troubled by the dishonest attacks by men like John O'Neill who were not there.

It is for the same reason that John McCain has said the SBVT are "dishonest and dishonorable".

This is why these attacks are so offensive. They do not just attack John Kerry. They attack every man who fought bravely and courageously in Vietnam, and who were awarded medals for their service.

To come back now, after 35 years, and degrade the medals of all those who served in Vietnam, is a disgrace and SBVT should hang their heads in shame.

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Sterling, Va.: Why won't Senator Kerry join President Bush in condemning 527 category advertisements? Is it a first ammendment issue? Then how can he find the Swift Boat ads as anything but a citizens' group exercising their right to free speech? Former Democrats such as myself believe Democrats tend to support free speech until it is used against them. Convince me that Kerry is different.

John Hurley: We are happy to have a discussion about campaign finance reform. In fact, Senator Kerry has an outstanding record in the United States Senate on campaign finance reform.

But that is not what this is about. This is about a front group for the Bush campaign that is trying to smear John Kerry's military service. The web of connections between the Bush campaign and SBVT grows wider every day.

John McCain has called on President Bush to specifically attack this terrible smear campaign. President Bush and his campaign - for over three weeks now - have ignored Senator McCain's call to condemn this specific smear.

The longer President Bush waits to specifically condemn this smear, the clearer it gets what's going on here.

The President is trying to gain political mileage out of a smear, and it is wrong.

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Atlanta, Ga.: With respect to the SwiftVet ads, what kind of voter is supposed to be most affected by them and why?

Is Kerry's campaign concerned with "meeting the charges head on," changing the political dialogue to focus on Kerry's vision, or what?

John Hurley: It is unfortunate that some would rather spread lies about the past rather than tell the truth about the future. John Kerry is focused on the issues affecting the American people like sky rocketing health care costs, the loss of over one million jobs, and cleaning up the mess that George Bush has made in Iraq.

John Kerry has made a firm commitment not to let the lies distract him from these issues. In fact, today, he is out on the campaign trail talking about his plans to make American stronger at home and more respected in the world.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think this attack on Kerry is fair given that he continually uses his military service as a testament to why he'd be a good leader?

John Hurley: There is nothing fair about lies and distortions 35 years after the fact by people who were not there.

As a father, I want someone as Commander-in-Chief who understands the sacrifices of those who have served. When a decision has to be made whether to send our sons and daughters into harm's way, I want someone who has been there. Someone who showed up when his country called. John Kerry understands what it's like to be on the battlefield. John Kerry will never go to war as a first resort - as he says, it will not be because we want to but because we have to.

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John Hurley: I'd like to take a minute before our chat ends and just say that I have the best job on John Kerry's campaign. I am a Vietnam veteran, and there is nothing that I like better than working with other veterans.

I get calls from veterans across the country asking how they can help in John's campaign. There is a surge of support for John because these attacks on his service are backfiring. Two West Point graduates, both Republicans, have contacted me within the last few days to say that they are switching their vote to John Kerry because of these attacks by Swift Boat Veterans. Their story is repeated thousands of times across the country. Americans, particularly veterans, are appalled by these attacks against John Kerry, as this smear attacks all of us who served.

Americans want an honest discussion of the real issues facing our country such as the mess in Iraq. For instance, George Bush's "go-it-alone" foreign policy has forced the United States to bear the overwhelming share of casualties and cost associated with the war in Iraq. Right now, US taxpayers are on the hook for over 200 billion dollars with no end in sight. George Bush sent our troops to Iraq without proper equipment and body armor. He sought to cut combat and separation pay for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We need someone in the White House who understands what our men and women overseas and their families are going through. That man is John Kerry.

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West Palm Beach, Fla.: I am so disgusted with the lies of the this group. Can Senator Kerry sue for slander and defamation of character?
Did you see the segment where O'Neill spoke about his non visit to Cambodia interview with then President Nixon?

John Hurley: We are disgusted too.

I'm sorry - I'm out of time. Thanks for joining me today and for those veterans among you, thank you for your service to our country.

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