William Rood, 61, said he decided to break his silence about the Feb. 28, 1969, mission because reports by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search) are incorrect and darken the reputations of veterans who served with Kerry, according to a report in the Tribune's Sunday editions.
Rood, an editor on the Tribune's metropolitan desk, said the allegations that Kerry's accomplishments were overblown are untrue. Kerry came up with an attack strategy that was praised by their superiors, Rood said.
"The critics have taken pains to say they're not trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did, but their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us," Rood said in a 1,700-word first-person account published in the newspaper. "It's gotten harder and harder for those of us who were there to listen to accounts we know to be untrue, especially when they come from people who were not there."
According to the Tribune, Rood's recollection of what happened that day in South Vietnam was backed by military documents, including his citation for a Bronze Star and a report written by then-Capt. Roy Hoffmann, who commanded his and Kerry's task force and is now a critic of the Democratic candidate.
The mission has become a focal point of a political and media firestorm fueled by the Swift Boat Veterans.
One of the group's leaders, John O'Neill, succeeded Kerry in command of a swift boat. O'Neill is co-author of the book "Unfit for Command," which accuses Kerry of lying about his wartime record and betraying comrades when he returned from Vietnam by alleging widespread atrocities by U.S. troops. The Swift Boat Veterans have repeated the accusations in TV ads.
The Kerry campaign filed a complaint Friday with the Federal Election Commission, alleging the Swift Boat Veterans are coordinating their ads with the Bush campaign. The Bush campaign has denied the claim but refused to condemn the book or the group's TV ads.
Rood wrote that Kerry recently contacted him and other crew members, requesting that they go public with their accounts of what happened that February day.
"I can't pretend those calls (from Kerry) had no effect on me, but that is not why I am writing this," Rood said. "What matters most to me is that this is hurting crewmen who are not public figures and who deserved to be honored for what they did. My intent is to tell the story here and to never again talk publicly about it."
Rood declined requests from a Tribune reporter to be interviewed. The Tribune's deputy managing editor for news, George de Lama, told The Associated Press on Saturday that Rood would not publicly discuss the issue.
When the Tribune asked O'Neill for his response to Rood's account, O'Neill argued that the former swift boat skipper's version of events is not substantially different from what appeared in his book.
A message left with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was not immediately returned Saturday.