August 21, 2004

By William B. Rood Chicago Tribune There were three Swiftboats on the river that day in Vietnam more than 35 years ago — three officers and 15 crew members. Only two of those officers remain to talk about what happened on Feb. 28, 1969.

One is John Kerry (news - web sites), the Democratic presidential candidate who won a Silver Star for what happened on that date. I am the other.

For years, no one asked about those events. But now they are the focus of skirmishing in a presidential election with a group of Swift boat veterans and others contending that Kerry didn't deserve the Silver Star for what he did on that day, or the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts he was awarded for other actions.

Many of us wanted to put it all behind us — the rivers, the ambushes, the killing. Ever since that time, I have refused all requests for interviews about Kerry's service — even those from reporters at the Chicago Tribune, where I work.

But Kerry's critics, armed with stories I know to be untrue, have charged that the accounts of what happened were overblown. 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.

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