Do Vietnam Veterans Support John Kerry?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Feb. 13, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


JOHN KERRY, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I came back from Vietnam, I led thousands of veterans to Washington. We camped on the Mall. We stood up to Richard Nixon (search). He took us to the Supreme Court. They tried to kick us off.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: John Kerry (search) did fight in Vietnam. He was decorated. Then came home to fight against the war. 

John Hurley (search) is national director of Veterans for Kerry. The big question today, John, do Vietnam veterans support Kerry the anti-war protestor?

JOHN HURLEY, VETERANS FOR KERRY: Yes, I think they definitely do, John the veterans do in droves. When I came back from Vietnam, there were a lot of other guys coming back at the same time, and they were angry. They were frustrated. They were upset with the way the war was going. They felt that there was a stalemate there, and they were looking for a voice, someone who would represent their interests to say this war was wrong. John Kerry had the courage and leadership to stand up and lead that opposition to the war in Vietnam. And in the end, I think he ended up saving lives by doing it.

GIBSON: Well, remind me, what was the Vietnam Veterans Against the War — what was that organization?

HURLEY: It was a group of Vietnam veterans who opposed the war in Vietnam who came back and were organized. John Kerry was one of the founders of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. They organized a march, marched in Washington D.C. that took place in 1971. There were thousands of veterans who went there. They camped on the Mall. They protested the war in Vietnam. We marched to the Arlington cemetery where the gates were locked. We were not allowed in. There were Gold Star Mothers. There were Vietnam veterans. There were Gold Star Mothers whose sons were buried in there, the gates were locked. We turned around and left that, but went back to the Mall, camped on them. John Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And it's there that he asked the question, how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? That was the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

GIBSON: What was the idea? Was the idea that the war should never have been fought or that the political leaders were running it badly at the expense of the men in uniform?

HURLEY: Well, I think — my personal opinion is when we went over there, we went over there with the best of intentions, but at some point it went terribly wrong. We were over there without a mission, without a strategy, without an exit plan, and guys were dying. And they were dying in the numbers of hundreds per week. At some point in that war, guys were dying while they were arguing over the shape of the table at the peace conference in Paris. It was ludicrous. There was no purpose to that war. There was no national security interest of the United States at stake in that war. And guys were dying in a stalemate, and veterans — Vietnam veterans were angry about it. They organized. John Kerry was their spokesman, and they led that march on Washington that I think turned the tide, and in the end, ended up saving lives, saving troops in Vietnam.

GIBSON: Right, but John, I'm a little confused. What are we supposed to — this is a long time ago — and, look, I'm sure this is not going to be the major issue by the time anybody casts a ballot for either John Kerry or George Bush — but are we supposed to remember him as a war hero or war protestor?

HURLEY: I think both. I mean, I think that John Kerry served heroically in Vietnam. He was wounded three times. He earned a silver. He earned a bronze star. He served with great courage and distinction. And he came back and said this war is wrong, and I'm going to lead an army of veterans against the war. And he did that, and he did it so effectively that he was named to the Nixon enemies list. John Kerry is both. He is a war hero and he is a war protestor.

GIBSON: John Hurley is the national director of Veterans for Kerry. John, I've seen you in the background of those shots so long, good to see you upfront. Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

HURLEY: Thanks. Appreciate it, John.

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