Big Backing For Kerry In Ad Wars

William Rood, 61, said he decided to break his silence Saturday, August 21, 2004. CBS

A Chicago Tribune editor who served with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry during the Vietnam War as the commander of a Navy swift boat on a 1969 mission is challenging the attacks on Kerry's account of the event.

William Rood, 61, said he decided to break his silence Saturday about the Feb. 28, 1969 mission because recent reports of Kerry's actions in that battle are incorrect and darken the reputations of veterans who served with Kerry, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune's Sunday editions.

Before the 1969 mission, Kerry told Rood and another officer to attack ambushers if U.S. crews came under attack. The swift boats following the new tactic had great success, said Rood, an editor on the Tribune's metropolitan desk.

Rood said allegations that Kerry's accomplishments were overblown are untrue and that Kerry developed an attack strategy that was praised by their superiors.

"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. 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," Rood said in a first-person account published in the newspaper.

"I know that what some people are saying now is wrong," Rood wrote. "While they mean to hurt Kerry, what they're saying impugns others who are not in the public eye."

According to the Tribune, Rood's recollection of what happened that day was backed by military documents, including his citation for his Bronze Star.

The Feb. 28, 1969 mission has become a focal point of a political and media firestorm fueled in part by the anti-Kerry group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

One of the group's leaders, John O'Neill, succeeded Kerry in command of a swift boat and is co-author of the book "Unfit for Command." The book accuses Kerry of being a coward who lied about his decorated wartime record and betraying comrades by returning from Vietnam and alleging widespread atrocities by U.S. troops.

The allegations sparked a nearly two-week-long TV ad campaign against the Democratic nominee.

Kerry has condemned the allegations. He said President Bush was allowing front groups to "do his dirty work" and called on the White House to denounce the TV ads.

On Thursday Kerry also challenged Mr. Bush to debate each other's war records. There are lingering questions about whether Mr. Bush reported for National Guard duty over a three-month period in 1972.

The Kerry campaign has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, alleging the Swift Boat Veterans group is coordinating its ads with the Bush campaign. The Bush campaign has denied the claim and has refused to condemn the book and the group's TV ads.

However, The New York Times reported Friday that the anti-Kerry group has ties to the Bush family, Mr. Bush's chief political aide Karl Rove and several Texas Republicans. The newspaper also said some recent accounts from veterans critical of Kerry have been contradicted by their own previous statements.

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 interview requests from a Tribune reporter. George de Lama, the Tribune's deputy managing editor for news, told The Associated Press Saturday that Rood would not publicly discuss the issue.

When the Tribune asked O'Neill for his response to Rood's account, O'Neill said the former swift boat skipper's version of events is not substantially different from what appeared in his book.

A message by the AP left with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was not immediately returned Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Kerry campaign comparing the controversy over Kerry's Vietnam service to attacks on John McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries.

The video, sent via e-mail to supporters, says, "George Bush is up to his old tricks" and shows then-Texas Gov. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain at a debate in February 2000.

McCain, sitting next to Mr. Bush, says that when "fringe veterans groups" attacked him at a Bush campaign function, Mr. Bush stood by and didn't say a word. McCain says a group of senators wrote Mr. Bush a letter that said: "Apologize. You should be ashamed."

McCain, also a Vietnam veteran, says Mr. Bush "really went over the line."

"I don't know how you can understand this, George, but that really hurts," McCain says.

In Roanoke, Va., on Saturday, Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards called on Mr. Bush to end the Swift Boat Veterans ads.

"This is a moment of truth for George W. Bush," Edwards said at a Democratic rally. "We're going to see what kind of man he is and what kind of leader he is. ... We want to hear three words: Stop these ads."

Edwards said the commercials were from "people who financed the same kind of attacks against John McCain in the 2000 presidential campaign."

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said Saturday, "John Kerry has run a relentlessly negative campaign, the only campaign that has ever questioned anyone's service during the Vietnam War, repeatedly making baseless accusations about the president."

Brian Jones, another Bush campaign spokesman, said, "The president has made it repeatedly clear that he wants to see an end to all" advertising from outside groups.
  • Joel Roberts

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