Grandpa Kewl

Book Review – To Set The Record Straight – Scott Swett and Tim Ziegler

Sub Title: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry

Lets start this review with a poem, from my favorite poet.

The Last Battle of Vietnam

It never occurred to me, ever before,
That our Navy would win the Vietnam War.
When they took to their boats in this year of elections,
With the mission of making some major corrections
I shared their belief, John should not be elected,
And their view overdue, truth should be resurrected.
Yet I questioned the course they’d set themselves for,
Knowing how John was loved by the media whore.

Ignored and dismissed by the media queens
Being shrewd, savvy sailors they still found the means
To reach out to the people, to open their eyes
To a phony John Kerry and his war story lies.
With their very first ad, they torpedoed his boat,
A Cambodian Christmas would no longer float.
His heroics unraveled, his stories fell flat,
Especially that one ’bout his magical hat.

John called on his lawyers and media whores,
And threatened the Swiftees with vile legal wars.
But these warriors kept charging back into the fire,
And made the folks wonder, “Is Kerry a Liar?”
Till the question of whether he’s telling the truth
Was still in their minds in the election day booth.
So the brave Swiftees gave us what we’d not had before,
They gave us our victory in the Vietnam War.

Those brave, stalwart sailors, falsely labeled as liars,
Stood firm and stood tall, kept directing their fires,
Steadfast, unrelenting, they served once again,
And defeated John Kerry, these honorable men.
All Vets can take pride, yes all, not just some,
That we won the last battle of Vietnam.
It took far too long to bring an end to our war
But we did, November Second, Two Thousand Four.

To our Brothers, forever on that long black Wall,
You’ve been vindicated now, one and all.

Russ Vaughn
2d Bn, 327th Parachute Infantry Regiment
101st Airborne Division
Vietnam 65-66

I was involved with the Swift Boat campaign, literally from the very start. I saw a short reference to them on the Drudge Report and followed that link to the web site of the group. On the site, there was a short preview of the ad that they had prepared for release. They were hoping to buy time on 3 TV stations but lacked sufficient funds to do so. I made the first of several donations that night. I’m not sure how much I sent in their way, but it was in the neighborhood of $300-400 before the election was over. The response that evening was amazing….money poured in and they were able to put the ad on the air. The ads were explosive, probably the single most effective political ad campaign of all time. A link to each of the initial ads can be found at the bottom of this page. I forget the exact numbers, but they changed the election. Before the ads, the veterans in the US were positively inclined toward Kerry, myself include. After all, this was a Vietnam Vet…voting against him and for another fellow who had not served was going to be tough, even tho I have been a Republican oriented voter since I cast my first ballot, an absentee ballot for Richard M. Nixon. That ballot, by the way was sent from Vietnam and I can still recall the feelings I had as I completed it. But the ads reminded us all of the things Kerry said when he returned and the veteran vote went from something like 60/40 in his favor to 60/40 opposed. I do not think it an exaggeration to say that this alone cost him the election.

There was a lot of controversy about the ads, and the books that appeared at the time and rightfully so. There were charges, counter-charges and counter-counter-charges. The issues boiled down to 2 separate and somewhat unrelated themes: the things that Kerry said about his actions while in Nam and what he did and said after his return. The veracity of his medals was a part of the first issue. He was awarded 3 Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star. The award of the 3rd Purple Heart, after only 4 months in Nam was his automatic ticket home. This was the point of contention that drew the most arguments. Of the latter however, there was little debate possible – it was all still available of film…the Senate testimony, the debate on the Dick Cavet show and the speeches. While there was great debate about the former, the latter is really what killed him in the eyes of his fellow vets….and they were the charges that he never made much of an attempt to address. Nor could he.

The book in question here was written in 2008 by 2 of the original folks in the Swift Boat campaign. It addresses the following question: what of the original charges stood the test of time and debate? By 2008, it was possible for a fair-minded person to make this examination and while the writers obviously come down hard on one side of the argument, their analysis is there for anyone to read and evaluate. As I’ve noted before, when I read a book now, I put a note card of some kind in the book and record entries that I find significant. Usually, the note card is about half used. In this book, I filled 2 complete cards…


The early part of the book is somewhat unrelated to the Swift Boat campaign in that it is more concerned with the history of the Vietnam War and the events in the US at the time. There is much ink devoted to the likes of Jane Fonda and her fellow anti-war folks. While this is interesting in itself, in case one is ever interested in the truth of what she (and others) actually did and said, it really only serves the purpose of getting one angry. That I don’t really need. I’ve seen the footage of her in North Vietnam, the incident in the North Vietnamese Anti-Aircraft guns, the audio clip where she wishes there were US planes around for her to shoot at and then the lies and distortions she spoke when she returned…..She has apologized for the harm she did and I forgave her a long time ago. The fact is that getting beyond my anger toward her and Lyndon Johnson was a major part of my recovery from an addiction to alcohol and drugs. I threw a lot of substances at my anger and I came to realize that getting past this anger was absolutely required if I was to remain sober. I’ve never forgotten what was done but I am no longer consumed by the angers I felt. Still, chuckle, it is kinda satisfying to see so much of that history recorded in a single definitive place.just in case one of my historically challenged left-wing folks ever needs a history lesson.

Lets deal first with the charges associated with what Kerry said after his return to the US. This was pretty much a one-sided dialog: the anti-Kerry folks simply played back Kerry’s own words and added comments to them. The comments came in 2 forms: the statements were inaccurate and they slandered and harmed his fellow veterans. Here are some of the quotes:

1971, on Meet the Press:


“Do you consider that you personally as a Naval Officer committed atrocities in Vietnam or crimes punishable by law in this country” …answer…“Yes, I committed the same kinds of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers in that I took part in shooting in free-fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire.”

Before the Senate, April 22, 1971:


“The country doesn’t know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history; men who have returned with a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped.”

…they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, tape 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 country side 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.

The difficulty with these statements is that they are deeply offensive to Vietnam Vets who served their country honorably. Kerry and the anti-war press repeated these sentiments so often that they came to be regarded as accurate. Many of us were repeatedly assaulted by the phrases “baby burner”, “Crazed vet” and worse. The facts are that there were, as in all wars, people who behaved badly while the vast majority served with distinction. I personally know men who killed unarmed prisoners in both the Second World War and Korea. I know many more that did no such things, committed no atrocities in any war, and who were very angry with the accusations from the Left. The same type of ugly accusations were hurled about as a consequence of the behavior of a few individuals in Iraq.

These statements cannot be defended. They cannot be defended by a Presidential candidate who had made his service a centerpiece of his qualifications for office. Too many of us remember….too many of us will never forget….and this time we would not be silenced…..this time we would not accept….this time we would fight back…..and we did.



Then there is the issue that Kerry himself initiated by speaking of an incident where he and his crew went into Cambodia on a clandestine mission for the CIA. This is the event that as Kerry stated in a speech in the Senate:


”I remember Christmas of 1968, sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and the president of the United States telling the American people that I was not there, the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory, which is seared — seared — in me….. 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 repeated this story many times and put it into his approved biography. Part of the “seared in” memory was his special “magic hat” that he kept from the mission, given to him by one of the CIA folks. When the skeptics started looking into the story they ran into the facts that the crew members of the boat testified that on that day, they were somewhere else and nowhere near the Cambodian border. Even 2 of the crew that supported the Kerry campaign stated that this story was untrue and that they were never in Cambodia. In his own diary, he mentioned that on his last patrol, he was still wondering what might lie on the other side of the border. Then someone went looking into the records and found that there was no trace of any such clandestine CIA mission, nor any CIA personnel who would vouch for the story. The final nail in the coffin came when someone looked into the matter of the physical location Kerry said he was in. Then it was seen that the way into Cambodia was physically blocked at the time…you simply could not get there. Finally, Richard Nixon was not President when Kerry was in Nam.In the end, the Kerry campaign walked away from the story stating simply that “he was in the area”.  So you have, at the most generous, a bit of exaggeration and wishful thinking to an outright fabrication and lie. You decide for yourself.

At this point I was about to start on a deep and long journey through all the charges and counter charges associated with the medals that Kerry won. Then I realized that what I was about to write would be quite long and that is not the purpose for which I started writing these reviews. So, if you want to know the whole story – read the book. I would summarize things this way, after all the smoke cleared:

The first Purple Heart was bogus. It was awarded for a self-inflicted wound. There is no real issue with this, even the campaign came to recognize the futility of fighting over this. Kerry shot off a grenade launcher that struck a rock and he was hit by a small piece of shrapnel. He was turned down for the medal immediately and there is no record as to how it came to be actually awarded.

The Bronze Star was deserved

The second Purple Heart and the Silver Star were awarded as a consequence of the same incident. The Purple Heart was deserved, the Silver Star was based upon a grossly exaggerated report of the incident that Kerry himself wrote and should not have been awarded,

The third and final Purple Heart was also the consequence of a self-inflicted wound. He threw a grenade into a rice bin and did not get out of the way in time. No question – the person he was with confirms the story.

There is a very good summary at:

A couple of final notes:

Kerry was challenged on numerous occasions to sign the form that would release all his military records into the public domain. He stated many times that he would do so. He never did. These records would lay to rest many of the controversies but have been withheld. They would also show that his initial discharge was not Honorable…but “For the Good of the Service”. Upgraded later as a result of political influence.


T. Boone Pickens, a Texas financier who helped to fund the original Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against Kerry during the 2004 presidential election, offered $1 million to anyone who could prove that any of the group’s assertions were wrong. No one has collected.

The First Ad: anyquestions

The Second Ad: Swift Boat Ad #2

Share this on