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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Kerry Critic Sticks to Claims

Author and member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth says a new account that supports the candidate's version is politically motivated.

August 22, 2004|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

MONTAUK, N.Y. — A member of the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth maintained his assertion Saturday that Sen. John F. Kerry did not deserve the Silver Star for a 1969 mission in Vietnam, even as an officer who served with Kerry on that mission broke his silence and rose to Kerry's defense.

John E. O'Neill, author of the anti-Kerry book "Unfit for Command," dismissed William B. Rood's account as political, and said that although "the action involved a degree of courage, it was not compatible with the description given to senior command nor worthy of the Silver Star."

O'Neill and other members of the Swift boat group have charged that Kerry made poor and reckless command decisions in the 1969 mission. On Saturday, O'Neill reiterated that he stood by his judgment "as to the advisability" of Kerry's actions.

Rood, 61, an editor at the Chicago Tribune who served with Kerry in Vietnam, wrote a first-person account of the mission of Feb. 28, 1969, published in today's editions of the Tribune and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Rood's account supports Kerry's version of events.

The continued back-and-forth over Kerry's military record came as the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign pressed its effort to link President Bush to the Swift boat group's tactics, a charge the Bush campaign has denied.

On Saturday, the Bush campaign announced it was cutting its ties to Retired Air Force Col. Ken Cordier after learning that the Bush campaign volunteer had appeared in an ad produced by the Swift boat group. Cordier, a former prisoner of war, had been serving as a member of Bush's veterans steering committee.

On Saturday, Kerry's campaign e-mailed an Internet ad to a million supporters, as well as 200,000 veterans, showing Republican Sen. John McCain, a former POW, scolding Bush during a 2000 debate for not disavowing attacks on McCain's military record.

Meanwhile, the Bush campaign released a letter it was sending to the Federal Election Commission in response to a complaint the Kerry campaign planned to file Monday. Kerry's camp alleges that the Republicans are coordinating with the Swift boat group.

At a fundraiser Saturday in East Hampton, the Massachusetts senator told supporters he was under attack because his opponents realized that voters believed he would make a better commander in chief than Bush.

"That's why they're personally going after me," he said. "The president needs to stand up and stop that."

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