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Published: Wednesday, 10/20/2004

Vietnam vets' groups give 2 sides on Kerry

BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth members Mike Solhaug, Dick Pees, and Steve Gardner and ex-POW Ken Cordier, right, discuss John Kerry's record in Vietnam at a talk in the Radisson Hotel. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth members Mike Solhaug, Dick Pees, and Steve Gardner and ex-POW Ken Cordier, right, discuss John Kerry's record in Vietnam at a talk in the Radisson Hotel.
WADSWORTH / BLADE Enlarge

Two convoys of Vietnam vets visited Toledo yesterday to explain why Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry's military record should matter to voters.

Members of Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth were in Ohio to discuss Stolen Honor, a documentary criticizing Mr. Kerry's military service. The group has produced a number of ads in the campaign that discredits the senator's military record.

Last night, Del Sandusky, a swift boat crew mate of Mr. Kerry, began a campaign tour of northwest Ohio to meet with veterans and voters to promote the Democratic candidate. Mr. Sandusky charges Mr. Kerry's opponents are "trying to take away John Kerry's status as the real American hero."

Both sides believe voters ought to know the truth about Mr. Kerry's service in Vietnam, but they have a different take on what happened abroad and the senator's anti-war activity after returning home. Some of the veterans claim Mr. Kerry's congressional testimony about atrocities in Vietnam left a black mark on returning soldiers.

Sandusky Sandusky
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Ken Cordier, a POW in Vietnam, said the senator's testimony was troublesome to captured soldiers who were forced by the enemy to admit that they had committed war crimes.

"We were all tortured until we wrote a war-crimes confession saying many things John Kerry testified to for free," he said.

Mr. Sandusky, who said Mr. Kerry was merely relaying a message to Washington in 1971 when he testified on behalf of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, called the speech a "turning point in history."

"A lot of these people have come and said they didn't like John in those days, but history has proven John Kerry needed to make that speech," Mr. Sandusky said. "Someone had to get up, and those vets had the courage to do what was right."

Steve Gardner, a gunner mate on Mr. Kerry's swift boat, claimed the senator made indecisive and risky moves leading a six-man, 50-foot crew boat.

"John Kerry would do things that didn't make sense," he said. "If you can't command that correctly, what can we expect him to do as commander-in-chief?"

Mr. Sandusky didn't agree with Mr. Gardner's assessment of the senator's performance in Vietnam. "John Kerry always made the right decision," Mr. Sandusky said. "He saved our lives."

Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University who studies military voting, said Mr. Kerry's military record ".●.●. clearly speaks to an issue central to the choice, namely who will be a better commander-in-chief in war time."

Contact Steve Eder at:

seder@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.



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