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Kerry's commanders speak out against him

Staff says assault is tied to GOP

WASHINGTON -- A group of former officers who commanded John F. Kerry in Vietnam more than three decades ago declared yesterday that they oppose his candidacy for president, challenged him to release more of his military and medical records, and said Kerry should be denied the White House because of his 1971 allegations that some superiors had committed ''war crimes."

Kerry has since said his accusation about war crimes and atrocities was too harsh, but many of his former commanders contended yesterday that they believed the allegations were aimed at them.

''I do not believe John Kerry is fit to be commander in chief," said retired Rear Admiral Roy Hoffmann, who helped organize the news conference and oversaw all of the swift boats in Vietnam at the time Kerry commanded one of those crafts. ''This is not a political issue; it is a matter of his judgment, truthfulness, reliability, loyalty, and trust -- all absolute tenets of command."

The Kerry campaign, seeking to control the political damage on a day when a new batch of biographical ads touting Kerry's military service was hitting the airwaves, arranged for two of Kerry's crewmates to appear at a later news conference and declare that Kerry was a consummate leader who braved bullets and aggressively took on the enemy. The Kerry campaign also handed out documents it said showed that the news conference was handled by a public relations firm with ties to the Republican Party and President Bush.

One of Kerry's fellow patrol boat skippers, Wade Sanders, defended Kerry and compared the statements of Kerry's commanders to the investigations of suspected communists by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, saying the commanders should be asked, ''Have you no decency?"

The senator's campaign has long weathered criticism from some Vietnam veterans over Kerry's actions in Vietnam and as an antiwar leader, but yesterday's event was unprecedented because it included nearly all of his commanding officers. Two of those officers, former lieutenant commander George Elliott and former Coast Guard captain Adrian Lonsdale, stood by Kerry's side when questions were raised during the 1996 Senate campaign about whether Kerry deserved the Silver Star.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Jim Zumwalt -- the son of the late Navy Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, who also had appeared by the senator's side in 1996 -- also expressed his opposition to Kerry.

Eight years ago, Elliott, who wrote up Kerry for the Silver Star, rebutted suggestions that Kerry shot a retreating enemy in the back in that encounter, providing crucial support in the closing days of a hard-fought Senate race between Kerry and then-Governor William F. Weld. Yesterday, however, Elliott joined the other commanders in saying he opposed Kerry for president on the grounds that the senator was an antiwar leader who alleged atrocities were committed in Vietnam.   Continued...

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