An Interview With John O’Neill
John Hawkins:: Now I’ve heard that you called George Bush an “empty suit,” voted for Al Gore in 2000, and are giving all the money that your book,”Unfit For Command,” makes to charity. Is all of that true?
John O’Neill:: Most of it. I didn’t actually call George Bush an empty suit. I had made private remarks critical of George Bush, but not that one that I remember. I am giving all the money to charity and I did vote for Al Gore in 2000 and I voted for Ross Perot twice before that.
John Hawkins:: Also, if the election were between George Bush and John Edwards, who would you vote for?
John O’Neill:: I said a year ago that I would have voted for John Edwards. To be candid, I wouldn’t want to express what I would do today.
John Hawkins:: I understand. After all the attacks he has made on you guys, you probably don’t have as many warm and fuzzy feelings about him now.
John O’Neill:: I probably wouldn’t be as enthusiastic (laughs). I’ll probably stay better informed in the future.
John Hawkins:: I know there are more than 250 members of the Swift Boat Vets for Truth, but do you have any sort of breakdown of how many there are who served with Kerry in the field in Vietnam?
John O’Neill:: Yes. Here are some of the statistics. John Kerry’s primary service was in a little area called An Thoi, Coastal Division 11. At Coastal Division 11 there were 23 officers he served with by our count. 17 of the 23 belong to our organization that have condemned him as unfit. Four have supported him and two have taken no position. There’s a: photograph: that you can find on John Kerry’s website.
John Hawkins:: I’ve seen that one.
John O’Neill:: It has 20 officers on it. Two are dead. Two have taken no position and then there’s John Kerry. That leaves, in other words, 15 officers there other than the ones who have taken no position or are dead or Kerry himself. Of those 12 condemn him as unfit and have joined our organization. Three support John Kerry after intense solicitation by John Kerry.
John Hawkins:: What about men who served in the field with John Kerry?
John O’Neill:: There were approximately 100 sailors at Coastal Division 11. More than 60 of them have signed on with us.
On his boat there were 10 people, to be fair, some for as little as 6 days. That’s the one category where he runs ahead of us. One is dead. Eight support him for President but not necessarily on the facts. Many of them, when asked, have indicated that things in our book “Unfit For Command” are true and one of them has condemned him. Now that’s the statistic he uses all the time. It’s very important to understand that some of those people were with him as little as 6 days, also that these boats operated in a common pack of 2 to 6 boats, that many of these people said that they were disgusted with him, that he turned their stomach, that they considered he had totally betrayed them as recently as 5 years ago. So he has made a concerted effort over the past 5 years obviously to improve his relationship with those people and most of them now support him, but not all.
The Kerry argument has been that you have to look now just at the guys who are on his own little boat. That’s a Washington lawyer argument that everybody laughs at because these boats never operate by themselves. They operate in packs of 2 to 6 boats and everybody on a normal night bunks together in a common bunkroom on a mother ship and so people know exactly what is happening. I think another statistic is that the entire chain of command all the way up to Admiral Zumwalt who is dead but whose son has signed our letter all condemn John Kerry as unfit. So I think that above John Kerry and along side John Kerry, he’s condemned by large majorities of people who believe he’s unfit to be the Commander-In-Chief.
John Hawkins:: Let’s look at some of these specific issues. Now at the RNC,Terry McAuliffe: said — and this is the latest Cambodia story, and I know that it has changed more than a few times — that: “John Kerry went to Cambodia twice. He was over in Viet Nam and at one point he took some CIA operatives into Cambodia.”
However, to the best of my knowledge, John Kerry has provided absolutely no evidence that he was ever in Cambodia beyond his word. But let me ask you, in the time that John Kerry was in Vietnam, were the Swift Boats ferrying CIA operatives into Cambodia? And if they did so, was it a single boat or would there have been multiple boats involved?
John O’Neill:: John Kerry’s story was that he was in Cambodia Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. That is a demonstrable lie.
John Hawkins:: Absolutely.
John O’Neill:: You can prove it’s a lie from where he was from everybody that was there. His boat was never in Cambodia in December or January. What he is clearly doing now is trying to devise a story ambiguous enough as to time and location that can’t actually be checked out and he doesn’t even have the courage to do it himself. Instead he uses surrogates like McAuliffe who I suggest has never been in Vietnam and certainly has never been on a swift boat. There’s no way to respond in the abstract; that’s why they have kept it abstract. What is clear is that the time he said was a turning point in his entire life, which he identified as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; that was a total lie and it was made up. How many people make up the turning point of their life?
Now, to be fair, do I know of any swift boat ever going into Cambodia? Absolutely not, nor would anybody use one because you can hear it a mile and a half away.
John Hawkins:: Let me ask you one other question. Did they ever send swift boats on missions like that, not necessarily into Cambodia, but alone or did you always go in packs?
John O’Neill:: Always in groups of several boats and if a mission like that had ever occurred it would have been with several boats.
John Hawkins:: So if the latest Kerry story is true, there should be the people on his boat, people on other boats, there should be tons of people to confirm his story.
John O’Neill:: There also should be a record of it and it’s missing and none of his commanding officers all the way up the chain of command have ever heard about anything like this.
So it was a very secret mission. It was secret from the people on his boat at least through January and secret from all the people that were there with him to the best of my knowledge and secret from all the officers that commanded with him. It was an extremely secret mission.
John Hawkins:: It sounds like it.
John O’Neill:: Maybe it was with Santa Claus (laughs).
John Hawkins:: One very, very, strong charge that your organization has made that and the mainstream media has scarcely paid attention to, is that John Kerry didn’t deserve his first Purple Heart and had to lie to get it. That’s quite significant since it allowed him to get out of Vietnam almost a year early. Can you give a concise rundown of your case against John Kerry on that one?
John O’Neill:: Yes. Our contention is both his first and third Purple Hearts were fake. He invoked the 3 Purple Heart rule to leave Vietnam 243 days early. None of these involved any injury that required even an hour of hospitalization. None of these involved any kind of real injury.
Now, Purple Heart number one occurred on December 2, 1968. That night he was on a Boston whaler; movement was sighted and they fired. There was no return fire reported by anyone and on the Boston whaler was Lieutenant William Schachte, who later became the Judge Advocate General of The Navy. According to Schachte, Kerry picked up an M-79, fired it, and it hit a nearby rock and it caused the grenade to explode and throw a little bit of bent shrapnel over all of them, a tiny piece of which ended up in Kerry’s arm. So the first witness is Schachte.
Two other people claim to have been on the boat; these are Runyon and Zaladonis. Neither one of them according to both the: Boston Kranish biographyand Kerry’s own authorized biography saw fire. Runyon apparently has see fire in the last week but has repeatedly been interviewed and said he didn’t see any fire, until last week. Kerry has said he doesn’t know what happened to him. That likewise is in both biographies, The Kranish book and: Tour of Duty. So there was no hostile fire and in addition the injury he got was so tiny to involve medical attention. He went to Dr. Letson who has provided an affidavit. Letson simply took a pair of tweezers and a band-aid and put it on and was told that there was no hostile fire, that he wounded himself. The claim is that Dr. Letson didn’t treat him because the sheet is signed by Jess Carreon. Carreon is Dr. Letson’s corpsman or nurse. Finally he went down to the division commander Hibbard….
John Hawkins:: One quick question. I notice that the Kerry campaign has been pointing that out, but Kerry has never denied that Letson treated him, has he?
John O’Neill:: He has refused to speak about this for the past 6 months.
John Hawkins:: Kerry has only said that Letson is not the guy that signed it. Kerry has never come out and said, ‘He didn’t treat me.’
John O’Neill:: It would be impossible to do that because before he released any of his medical records, Dr. Letson went to his Democratic Party Chairman down at Scottsboro, Alabama and provided a statement about exactly this occurrence and about how he treated him by removing the little deal with tweezers and band-aid. So Dr. Letson knew of the exact treatment when there had been no public way to find out about it, as far as I know.
In any event Dr. Letson went down to Commander Grant Hibbard. Grant Hibbard immediately denied any Purple Heart when Kerry applied and asked him to leave his office.
What is very important are the documents that are required for a Purple Heart that are missing here. There is no hostile fire report. There is no casualty report. What Kerry did is wait until everybody left Vietnam that had actual knowledge of the incident, i.e.: Hibbard, Letson, Schachte. When they all left he went to Saigon and somehow secured a Purple Heart on February 28, some 3 months later. He did this in a string of 3 Purple Hearts that he secured within 20 days as he was bailing out of Vietnam.
John Hawkins:: Now that puzzles me. I’m not a military guy, but how could Kerry get a Purple Heart under those circumstances? He couldn’t just go up to somebody and say, “I want a Purple Heart.” Doesn’t he have to present some kind of evidence?
John O’Neill:: I think he took the medical sheet signed by Jess Carreon and said that the paperwork had all been lost and secured a Purple Heart from people who had never conceived that he was lying, but that’s speculation on my part.
John Hawkins:: And the man who signed it has passed away?
John O’Neill:: He’s dead. What’s clear is that none of the normal records required for a Purple Heart exist and that he waited until everybody left who actually knew that the wound he got was trivial and that he had been turned down by the people that had actual knowledge.
John Hawkins:: The Kerry campaign has changed its story on Cambodia, the no-man left-behind story, & they’re even starting to say that maybe Kerry wasn’t under fire when he got his first Purple Heart. Meanwhile, Kerry had a: Silver Star With Valor: on his website which didn’t exist, his own: biography contradicts his claims: about his service in several places, he’s refusing to release his records, he hasn’t done a press conference since your first ad, and I haven’t seen a lot of coverage of this from the media. They’ll cover it, but it’s “A rich Republican gave money to the Swift Boat vets for truth” so they can’t be trusted.
John O’Neill:: Right. It’s usually an attack on us. In Kerry’s world where he’s backed by maybe 15 people from our unit, they’re given almost continuous coverage. Twenty times as many oppose him and think he’s unfit and we’re all lackeys given no coverage.
John Hawkins:: Did you expect that much partisanship from the media?
John O’Neill:: I think it’s unbelievable. I think it’s really sad and incompatible with a balanced media devoted to intellectual honesty and intellectual freedom and we’ve all been shocked by it.
John Hawkins:: Well, I can imagine. Now here’s something from your debate with John Kerry on the Dick Cavett show. You said this,: “(I)s the same little man who on nationwide television in April spoke of, quote, “crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command,” who was quoted in a prominent news magazine in May as saying, quote, “War crimes in Vietnam are the rule and not the exception,” unquote.”
Did you remember which magazine that was because I’m sure if we put the name out there we can get a copy of that in the blogosphere?
John O’Neill:: No, but it’s going to be either “Time,” “Newsweek,” or “Life.” It’ll be one of the three. (Editor’s Note: If anybody out there can get their hands on this, how about scanning it in and emailing it to me?)
John Hawkins:: One of those three? OK. Excellent.
John O’Neill:: It’s just been too many years. I haven’t looked that one up yet. Another interview where he makes the same kind of pretty wild claims is in the ‘Washington Star’ interview in May 1971. (Editor’s Note: Same goes for this one)
John Hawkins:: Related question: what do you say to people who claim that John Kerry may have repeated smears other people made against the troops in his Senate testimony, but that he never personally smeared the troops or portrayed them as war criminals?
John O’Neill:: The distinction between repeating a false story as truth and stating it yourself is like the argument, ‘What is is, is.’ I mean it’s a distinction that is so ephemeral that it has no meaning outside of Paris, France, and it’s ridiculous. If what he’s saying is that he simply repeated lies about all of our people over and over again in testimony in front of the Senate from investigations that he organized himself and conducted with people, many of whom are complete frauds, then I gotta tell you I think that would be worse if anything perhaps than saying it yourself.
In any event the difference wouldn’t mean any difference. The clear intent was to slander all of our guys living and dead as criminals and to portray their service in Vietnam as one large, you know, barbaric criminal enterprise like in his words, the army of Genghis Khan. We have 58,000 people that died back there. They were good kids. They were not the army of Genghis Khan.
John Hawkins:: I’m sure you have heard about this. There are some really strange things going on with John Kerry’s Silver Star. It has been rewritten 3 times and the man whose name is on the third one,: John Lehman: said he“never signed it. I never approved it. And the additional language it contains was not written by me.”: Also, Kerry has been claiming to have a Silver Star with Valor. Finally, after the Navy pointed out that there is no such thing, the Kerry camp is saying it’s just a typo. Any thoughts on this because it seems more than a bit strange?
John O’Neill:: Kerry makes a lot of typos but they are always in one direction. For example, on his website he claimed to captain PCF-94 in a savage battle on January 29, 1969. He wasn’t even on board the boat and wasn’t present and when that was pointed out, he finally deleted it. It was a totally different guy, Lieutenant Peck, who was wounded there.
With respect to the over-claiming of medals my understanding is he has too many campaign stars, he shows the ‘V’ with valor, and he has re-written over and over again his citations to make them more and more glorious as the years roll on and so on and further and further removed from the original actions. This is a process that began in Vietnam with the very first report that he prepared because his reports repeatedly present occasions in which nothing serious occurred or even occasions in which he participated in a disaster as tremendous victories.
John Hawkins:: Let me ask you this, too. I think your group has driven Chris Matthews around the bend. Not only did he: refuse to let you talk: when you were on his show, but if you saw the episode with: Michelle Malkin, I thought that was a real disgrace.
John O’Neill:: It was terrible. I was sorry for Chris Matthews, really. If the purpose of a show isn’t to sit and exchange information, if it’s to simply rant and scream at people, then why bother to have guests? Why doesn’t he simply talk to a potted plant? He could sit and just sort of orate to a potted plant there and he wouldn’t have the frustration of the plant trying to answer back and, you know, he could have great television with the plant.
John Hawkins:: Was he any different when you were off the air than when he was live? I’ve read an account of what happened with Michelle Malkin after she got off with him. Was he any different there?
John O’Neill:: He was offensive from the time I walked in and when I left, I suggested to him that he shouldn’t bother to read the book, that it would confuse him, and I feel that way. There’s no reason for him to read the book. It would simply confuse him.
John Hawkins:: One thing that has been often cited by opponents of the SBVFT is the language in Larry Thurlow’s Bronze Star citation which was received during the same event in which John Kerry received his Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Thurlow’s Bronze Star citation notes that he was under fire. Now, Mr. Thurlow has said that Kerry likely wrote the language for the citation or had input into it, that he didn’t put himself in for the citation, that he thought he got the medal for pulling someone out of the water who was hit by a mine, and that he didn’t receive it until after he left the military. All of that is very plausible but wouldn’t he have been aware that his bronze star noted that he was under fire?
John O’Neill:: Let’s first deal with what the Kerry guys are basically trying to do here is ‘ fight about the tail after giving up the dog. This is a story told at the Democratic convention three weeks ago. The story according to Kerry was ‘no man left behind.’ He said there were 5 boats. A mine went off near the first boat; a mine went off near his boat, knocked Rassman off the boat; the boats all fled under fire. Kerry looked around, realized Rassman was gone, was badly wounded, and nonetheless, came back under heavy fire, no man left behind, and rescued Rassman, but that story is a gigantic, monstrous lie built around a small truth.
The small truth is Kerry fled, Rassman fell off his boat, and Kerry ultimately came back and picked up Rassman. That’s true. The monstrous lie is that everybody fled and that Kerry was wounded. Let’s deal first with Kerry being wounded. The documents show and the Kerry campaign has admitted to the Washington Post that Kerry’s hip wound came not from any underwater mine but came from Kerry hot-dogging with a grenade earlier in the morning and throwing it in some rice and getting a tiny amount of rice and shrapnel in his fanny. Nonetheless, he reported that to the Navy as coming from an underwater mine that day of March 13. That was a lie and everybody admits it’s a lie as far as I know. The only other physical injury Kerry purports to have suffered that day was contusion, minor ‘ in other words, a small bruise. The medical records show it was treated with a cold cloth. Nonetheless, Kerry departed Vietnam within 4 days of that event on the basis he had been wounded in that action. That was a total and complete lie.
Now, second, what happened? The story that all 5 boats fled is a total lie and now admitted by everybody to be a lie. What really happened is the three boat was blown out of the air. The people from the three boat were blown in the water and all boats closed on the three boat except for Kerry’s boat. Just like he said, he fled. On occasion he’s lied in different ways. In his 1998 testimony on the floor of Congress he said that the mine went off under his boat and he was blown up into the air, which is another lie.
What Kerry is now fighting about is when he finally came back, when all the really brave guys had rescued the people out of the water and had gone into the engine room in the three boat to keep it afloat, to stop it from sinking, and people dying on the three boat, when he finally showed up back again, was there still fire going on? My opinion the reason he contests this is that’s it’s one of the amorphous things that people can try and contest. There, there’s a huge amount of evidence there was no fire and only a little bit of evidence there was any fire at all. The evidence that there was fire is several of his crewman say there was fire, Jim Rassman who was in the water says there was fire, one other guy Lambert says there was fire. In addition, the 2 bronze star citations say under fire or similar words.
Now what’s the evidence there was no fire? First of all, the report for that day, the After Action Report, was written by John Kerry as the officer in tactical command. He’s refused to state whether he wrote it or not but every other officer at the scene has said he wrote it. In addition it relates primarily to the operation of his own boat. So we know it’s his report. It says there was 3.2 miles, 5,000 meters of fire from both banks. This is like going through Seminary and Cemetery Ridge at a distance of 75 yards. It’s a complete total fabrication, a lie to the Navy that served as the basis of everybody’s citation that day.
John Hawkins:: A quick question for you on that. Now, I do understand there was something about 3 bullet holes in one boat and wasn’t there some damage to Kerry’s boat?
John O’Neill:: Yes, but the damage occurred the day before. You can take a look at Page 304 of his own book, “Tour of Duty”, quoting his own journal and what had happened was a mine had gone off between his boat and Larry Thurlow’s boat the day before and had cracked the windows, blown out the windows in both boats. That occurred the day before. The 3 bullet holes in the turret of one boat likewise were from the day before.
How do we know that? There’s a casualty report on the gunner that sat right there the day before. It was wounded by those 3 bullets. So there was absolutely no damage to any boat that can be attributed to the date of March 13. There are now 10 or 11 different people who say there was no fire. That includes every other officer on the scene, four of them. It includes seven enlisted men. There’s no battle damage to any boat. They were there an hour and a half in a canal that was 75 yards wide.
Also, I’ve gotta tell you, anybody who was in Vietnam will understand that any firing that occurred would have occurred within seconds. Why? These are unarmored boats, but they have incredible firepower. No lone gunman sitting there with an AK47 or anything like that would have lasted more than a few seconds. So any fire that would’ve occurred would have occurred right after the mine. The theory that there would still be fire occurring when Kerry came back 4 or 5 minutes later is just crazy. That’s my opinion but I think the most important point is that in order to gain some little scintilla of honor out of a situation in which he fled, he basically tries to fight about whether there was still some type of fire going on when he finally came back. The biggest points are all conceded. He falsified the Purple Heart, the casualty report, and he lied about the essence of what occurred in order to secure a decoration.
John Hawkins:: I do think you make an excellent convincing case there that there was no fire, but would Thurlow have seen that on his citation?
John O’Neill:: Larry Thurlow was the most decorated Swift Boat officer in Vietnam. In other words, Larry Thurlow, unlike Kerry, wasn’t trying to scratch and get out in 3 or 4 months and Larry Thurlow didn’t even know he had been decorated even when I spoke to him for that day.
John Hawkins:: So, I guess you would know better than I would and I’m asking if when you receive these sort of medals if they give all of the details?
John O’Neill:: You get a citation with it but if you have already gone home, you just could care less. I haven’t looked at mine in many years and that’s what’s so bizarre about Kerry, for example, updating his citation over and over again and making it more glorious. Look, most of us stuck them in the closet and forgot about them and went on with our lives.
John Hawkins:: I have one last related question to this. Now I know Mr. Rassman was in the water for some period of time. Do you know how long it was before Kerry’s boat picked him up? Is there any sort of estimate? The reason I ask is it seemed odd to me that he didn’t swim to another boat.
John O’Neill:: Here’s what happened. The Kerry boat was on the right side of the river and the other boats, the three boat that was blown up was on the left side of the river. When the three boat was blown up it was a tremendously dramatic event. Everybody immediately fixated on the three boat. You could see the entire boat lift out of the water. People were thrown/blown out into the water. The boat was sinking. There was no fire, nothing, on the right side. Nobody bothered to look over there.
By the way, Kerry, in 1998, said that Rassman simply stepped off his boat. He simply described it as his making a turn and Rassman simply falling in. That was his description on the Congressional record in 1998. It would never have occurred to anybody that anything would have happened over there. Rassman fell in. The estimates I’ve seen range from about 2-3 minutes to 4-5 minutes before Kerry came back.
The Chenoweth boat, before Kerry came back, was already heading over to pick up Rassman and they estimate that they were 10 to 12 yards away from Rassman at the time Kerry picked him up. The truth is that until they picked up the guys off the three boat who were badly wounded and in the water that they were the only people anybody was paying attention to. So nobody even looked over there. When the immediate emergency on the three boat was surmounted that’s when people looked over and realized Rassman was in the water.
John Hawkins:: And the boats were in there tending that wounded boat for an hour and a half?
John O’Neill:: They were there for an hour and a half tending the boat. Kerry left on the boat with the wounded which you can imagine how people feel about that. He left in the boat for the wounded right when the boats reached the mouth of the river and left the other people to try to save the three boat.
John Hawkins:: Is there anything else you’d like to say or promote before we finish up?
The reason we’re there is for two groups of people, primarily the first and most important are the kids that are all in the military now. We think this guy would be a ghastly Commander-In-Chief, dishonest, self-seeking, ambitious, not trustworthy.
Then the second reason we’re there is for the guys that all served with us and didn’t come back and so on. We don’t think that they were the army of Genghis Khan. We don’t think they were war criminals. We think it was immoral for him to claim that and to repeat it as recently as his book, Tour of Duty. We think they were good kids, they fought hard for the country, and they deserved a lot better than they got from John Kerry.
John Hawkins:: Well, that was excellent. I really appreciate it, Mr. O’Neill.
John O’Neill:: Thank you very much, John. I enjoyed very, very much talking to you.