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Vets Slam Kerry's War Record

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WASHINGTON, D.C. A 60-second TV ad from a group of Vietnam veterans accuses Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry of lying about his decorated war record and betraying his fellow vets by later opposing the conflict.

"When the chips were down, you could not count on John Kerry," one of the veterans, Larry Thurlow, says in the spot. Thurlow didn't serve on Kerry's Swift boat, but says he witnessed the events that led to Kerry winning a Bronze Star and the last of his three Purple Hearts. Kerry's crewmates support the candidate and call him a hero.

The ad, scheduled to air in Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin, was produced by Stevens, Reed, Curcio and Potham, the same team that produced John McCain's ads in 2000.

Kerry found a staunch defender in fellow U.S. Senator and Vietnam vet McCain, a Republican and a former prisoner of war. "It was the same kind of deal that was pulled on me," McCain said, comparing the anti-Kerry ad to tactics in his bitter Republican primary fight with President George W. Bush. "I wish they hadn't done it," McCain said of his former advisers. "I don't know if they knew all the facts."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to condemn the ad. He did denounce the proliferation of spending by independent groups, such as the anti-Kerry veterans organization, that are playing on both sides of the political fence.

"The president thought he got rid of this unregulated soft money when he signed the bipartisan campaign finance reform into law," McClellan said. A chief sponsor of that bill, which Bush initially opposed, was McCain.

McCain said he's speaking out against the anti-Kerry ad because "it reopens all the old wounds of the Vietnam War, which I spent the last 35 years trying to heal," McCain said. "I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable. As it is, none of these individuals served on the boat [Kerry] commanded. Many of his crew have testified to his courage under fire. I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam. I think George Bush served honorably in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War."

Retired Adm. Roy Hoffmann, head of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, said they respected McCain's "right to express his opinion and we hope he extends to us the same respect and courtesy, particularly since we served with John Kerry, we knew him well and Sen. McCain did not."

The Kerry campaign has denounced the Swift Boat Veterans group, saying none of the men in the ad served on the boat that Kerry commanded. Three veterans on Kerry's boat that day (Jim Rassmann, who says Kerry saved his life, Gene Thorson and Del Sandusky, the driver on Kerry's boat) said the group was lying.

The general counsel for the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee sent TV stations a letter asking them not to run the ad because it is "an inflammatory, outrageous lie" by people purporting to have served with Kerry.

Hoffmann said none of the 13 veterans in the commercial served on Kerry's boat but rather were in other Swift boats within 50 yards of Kerry's. The group claims that there was no gunfire on the day Kerry pulled Rassmann from a muddy river in the Mekong Delta and that Kerry's arm was not wounded, as he has claimed.

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