Veterans Group Sends Challenge to Kerry

The organization Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search) says it will stop its television advertising if John Kerry (search) admits his misstatements about his war record and apologizes for 1971 testimony in which he called his fellow sailors in Vietnam criminals.

In a letter that was en route to the Kerry-Edwards headquarters on Tuesday afternoon, veteran Greg Mueller, president of the Northern Virginia-based Creative Response Concepts (search), wrote that SBVT encourages the Democratic presidential candidate "to use this opportunity to clarify your actions in Vietnam and your statements about your fellow veterans and shipmates when you returned home."

He also urged Kerry to apologize to veterans for accusations against them that had "no basis in fact."

"Your exaggerated testimony before the U.S. Senate; the blanket indictment of your fellow veterans; throwing away medals and ribbons; all of these actions dishonored America and the armed forces. Your rhetoric and actions were not only wrong, they aided the enemy and brought great pain to POWs, veterans and their families," Mueller wrote.

In April 1971, Kerry testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations -- which the Swift Boat Veterans have excerpted and played in some of their ads. In the testimony, Kerry said veterans with whom he met in Detroit had claimed responsibility for a variety of atrocities against the Vietnamese people during the war.

"They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country," he said.

During this era, Kerry also attended a protest at which time he threw over a fence ribbons he had been awarded and medals belonging to other soldiers. Much later, Kerry claimed he had spent Christmas 1968 in Cambodia, helping to conduct a secret war. Kerry has since said that he was mistaken in his recollections and was on a river near Cambodia (search), not actually in the country.

Those two issues and a third have fueled the SBVT campaign as well as sales of the book "Unfit for Command" by SBVT founder and longtime Kerry critic John O'Neill. In the book, O'Neill brings up the Cambodia claims and questions whether the March 13, 1969, incident in which Kerry earned the Bronze Star and a third Purple Heart in four months, which qualified him to be removed from combat, really happened the way Kerry has described.

"You have now described three different versions of this incident. In the first version of this incident presented during the Democrat National Convention, you stated: 'No man left behind,' suggesting to the American people that you alone stayed on the river to rescue Mr. Rassmann.

"Later, when forced to acknowledge conflicting eyewitness testimony from fellow Swift Boat Veterans, you said that your boat left the scene to return moments later to retrieve Jim Rassmann from the water. Yet, in another version of the same incident discovered in the Congressional Record, you reported that your boat struck a mine and Rassmann fell off the boat.

"Mr. Kerry, please explain to your fellow veterans and the American people which version is the truth," Mueller wrote.

Prior to the letter's transmission, the Kerry campaign returned fire against earlier attacks by the Swift Boat Veterans.

Calling the group the "Smear Boat Veterans," the Kerry campaign cited news articles suggesting that the Bush-Cheney campaign was helping the group. The campaign also said Bush senior political adviser Karl Rove had instigated a scene during the Republican National Convention on Monday night in which delegates wore purple bandages, claiming to have been scratched by discarded Purple Hearts.

“By refusing to specifically condemn this smear, George W. Bush is insulting the military service not only of John Kerry but all veterans who have served this nation.  President Bush could stop this smear right now. Yet he still refuses to heed" the call of Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam POW and Kerry supporter who has called the ads "garbage," Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton said.

Saying that the Swift Boat Veterans wanted to close their personal chapters on Vietnam and "instead focus on the war we're currently fighting," Mueller said his group would be forced to carry on if Kerry did not respond to their demands.

"In the absence of full public disclosure and a public apology, we will continue efforts to carry our message to an ever-expanding base of grassroots supporters," Mueller wrote.

FOX News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.