Politics & Policy

Wounds That Never Heal

The wounds Kerry inflicted continue to pain Vietnam veterans.

American soldiers “raped,

cut off ears, cut off heads, cut

off limbs, randomly shot at

civilians, razed villages in a

fashion reminiscent

of Genghis Khan….”

–John Kerry, 1971

In 1971, I awoke from three days of unconsciousness aboard a hospital ship off the coast of Vietnam. I could not see, my jaws were wired shut, and my left cheekbone was missing, a gaping hole in its place.

Later, while still in that condition at St. Albans Naval Hospital, one of my earliest recollections was hearing of John Kerry’s testimony before Congress. I remember lying there, in disbelief, as I learned how Kerry told the world that I served in an Army reminiscent of Genghis Khan’s; that officers like me routinely let their men plunder villages and rape villagers at will; that “war crimes” committed in Vietnam by my fellow soldiers “were not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.”

Then Kerry went to Paris, meeting with North Vietnamese enemy officials, while our soldiers continued to fight in the field. The pain and disbelief I felt listening to his words went deeper than the pain I felt from the enemy fire that seriously wounded my face.

Eighteen months later I was discharged from the hospital, the enemy-inflicted wounds fully healed. But more than 30 years later, the wounds inflicted by John Kerry continue to bring pain to scores of Vietnam veterans. Those wounds–from the bearing of false witness against a generation of courageous young Americans who fought and died in Vietnam–are much more serious than any wound warranting a Purple Heart. Those wounds go to the heart and soul. Those wounds never go away.

Today, my son is a Marine Corps weapons officer, flying the F/A 18 Hornet. He belongs to the same Marine Corps Kerry ridiculed with his 1971 book cover, which showed protestors simulating the Iwo Jima Memorial, raising an upside-down American flag. He flies the same fighter jet Kerry voted against in the U.S. Senate. And today, Kerry’s picture hangs in an honored place in Saigon’s war museum, as a hero to the Vietnamese Communists.

Yet John Kerry shamelessly drapes himself in the imagery of Vietnam, his military service, and the support of veterans. Criticism and disapproval by scores of veterans often falls on deaf ears. Legitimate objections to Kerry’s post-war record are discredited as “personal” attacks or attacks against his service.

John Kerry is quick to surround himself with a handful of veterans, and he claims he has overwhelming support from the veteran community. But he ignores the wounds he inflicted on millions of veterans, and he refuses to sign a waiver to release his military records. This is the portrait of a man who has failed to come to terms with his treacherous past.

Dexter Lehtinen is former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. He was severely wounded in 1971 while a reconnaissance-platoon leader in Vietnam.

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