Friday, August 06, 2004

Veteran Backs Off Attack on Kerry's War Record

BOSTON (Reuters) - John Kerry's commanding officer in Vietnam has backed away from attacks on the Democratic presidential candidate, saying he made a mistake in accusing the U.S. senator of having lied about his wartime record.

George Elliott, who was one of Kerry's superiors in Vietnam when he was awarded medals for heroic actions, had signed an affidavit suggesting Kerry did not deserve the Silver Star.

In the document, Elliott said, "I was never informed that he had simply shot a wounded, fleeing Viet Cong in the back."

But in Friday's Boston Globe, Elliott said: "It was a terrible mistake probably for me to sign the affidavit with those words. I'm the one in trouble here."

Elliott told the newspaper he thinks Kerry did deserve the medal.

"I still don't think he (Kerry) shot the guy in the back," Elliott is quoted as saying in the Globe.

Kerry used his nominating convention in Boston in July to paint himself as a decorated war hero capable of leading the nation in troubled times and a man better qualified to be commander-in-chief than President Bush.

But Elliott and other members of a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, oppose Kerry.

This week they launched a television advertisement accusing the Democrat of having lied about his service in Vietnam and hurting other veterans by criticizing the war after returning home. Next week the group will publish a book, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry."

Elliott was not immediately available for comment.

Kerry, arguing his combat experience in Vietnam qualifies him as a strong leader on national security issues, has surrounded himself with other veterans who have said the candidate did heroic deeds to save his own crew mates.

The new attacks on Kerry sparked an angry response from Republican Sen. John McCain, also a Vietnam veteran, who called the attack dishonorable and dishonest and urged the Bush administration to also denounce the ad.

The administration distanced itself from the advertisement on Thursday but did not condemn it.

"We have not and we will not question Sen. Kerry's service in Vietnam," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

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