Why Kerry can?t be trusted to command, a Vietnam POW?s view

Carlyle S. Harris

Colonel USAF, Retired

Several times, in his debate with President Bush, Sen. John Kerry referred to his service in Vietnam, and he has made Vietnam a central focus of his campaign. I also served in Vietnam and, like many of my fellow veterans, believe he should not be elected President of the United States. Mr. Kerry?s anti-war activities, beginning in early 1971, were based on falsehoods that helped extend my incarceration as a prisoner of war.

While piloting a F-105 fighter bomber I was shot down on a mission in North Vietnam on April 4, 1965. Thus began almost eight years of incarceration and mis-treatment as an American POW. I was released from captivity on February 12, 1973 as a result of negotiations which the North Vietnamese agreed to only after we bombed them into submission in December 1972.

When I was shot down my wife, Louise, and my two daughters, Robin and Carolyn, (3 and 4 years) were living in our home on the island of Okinawa. My son, Lyle, was born one month after I was shot down. I try to believe now that the net effect of my incarceration on my life was positive but I?m not sure that the wonderful life we live now will ever make up for those lost years when I could have watched and helped my children grow into young adults.

Our captors deluged us with every bit of information they could find which would bring discredit to our nation?s efforts to help the South Vietnamese gain independence and freedom. They read to us American news accounts of race problems, floods, poverty and any other disaster they could dig up.

Never did they provide any good news, for example, that we had landed men on the moon. One of their favorite themes was that the war in Vietnam was immoral, unjust, and criminal. The anti-war activities of groups in the United States gave them a great deal of the material they piped into the speakers in our cells. Beside the activities of Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Ramsey Clark and others, the most quoted group that I recall was the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The principal spokesperson for this group was none other than John Kerry.

The Vietnam war was long and arduous and resulted in the deaths of fifty thousand-plus American fighting men. Although we with our allies never lost a major battle, our forces fought with our hands tied behind us.

John Kerry?s tales of atrocities by American fighting men (rape, random killing of innocent civilians, cutting off limbs, electric shocks to genitals, etc.) affected every Vietnam veteran especially when many returned home to be spit upon and be accused of those so-called atrocities. And our North Vietnamese captors who had, from the beginning, called us “criminals of war” (not POWs) now had “proof” of their assertions from a U.S. naval officer. As a result we knew that in the best case the war would go on longer (as well as our incarceration), and even worse we might be tried and punished with long sentences or even with death.

I am speaking out now about how anti-war activities affected POWs and the war in Vietnam because the principal spokesperson for Vietnam Veterans Against the War is now running for president. A naval officer who betrayed men in service ? especially POWs ? must not be President of the United States.

Editor?s Note: Col. Harris is the winner of two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts