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Veteran in Conflict

Sen. John Kerry's Struggle for Leadership of a Vietnam Veterans Antiwar Group in 1971 Ended With His Resignation at a Stormy Meeting in Kansas City, Where Militants Advocated Violence Against the U.S. Government

May 23, 2004|Gerald Nicosia

The files about the Oklahoma meeting are murky, partly because the FBI redacted large sections with black marker before they were released. But two facts stand out. Kerry cut short his attendance, perhaps in the face of hostility. Also, the FBI suddenly focused on Kerry again, with a teletype sent to the Washington bureau: "Furnish characterization of John Kerry."

The Kansas City gathering opened dramatically with a meeting at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 12 in a conference room on the local campus of the University of Missouri. It was closed, with only national leaders and regional and state coordinators allowed in--about 50 vets. All national officers were present, except for Hubbard. Acting as chairman of the meeting, national officer Mike Oliver began by reading a telegram that Missouri-Kansas regional coordinator Johnny Upton had just received from Hubbard in Paris. According to the FBI documents, "The telegram stated that Hubbard was in contact with the North Vietnamese peace delegation, and that Hubbard was confidentially told that the next prisoner of war (POW) release would be made to VVAW." Oliver told the group that a VVAW delegation of five people was going to Hanoi in December, just before Christmas, and hoped to bring home several POWs. The purpose, Oliver explained, as stated in the FBI file, "would be to demonstrate to the persons participating in the national actions that VVAW had real power and had effected the release of the POWs."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 23, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo caption -- A photo caption with an article about Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry in today's Los Angeles Times Magazine says Sen. Ted Kennedy and Kerry are shown in New York in a 1971 photograph. The photo was taken in Washington, D.C.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 25, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Republican -- An article in Sunday's Los Angeles Times Magazine about John F. Kerry's involvement in the Vietnam antiwar movement incorrectly described former Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon as a Democrat. He is a Republican.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 13, 2004 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 6 Lat Magazine Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
The article "Veteran in Conflict" (May 23) about John Kerry's involvement in the Vietnam antiwar movement incorrectly described former Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon as a Democrat. He is a Republican.

Then Oliver dropped a bombshell. Hubbard, he said, had concluded his negotiations with the North Vietnamese that morning and was currently on a plane en route to Kansas City--expected to arrive in an hour or so.

Kerry evidently kept his cool, as there is no record in the file of anyone objecting at this point. He and Hubbard had had a brief falling out after Hubbard lied about his rank on "Meet the Press," but they had patched it up for the sake of the organization. The FBI files even record them having a chicken dinner together at the St. Louis meeting. But Kerry had tried to distinguish between his own trips to meet with the Vietnamese in Paris, which he considered necessary to fight through the lies of his own government, and actual negotiations with the enemy, which Kerry knew were illegal. There was no question now that Hubbard, as one of the other vets at the meeting puts it, "had gone over to the enemy side."

Kerry, the FBI files tell us, "announced to those present he was resigning from the executive committee for personal reasons; however, he would be available to speak for VVAW." The report of a separate undercover FBI source adds, "John Kerry mentioned on Friday that he was going to resign his position on the national executive committee because of politics," presumably referring to Kerry's possible run for Congress the following year.

Two hours into the meeting, Hubbard arrived by taxi, and the fireworks began. Kerry, the files show, "attempted to get Al Hubbard voted out of the executive meeting." Hubbard, as one of the original organizers of VVAW, still had a strong following and beat back the attack. Then Skip Roberts, another national officer aligned with Kerry, declared that all six national officers should resign to allow for a fresh start. The motion lost by two votes.

By Saturday morning, trouble was brewing and everyone knew it. Members of the "sergeants rebellion" were agitating for the national officers to step down and make way for more confrontational-minded local leaders to stage attention-getting (and maybe illegal) actions. There was talk by the Philadelphia chapter of a takeover of the Statue of Liberty. The group met in an open meeting, run by Oliver, at a church called the Institute for Human Studies at 2 W. 40th St. The files show that tempers flared over the issue of the national office refusing to share authority with local chapters. An attempt was made to divide responsibilities between state and regional coordinators, but Oliver consistently called only on the regional coordinators, and many of the delegates began to feel they were being scammed. Especially outraged were delegates from Detroit, who demanded the same voting power as the Michigan regional coordinator. Oliver consistently avoided dealing with them.

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