EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the May 31, 2004, issue of National Review.
James Zumwalt knows the importance of his name. Son of the late Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, the legendary chief of naval operations during the Vietnam War, and brother of Elmo Zumwalt III, the swift-boat skipper who died in 1988 as a result of cancer related to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, James Zumwalt knows that when he speaks, many listeners will hear not only his voice but those of his family.
So it was only after much thought that on May 4, Zumwalt, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, joined a group of former swift-boat officers and crew to sign a letter citing “substantive concerns” about former swiftie John Kerry’s fitness to serve as commander-in-chief. The men, who called their group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, had several concerns. Some questioned parts of Kerry’s service record. Others questioned his judgment. But all were united in one thing: their anger at Kerry’s claim, dating back to his testimony before Congress in 1971, that Americans had committed atrocities in Vietnam that “were not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.”
The veterans believed Kerry was lying back then, and their unhappiness with Kerry was rekindled when the charges were repeated in Tour of Duty, historian Douglas Brinkley’s new book describing Kerry’s wartime experiences. “We have concluded that you have deceived the public, and in the process have betrayed honorable men, to further your personal political goals,” the veterans wrote in a public letter to the senator.
Before he signed the letter, Zumwalt thought about his brother. “He was not a big fan of Kerry’s,” Zumwalt recalls. “When they had the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, my brother refused to go up and shake Kerry’s hand. He still had quite a bit of animosity.”
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