When I was photographing the Mekong River, including the Vietnamese portions, for six months in 1968 for an article in National Geographic, I was on a lot of boats. I found the Swift boats extremely dangerous; in some units, I heard of 40 of the men being killed in action.

I interviewed the admiral in charge of Swift boats, and he said that the rate of Purple Hearts in his Mekong naval operation was not 10 percent or 20 percent but 116 percent -- more than the number of sailors in his unit.

But he asked me not to use the number in the captions because he would be hearing from the "mothers of all the men" in his unit.

Far as I know, almost all of the men were brave -- including the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

The 2004 election should not be allowed to hinge on an event that took place 36 years ago in the Mekong River. I assume the anger toward Sen. John F. Kerry comes not from his time in the Mekong River but from when he returned to the United States and opposed the war.

In the delta of Vietnam, the Mekong is called Cuu Long Giang -- the River of Nine Dragons. The Veterans for Truth seem to be one of the dragons.


Great Falls

The writer is a former editor of National Geographic magazine.