The American Conservative Union on Thursday announced it has tapped Sen. Zell Miller (search), D-Ga., to present the "Courage Under Fire" award to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth at the Conservative Political Action Conference's Feb. 16 banquet.
Miller and the group of Vietnam veterans were behind perhaps the campaign's two fiercest and most memorable attacks on Kerry's unsuccessful presidential bid.
Miller, who is retiring next month, scorched Kerry in a Republican National Convention keynote address in which he suggested the four-term Massachusetts Democrat had voted to cut so many weapons systems, it appeared he wanted to send the military to war with only spitballs.
The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ran ads after the Democratic convention questioning whether Kerry was in fact the decorated Vietnam War veteran that he claimed to be.
"The swift boat veterans performed an invaluable service to America," Miller said in a statement. "These veterans took a lot of undeserved criticism for daring to speak the truth."
Official military records and even statements from Swift Boat veterans in Navy documents raised questions about their largely unsubstantiated claims, but the political damage had been done. At a post-election forum Wednesday in Boston, Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's campaign manager, said she regretted underestimating the impact of the Swift Boat ads.
Roy Hoffmann, the retired Navy rear admiral who founded the Swift Boat group, said he didn't know much about Miller but was pleased with the honor. The real goal, he said, was to ensure that Kerry didn't become commander in chief.
"We achieved our goal," Hoffmann said. "That was our primary concern, and we are pleased someone recognized the effort — or at least the impact — we had on the election."
Richard Lessner, executive director of the American Conservative Union, said Miller had spoken at a previous banquet and "lit up the crowd."
Democrats shrugged off the choices of both honorees and presenter.
"It seems fitting that a Republican in Democratic clothing is recognizing the work of Republican agents, namely the smears that the Swift Boat veterans launched against John Kerry," said Jano Cabrera, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.