CRAWFORD, Texas – As President Bush (search) stays in the background relaxing at his Texas ranch, the debate over claims by members of a veterans' group opposing Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) continues to rage.
On Sunday, the Kerry campaign released a new ad accusing the president of backing the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search), which has released a series of spots calling into question Kerry's heroism during the Vietnam War.
In the ad, the narrator claims that families are losing jobs and health care while "George Bush's campaign supports a front group attacking John Kerry's military record." The ad calls the attacks "smears" and "lies."
Kerry defender and National Director of Veterans for Kerry (search) John Hurley called the Swift Boat Vets' ads "dishonest and hishonorable."
"This is a Republican smear campaign. ... The United States Navy awarded John Kerry a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. Every single man who served under his command, when he won those awards, supports John Kerry," Hurley told FOX News Sunday, adding that all the members of the Swift Boat group except for one never met Kerry in Vietnam.
That one sailor, Van Odell, a member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, said Kerry was not under enemy fire, as the "after-action report" that earned him his Bronze Star states.
"I do not have a document that says that," Odell admitted, adding that no one else at the scene of the fight thought it was medal-worthy. "I was up at the highest point. I could see all around. I could see what was going on. I fired a few hundred rounds when the mine first went off. And after that we quit firing because — and then we spent an hour in the kill zone, and nobody was shot or wounded.
"None of us knew that he even got the Bronze Star. None of us knew that any of this was going on. We didn't know until after he left about the Purple Heart. And I didn't know about his Bronze Star until about three months ago that they got for this action," he told FOX News Sunday.
Odell also rejected charges that the organization he represents is funded by people who have worked in conjunction with the Republican Party.
"Our message is our message, and no one tells us what to say," Odell said.
Federal law prohibits any direct involvement between private organizations, known as 527s, and anyone connected to a presidential campaign. On Sunday, the Bush campaign stated that it had released from volunteer duty a campaign worker who served in Vietnam and appears in one of the Swift Boat ads. The campaign said Col.Ken Cordier (search) failed to disclose his involvement with the group.
In New York on Saturday night, Kerry appeared at a fund-raiser and said the Bush camp is trying to attack his credibility because Americans are coming to believe Kerry would fight a "smarter and more effective" War on Terror.
"That's why they're attacking my credibility. That's why they've personally gone after me. The president needs to stand up and stop that. The president needs to have the courage to talk about it," Kerry told about 750 supporters.
On Saturday, the Kerry campaign released an Internet ad comparing the attacks on Kerry to Bush campaign attacks against Arizona Republican Sen.John McCain (search) during the Republican primaries in 2000.
Kerry campaign adviser Tad Devine attacked the Bush campaign after appearing on a Sunday morning news show.
"The president has unfortunately resorted to same tactics that they did four years ago against John McCain. A front group pushing attacks against a Vietnam veteran and these attacks need to be answered they're lies pushed forward by people who have proven records as liars," Devine said.
The Bush campaign responded that it's not attacking Kerry's war record.
"The president, the chairman of our campaign Marc Racicot; Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the RNC; our surrogates have consistently honored John Kerry's service in Vietnam as noble and as honorable. We believe this election is not about his service in Vietnam but instead about his judgment as a U.S. senator," said Bush spokesman Ken Mehlman.
While the debate continues on television, the print media has its own representative speaking in Kerry's defense. William Rood (search) , an editor for the Chicago Tribune who was also a Swift boat commander with Kerry, spoke out in Kerry's defense on Saturday, saying Kerry's critics are telling untrue stories about his war record.
All the back-and-forth is disappointing Sen. Joe Lieberman (search), D-Conn., the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate. He told FOX News Sunday that Kerry's war record has consumed all the attention while more important issues in the presidential campaign are being ignored.
"What really infuriates me and amazes me is that we're spending this much time and energy debating what happened 35 years ago instead of talking more about the war on terrorism we're in today, about our health care, education, environment, economic problems, and what George Bush and John Kerry are going to do for the next four years. That's what we ought to be debating."
Fox News' Steve Centanni and Sharon Kehnemui contributed to this report.