Casualties of war

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:15

    Sparta-The fire fight took place thousands of miles away more than 35 years ago, but the events of that day are now at the center of a battle between the two men vying to become the next president of the United States. And now, a prominent local politician finds himself in the middle of the action. John Kerry's military service record has become the hottest political issue to hit the 2004 presidential campaign. In the past few weeks, a large number of veterans grouped under the name of Swift Boat Veterans For Truth have publicly questioned Kerry's valor and military service in an attempt to discredit his campaign persona as a war hero. In an exclusive interview with Straus Newspapers last week, Sparta Councilman Douglas Martin, and member of the Vietnam Swift Boat Group and decorated Vietnam officer, weighed into the fight by discussing his thoughts on the current presidential campaign. Although Martin and Kerry did not serve on the same swift boat, both were in the same unit. In December of 1968, Martin delivered orders to Kerry, informing the then young lieutenant that he had three hours to prepare to ship out to a new assignment. What ensued during that assignment is the center of the controversy three decades later. "I have no doubt that John was in heavy combat many times," said Martin in an interview last week. "And I don't question that he earned his medals." However, Martin has an argument with Kerry's use of his military service as a selling point in his presidential campaign. "He "symbolically" threw his medals over the White House Wall," said Martin. "Now 35 years later, the cornerstone of his campaign is ‘I'm reporting for duty.'" Martin added that Kerry left his 12-month assignment after only serving four months for reasons many of the other Swift Boat veterans question even today. Questions the group has turned into a national controversy. "He served for four months, and spent the next decade forming anti-war groups," said Martin. "What record is he going on?" Many veterans do not agree with Martin's view. Korean War Veteran James Manning, a member of Veterans for Kerry, said in a telephone interview on Monday that he feels Kerry's actions should be celebrated as part of his campaign. "He has every right as a veteran and hero to say what he likes about the war," said Manning. Manning believes Kerry's service is in stark contrast with that of President George Bush, who served stateside and never saw action, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney, and former President Bill Clinton, who shunned their patriotic duties when it came to serving in the military during wartime. According to Manning, if anyone should be allowed to discuss the war as part of the campaign, it should be Kerry. "I think he is a hero," said Manning referring to Kerry. "What gets me is people saying he's a bad guy while he served his country." Although Kerry has received support from many veterans, including some of whom served on swift boats, many veterans have taken issue with remarks a young Kerry made after his return from Vietnam. Kerry, who became an outspoken opponent of the military action in Southeast Asia testified before the United States Senate Committee that soldiers were committing war crimes "on a day-to-day basis." Because of those remarks and Kerry's actions against the war, Martin believes many veterans feel betrayed. "I think the general consensus is that by him testifying about the brutality of the war, it took away from the things we did," said Martin. "When you're in combat, you do what you have to do to survive. We were all afraid, and when it happens, you react, you don't think." Martin, who received a Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam, can remember being involved in combat at least a dozen times. He recalled having his boat struck by a rocket during one operation and said that on an average of once a week he was involved in potentially dangerous missions. "He painted a picture like as soldiers we were wrong," said Martin of Kerry. "If he believed that what he did was so wrong, then why is he using that experience in his campaign right now?"