September 3, 2004

Commentary:

America Deserves Better

By Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz
Congressman Silvestre Reyes
Congressman Joe Baca

A group with strong ties to Republican operatives old and new, and funded by a Texas millionaire, launched an advertising campaign to discredit the service of John Kerry during the Vietnam War, and to question whether or not he deserved the medals and Purple Hearts he received there. It was another shameful display of the worst kind of politics, and a shameful attack on the service record of an American war hero. It was also an insult to all of us who have served our country, and to all those who have seen the toll the battlefield takes on a soldier.

The smear tactics, reminiscent of those used against John McCain in 2000 and Max Cleland in 2002, were carried out by men who were not part of Kerry’s crew, and who did not “serve with him.” Even Admiral Hoffmann, who is leading the charge, admitted to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he had no first-hand knowledge to discredit Kerry’s claims to valor, going as far as acknowledging that he really didn’t know Kerry much personally.

As veterans ourselves, we asked what the men who actually did serve with John Kerry would say about his heroism, and we didn’t have to go far to find the answer. During a teary eyed reunion last January, a retired Republican cop from Oregon embraced an old friend he had not seen in 35 years. Despite finding each other in a crowded room, it was evident that the two had entered their own world, reliving in each other’s presence the memories of that fateful day so many years before. In his own words, voice cracking and holding back the tears, Jim Rassman described what had happened:

We got ambushed. One of our boats, one of John’s boats was blown out of the water.

We went over to help it, and I got blown off the boat... I assume whatever blew me off injured [his] arm... and I went to the bottom, because the next boats in line were gonna come over me. I stayed on the bottom as long as i could, and when the last boats were gone, they were gone, they were around the bend, and out of sight, and I started swimming under water as long as I could, coming up for air when I had to… I was getting shot at and I figured it was up, my number was punched.

The next thing I knew, after coming up for air about 5 times, the boats were coming to the rescue. There was a cargo net over the bow of John’s boat that I was able to grab on to pull myself up to the lift, but because of the angle I couldn’t pull myself over... John didn’t have to, but he came to the... bow… and pulled me over, had he not, there’s no question in my mind that I probably would’ve fallen back into that river, he could’ve been shot and killed at any time and so could I, so I figure I owe this man my life.

Jim recommended John Kerry for a Silver Star for having risked his own life, exposed to enemy fire from both sides of the river and with a wounded arm, to pull him out of danger. The officers who reviewed that day’s events, at every level of command, saw fit to award Lieutenant Kerry with the Bronze Star with Combat V for valor and a Purple Heart. We trust their judgement, and we trust that the process of issuing such awards was not taken lightly. To suggest otherwise is not only an assault on the United States Navy itself, but an insult to every brave soul who defended our country, performed heroically, and was decorated (often posthumously) for their actions. America deserves better than that.

This year’s election should be about the issues and about the future of our country. The America we leave for our children will be stronger for honoring both the heroes of its past and the values that unite us.

We condemn the politics of personal destruction, and we call on those veterans responsible for these attacks, in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service that they so honorably served, to pull themselves out of the mud.

Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz, United States Army, 1960-62; Specialist 4th Class, Military Policeman and Investigator.

Congressman Silvestre Reyes, Vietnam Veteran

Congressman Joe Baca, Vietnam War-era veteran, serving in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper with both the 101st and the 82nd Airborne Divisions from 1966-68.

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