Sunday's New York Times featured a Vietnam flashback, not to 1969, but 2004, as reporter Kate Zernike once again reported for duty in defense of John Kerry, in the former presidential candidate's Ahab-like quest for revenge against the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, whose questioning of his Vietnam War citations wounded him in the 2004 campaign.
The background: Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens issued a challenge last November -- $1 million to anyone who could disprove a single charge the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth made against Sen. John Kerry. A group of Kerry's Vietnam crewmates have sent a package to Pickens (and apparently to certain media outlets as well), including a 12-page letter and a 42-page attachment of Kerry's Navy records.
Zernike wrote it up as "Veterans Rebut Swift Boat Charges Against Kerry -- Say Their Service Was 'Tarnished.'" Neither Zernike nor any other media outlet named those veterans or provide any other details as to the contents of the package.
In the past, Zernike has fought alongside Kerry against the Swift Boat Vets, and her Sunday piece was of the same caliber, portraying Kerry's Vietnam-era allies as a loyal Band of Brothers and his (more numerous) Vietnam-era opponents as sleazy liars whose charges have been "undermined."
For most people, "Swift boat" has become a political verb, a synonym for the kind of attack that helped destroy the presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry in 2004.
But for a group of Vietnam veterans at the center of the attacks, it is still a fresh fight.
On Friday, the group, who served with Mr. Kerry in Vietnam, sent a letter to T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire Texas oilman who helped finance the 2004 attack advertisements, taking him up on a challenge he issued last November: that he would give $1 million to anyone who could disprove a single charge the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth made against Mr. Kerry.
The letter-writers served alongside Mr. Kerry during the events that the Swift boat group insisted he had embellished or made up to win his military decorations.
In a 12-page letter -- with a 42-page attachment of military records to support their case -- they rebut not one but several of the accusations of the Swift boat group.
The veterans offer to go through Mr. Kerry's record and the video with Mr. Pickens "page by page, frame by frame." And they demand an apology, to them "and to the American people."
Of course, none of this is new. Extensive news media accounts undermined the Swift boat charges in 2004, pointing out that some of the Swift boat critics had written statements in Vietnam lauding Mr. Kerry for extraordinary bravery in the incidents they later said he made up. One critic had himself received a medal for heroism during a hail of gunfire he later claimed Mr. Kerry had concocted to win his third Purple Heart.
But that did not blunt the political impact.
A Los Angeles Times blog post sheds a little more light, noting the package focuses not on all the questions surrounding two of Kerry's three Purple Hearts and his Bronze Star, but on an incident in which Kerry's fleet was ambushed on the Bay Hap River (the "teenager in a loincloth" event), an action for which Kerry was awarded the Silver Star:
The 15-page letter and 42 pages of Navy reports and other documentation focus principally on a 1969 engagement in which three boats under Kerry's supervision counterattacked after an ambush on a tributary of the Bay Hap River.
Kerry won a Silver Star for his actions, but critics contended he had exaggerated the incident and his own heroism. In this week's response, Kerry's crew offers details, after-action reports and the medal citation to prove that Kerry led with valor.
As case expert Tom Maguire noted, regarding the events leading to Kerry's Silver Star, the Swift Boat Vets were simply pointing out discrepancies between Kerry's medal citation and Kerry's own recounting of the event.