When the Swift watercraft Veterans for fact capsized john Kerry’s presidential campaign, lot of the unfriendly fire came from Texas. This is how, in their own words, an additional band of brothers—and a couple of sisters—changed history. Or, in ~ least, rewrote it.

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On April 4, 2004, ripe Vietnam veterans gathered in the conference room of a Dallas PR firm. Lock agreed the Senator man Kerry, climate the presumptive democratic presidential nominee, must not it is in elected and also spent the day talking about how to do their situation to the American people. None of them can have imagined the what they were about to set in movement would transform the campaign and frame the political conflict until election Day. The group, which determined to contact itself the Swift watercraft Veterans because that Truth, soon developed a series of TV ads, a book, and also a innovative media campaign that argued that Kerry’s war medals—three violet Hearts, a bronze Star, and a silver- Star—were largely undeserved. Senator john McCain, whose Vietnam business had been likewise attacked in the 2000 presidential primary, dubbed the ads “dishonest and also dishonorable . . . The same kind of transaction that to be pulled top top me.” however they were extraordinarily effective.

The democrats had constantly feared the their candidate’s previous would come ago to haunt him, and also it did, though no as they can have anticipated. In 1971, after returning from Vietnam, Kerry wondered about the legitimacy of the battle in testimony prior to the Senate foreign Relations Committee, famously saying, “How execute you asking a man to it is in the last guy to die for a mistake?” His anti-war stance was not the primary focus of the Swift boat commercials, yet it helped galvanize the team of veterans in Dallas, that were tho incensed, 33 year later, through what he had actually said. Chief among them was Houston attorney man O’Neill, who had questioned Kerry in 1971 on the Dick Cavett show and who had actually been, with his powder-blue fit and an excellent manners, the perfect silver paper to the shaggy-haired anti-war-movement hero. O’Neill had served in the exact same unit as Kerry, coastal Division 11, near the Mekong Delta and also had, like Kerry, commanded a Swift boat in the waters turn off An Thoi. Yet he had actually not come in Vietnam until after Kerry had left; the two males met only under the glare of tv lights back home. Chairman Richard Nixon was impressed enough with O’Neill that he met v the former naval officer for an hour in ~ the White House, informing him, “We need much more O’Neills come speak approximately the Kerrys.”

O’Neill did simply that as soon as again, in 2004, laying out his instance in the book Unfit for Commandand serving as the instigating force behind, and also the most recognizable spokesperson for, the Swift boat Veterans because that Truth. In the end, even if it is the charges versus Kerry were specific was irrelevant. The Swift watercraft Veterans had actually succeeded in maintaining the American electorate focused on a battle that ended three decades ago rather 보다 on the war that is at this time raging in Iraq. This is the story of how a grasp of Texans an installed one that the most successful strikes on a presidential candidate in current history.

The very first Meeting

John O’Neill and also a team of Vietnam veterans met in the Dallas workplaces of Spaeth communications in April. Founder Merrie Spaeth, that honed she craft together director the media relations in the Reagan White House, counts amongst her clients Fortune 500 companies and prominent Texans and also helped coach Ken Starr for his testimony at invoice Clinton’s impeachment hearings. Her late husband, Tex Lezar, who had been among O’Neill’s regulation partners, make an not successful bid because that lieutenant governor in 1994, the year George W. Shrub ran versus Ann Richards.

JOHN O’NEILL, partner at the Houston regulation firm Clements, O’Neill, Pierce, Wilson & Fulkerson: I was in the restore room at Methodist Hospital in February, having actually donated a kidney to mine wife, once I happened to look at up at the television. There was man Kerry, wearing a brown leather trip jacket, beside a couple of Swift boat veterans who were was standing there choose props. Kerry to be announcing yet one more primary victory. Ns was shocked, since I had thought he had no real chance of being nominated. But he had recently won the Iowa caucuses, and also he to be looking prefer the presumptive nominee.

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MERRIE SPAETH: John referred to as me in February and also told me the C-SPAN to be planning to run the old Dick Cavett Show whereby he debated Kerry. C-SPAN wanted an interview through him, and so did everybody else—CNN, NBC, you surname it. He said, “Here’s what I’m going come tell them,” and he let loose with this cable of allegations about Kerry’s war record and his medals. Mine reaction was, “Wait a minute. Girlfriend aren’t going to tell anyone any type of of this unless you can prove the ten ways till Sunday.” The arguments he laid out that day would later come to be the basis because that Unfit because that Command. However I told him, “Don’t speak anything to anybody until this story is totally developed, until you understand who witnessed what when, exactly how you’re walk to define it, and also how you’re going to present yourself come the American public.”

O’NEILL:Merrie called me come forget around doing interviews and also to focus on getting better. I said, “I can’t forget around it. I feel too strongly the Kerry is not fit to be president.” A few weeks later, Admiral Roy Hoffmann, that commanded our unit in Vietnam, contacted more than one hundreds Swift boat veterans and asked if we wanted to sign up with together together a group and also speak out against Kerry. Nine of united state met at Merrie’s office. Admiral Hoffmann come from Virginia. We invested the whole day talking around what we must do.