WASHINGTON – Part of John Kerry's (search) strategy in his White House bid is to play up his military service in Vietnam, but a group of veterans is challenging the Democratic presidential nominee's story.
A new book called "Unfit for Command" (search) raises questions about Kerry's claims that he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968 at a time when the U.S. government was insisting that there was no American military presence in that country.
In an Oct. 14, 1979, letter to the editor of the Boston Herald, Kerry wrote: "I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real."
Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, also talked about his experience during a speech on the Senate floor on March 27, 1986.
"I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and have the president of the United States telling the American people that I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia," Kerry said.
Kerry was an officer in the Navy and served four months in Vietnam. His official biography says he earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Combat V and three Purple Hearts, but critics have challenged whether he deserved some of his medals.
The Kerry campaign first asserted that the Massachusetts senator never said that he was in Cambodia, only that he was near the country. But when presented with a copy of the Congressional Record and asked about Kerry's letter in the Boston Herald, the campaign said it would come up with an explanation. After repeated phone calls, there was still no clarification.
Among the organizations challenging Kerry on his military background is Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search), which describes itself as a group that included men who served with Kerry in combat as well as some of his commanders.
The group also produced a television ad blasting Kerry for his characterization of his Vietnam service.
But while the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have been hammering Kerry's record, many of the sailors who served under Kerry's command is backing their former commander. Additionally, Vietnam hero Sen. John McCain (search), R-Ariz., has decried the tactics of this group and urged President Bush to distance himself from it; the Bush campaign has refused to do so thus far.
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