Daily Letters

A selection of letters received.


August 26, 2004

Denounce the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads

Dear Mr. President

I served on active duty in the U.S. Navy for just over 30 years (1952 - 1982). I would still give my life for our Constitution.

From 1957 to 1962 I was involved in the naval aviation community on the Staff of RADM Joseph “Jumping Joe” Clifton, USN, the Chief of Naval Air Advanced Training in Corpus Christi Texas--in fact, the first time I was ever in a jet aircraft was in the back seat of an F-11F when he took me from Corpus to the Anacostia Naval Air Station in Washington to conduct some official business.

During that time, I learned that one of the most prized possessions of any aviator--the one thing they would hate most to lose--is their individual flight log. I know you must cherish your flight log and would do anything possible to preserve it. I wonder if you would be willing to release it so that any inferences others might make relative to your Guard service would be immediately overcome.

Mr. President, I am very concerned about the allegations being made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

I fully recognize that you are, now, calling for the abolishment of 527’s—all of them. Unless and until the Congress decides to so do (which action would probably be challenged in the courts on First Amendment grounds), I must support the rights of such group entities to express their positions. It must be difficult on either side of the political spectrum to be consistently barraged by anti-this or anti-that ads which, while not specifically encouraging a vote for or against a candidate, call into question the reputation, motivation, actions, integrity or history of such candidates.

I must agree that some such ads do cross the line in good taste; but, so long as they do not lie—if the contentions in them are supported by the facts—I see no alternative but to accept them and move on.

If and when I find disparities (or outright lies) in the content of such 527 ads, I must speak out against them. That is why I write to ask you to denounce the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads.

Unlike the Swift Boat bashers of your opponent, I cannot comment on the service of other servicemen and women absent having served directly with them. When they call into question awards and decorations presented to others, all of which must be and were vetted up the chain of command at the time, they seem to be intimating that the most senior commanders must have colluded to recognize John Kerry for actions which never happened. Those who were there (members of the crews who served directly with Kerry) know the truth. Those who have studied the after action reports (to determine ways in which to make future operations better) know the truth.

I only served in Vietnam for 2 years (October 1963 - November 1965) and in Market Time and on gunfire support missions for 3 years (August 1968 - February 1971) for a total of 11 of 13 campaign periods. I recognize the anger that some have over that conflict. We had been living under the threat of international communism for years and the domino theory held sway.

On the other hand, the August 1965 buildup which saw the 1st Air Cavalry Division and the 1st Division Fleet Marine Force arrive in country and increased involvement by other countries in the conflict resulted in defining the war as being about defeating an enemy rather than helping the South Vietnamese to defend their own country.

Internationally we started losing much of the support we had previously had because we were no longer looked upon as defenders of freedom but, at least by some, as callous bullies.

Ostensibly we went into South Vietnam with the pledge to do everything necessary and proper to insure the territorial integrity of South Vietnam against incursions by any other nation. That was the mandate we took upon ourselves. It did not include the idea that we, in defending South Vietnam, would ourselves become the aggressor nation by attacking another sovereign nation--though it was one helluva adversary and infamous in so many ways--North Vietnam.

Of the hundreds of thousands of us who did serve there, most did not then and do not now have much meaningful understanding of the whys and wherefores of our Vietnamese involvement. All they knew is that they had a very threatening job to do--one which daily was taking the lives of their friends and comrades in arms. Fear was a part of daily life. To overcome that fear it was necessary (as it always in war) that the individual convince himself that he was brave enough to do the job. Absent that, it was at least mandatory that the fear not be seen by others. Don't let the other guy know. Your life depends on him and his on you. Do everything to stay alive.

In war atrocities do occur. Even one is too many (at least in the eyes of most Americans) yet, in the heat of battle when under fire, the burning desire becomes “Kill them or be killed by them” and it is quite possible the concepts of morality and the value of human life can be lost in the moment. A review of the after action reports of all the battles fought would reveal many instances which possible atrocities were committed. Most such cases, if not all, gave the benefit of the doubt to the participants. In a few cases prosecutions went forward.

To those who were not there for any particular operation I would ask, “How can you presume to know what did or did not happen?” Have they read the after action reports. If they were not there, how can they presume to call into question the actions of others--all honorable men--with whom they did not directly serve though some may have contemporaneously been in country at the time.

Each of us served when we were called upon to do so. Most served a year. Those who made the service more than just something they were forced to do--call them career personnel--did several tours. What we did is known only to ourselves and those who were with us. Those very high above us had the big picture, most of us did not. The Swift Boat Commander, usually a 20-something just out of college, did not. Certainly, the squad leader was not privy to the intelligence reports, the logistics capability plans, nor did they even know what a Level Five response to conflict is (all-out nuclear war).

John Kerry came to realize there were many things to be questioned about what was going on. Many others did so as well. Many of the questions he posed had previously been asked by others; and, the answers led even Richard Nixon (prior to his reelection) questioning our continuing the fight and our eventual withdrawal.

Yes, John Kerry did talk about war crimes; but, I cannot recall him ever demeaning the service of any individual fighting man or woman.

Yes, we did make mistakes. Many were killed (by both sides) who were innocent.

Yes, spur of the moment reactions while under fire did result in casualties which should not have occurred.

Yes, as is always the case, there were some who looked on what they did as wrong but necessary. There are those still with posttraumatic stress disorder, as a result of the conflict which raged inside them knowing they had killed an innocent either because they had no other alternative or had been ordered to do so.

Yes, entire villages were burned to the ground on the orders of young officers who (in some cases wrongly) believed Viet Cong were hiding there. In some such instances, the villagers had supported our efforts. Once their homes and all their possessions had been destroyed, how could anyone expect their continuing support.

To the detractors I would counsel, celebrate your own honorable service. I pray all of them have reason to be proud of everything they did while serving our country.

I would also suggest that by calling into question the well vetted recommendations which led to Kerry being awarded his medals, they are suggesting that all those who were so recognized may not be deserving.

While I was privileged to serve with some verifiable heroes of World War II, the first real hero I personally knew was Harold Dale Meyerkord, LT, USNR, whose wife was presented with the Navy Cross awarded for the action in which he was killed in 1965. The following is from the Commissioning Program for the USS MEYERKORD on 28 November 1969.

Maybe, just maybe, Kerry's detractors would like to question Dale Meyerkord's medals as well.

Neither I nor any of those who knew and/or served with Dale would do so.

LT Harold Dale Meyerkord 1937 - 1965

Lieutenant Meyerkord was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on 9 October 1937, graduated from Riverview Garden High School in 1955 and received a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from the University of Missouri. He received his commission on 10 June 1960 after completing Officer Candidate School. He served in the USS LOS ANGELES (CA-135) and the USS DUNCAN (DD-874) prior to 13 July 1964, when he brought his expertise, diplomacy, tact, leadership and dedication to the aid of South Vietnam's struggle for freedom. As Senior Naval Advisor to the 23rd River Assault Group of the South Vietnamese Navy, he was involved in more than thirty combat operations in which he was under fire. Appropriately, his radio code name was “Hornblower”, the legendary hero of C.S. Forester's novels. His dedication to his men - Vietnamese and American - became renowned throughout the River Assault Group.

Lieutenant Meyerkord assumed co-leadership with the Vietnamese Commander of a miniature fleet of shallow draft patrol craft to protect three of the thirteen districts which form the vast delta region of the Mekong River. This waterborne domain had largely been regulated by feudal war lords and river pirates. The Viet Cong had brought terror including kidnapping and murder of local anti-Red leaders in their attempt to control this “rice bowl”. Here, waterways substituted for roads, lacing the jungles so very familiar to the enemy. Threats of ambush and instant death were ever present as the River Assault Group probed into insurgent territory.

Lieutenant Meyerkord made many low-level aerial flights in the face of Viet Cong fire to gain vital intelligence data. These achievements brought him the posthumous award of the Air Medal. But he was even more daring in action with his River Assault Group. In one action, when the enemy blocked his fleet, he set up a shore command post from which he directed artillery fire and air strikes to save the day. In another action, he took over from the wounded Vietnamese Commander. Though wounded himself and facing heavy fire, he continued the fight until victory was assured. In the best traditions of “Hornblower”, his daring leadership continued through more than 30 operations. He was twice awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action. He lived up to his stated philosophy: “In order to conduct successful operations in this region, it is imperative that American advisors have an aggressive, but not reckless attitude. An advisor that is overly cautious and places needless stumbling blocks in an operation is a handicap.”

Lieutenant Meyerkord was killed 16 March 1965 while his craft was in the van leading his River Assault Group into insurgent territory. His boat was caught in the first fusillade from a Viet Cong ambush. He steadfastly returned the enemy's fire at point-blank range until mortally wounded. His extraordinary heroism was recognized by the posthumous award of the Navy Cross.

Lieutenant Meyerkord is survived by his wife, daughter, mother and father, all of St. Louis, Missouri. (From Commissioning Program, USS MEYERKORD, 28 November 1969)

Incidentally, Mr. President, most of those of us who knew Dale believe he should have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. At the time, however, it was thought the Medal of Honor would never be awarded for service in Nam.

Please, Mr. President, condemn the Vietnam Veterans for Truth for their disingenuous ads. Blatant lies should not be countenanced by any of us.
Thank you.


USN (Retired)
Age 70
Seattle, WA



Please do not use comments for personal attacks. One of the goals of this project is to allow these open letters to foster civil (and civic) debate, so please keep personal attacks to yourselves, even if you disagree with the letter/comments here. Better yet, write a letter yourself.

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