Tracking Lt. Kerry Down in the Delta

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Byline: Wesley Pruden, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

John F. Kerry has succeeded in making his military service in Vietnam an issue in the campaign, but not quite in the way he expected.

The war hero who threw away his medals (or medals borrowed for the occasion) thought his Silver Star and three Purple Hearts would render him the Sergeant York and Audie Murphy of his generation.

Maybe those medals will do it yet. The jury is still out on exactly who and what Lieutenant Kerry was in Vietnam, but it's a jury that Candidate Kerry never expected to be called to sit in late judgment on what he did, and where, three decades and more ago. He thought George W. Bush would be the candidate with the explaining to do.

Monsieur Kerry trotted out most of his crewmen from Swift Boat PCF 94 at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, to tell tales of valor and blooded courage in the Mekong Delta in that war now fading swiftly into the murk and memory of the past. They told tales of a handsome Boston naval officer walking tall into the jungle, dispatching a fearsome enemy with a single burst of gunfire, returning to his boat to prowl again the swamps and brown water of a deadly delta, searching for more evil to dispatch to the nether regions. (Whatever those heroics were, and maybe all the tales are true, "PCF 94" doesn't quite evoke the poetry and romance of the real JFK and "PT-109.")

Nobody who was actually there will question the valor of any man who went to war when his country called, which is more than some of Monsieur Kerry's Republican critics did. The "chickenhawks" who, no better than Bill Clinton, pursued "other priorities" when country called have no right to question anyone's military service. Those of us who were there as witnesses to the war will never cavil at honorable duty done.

However. The questions raised in the book "Unfit For Command," by John E. O'Neill, who succeeded Lieutenant Kerry as commander of PCF 94, and Jerome Corsi, who has written extensively on the Vietnam anti-war movement, will have to be answered by more than ad hominem attacks on the authors, or by sneering references to their publisher simply because Regnery has published several best-sellers by conservative writers.

Mr. O'Neill, who was a John Edwards man during the Democratic primary season, and Mr. …