Who is John E. O’Neill?
John E. O’Neill is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who served in Coastal Division 11 in Vietnam and took command of PCF 94, John Kerry’s Swift Boat, after Kerry’s departure. Outraged by Kerry’s anti-war slanders against his fellow veterans, O’Neill faced Kerry in a famous debate on the Dick Cavett Show in 1971 refuting Kerry’s accusations of rampant American war crimes in Vietnam. O’Neill served with the same men as Kerry and knew that none of the atrocities that Kerry was quick to claim as everyday activities ever happened in their Swift Boat unit.
Wizbang has been following the story of O’Neill’s group Swift Boat Veterans For Truth (Since renamed Swift Vets And POWs for Truth) since May. With the 2004 election less than two weeks away I had the opportunity to speak by phone with O’Neill about the experiences of the Swift Vets and their plans for the immediate future. What follows is a reconstruction of the conversation from my notes.
Aylward – I know you have stayed on the sidelines in previous Kerry Senate campaigns. What prompted you to re-enter the debate with Kerry, so to speak, over 30 years after your last debate?
O’Neill – This was a matter of duty, not choice. John Kerry’s service and his post-war activities are an issue because he wants to be the next Commander-In-Chief, and the full story was not being told.
Aylward – Let’s go back to May 2004 and your press conference at the National Press Club. What did you expect to happen as a result of you charges against John Kerry, and were you at all surprised by the media coverage your group got or didn’t get?
O’Neill – Yes we were somewhat surprised, actually probably more naive than anything else. We expected that a neutral media would pick up the story, report the facts, then we could all go home. Obviously that’s not what happened.
Aylward – How have alternative media sources helped?
O’Neill – The interesting thing about the mainstream media is that we expected a set of facts would lead reporting to an fact informed opinion, but it turns out that opinion or bias drives the presentation (or non-presentation) of facts.
What we’ve gotten from blogs and other non-traditional media is a willingness to examine the facts and draw conclusions from them, which is what we expected from traditional media. Alternative media sources have been instrumental for us because of the willingness to base conclusions on the evidence, not start with a conclusion and shape content to support the preconceived conclusion.
Aylward – So you must have been flabbergasted by the presentation and reporting of John Kerry at the Democratic National Convention?
O’Neill – Yes. Their position with regards to the Swift Vets coming out of the convention was first to ignore us, then to lie about us, and finally to disassociate from us. We all know that Kerry first ignored the charges in Unfit For Command even while he was presenting himself to the country as a war hero.
Aylward – Have you been surprised that the Swift Vets have been portrayed in some quarters as “a bunch of liars?”
O’Neill – The term that comes up a lot in interviews is “generally discredited,” What I’ve found is that it’s the editors who are directing that reporters refer to the Swift Vets as “generally discredited,” not the reporters themselves. When I challenge reporters to name one fact that has been disproved they generally can’t. If they do bring up a point of confusion they’ve gotten from Kerry loyalists, I give them the well documented proof behind our claims. The fact that Kerry himself wrote most of the after action reports lead to confusions. We’ve show in several cases that the after action reports don’t match the facts.
Aylward – I’ve noticed that you don’t see Kerry the War Hero much anymore, you’re much more likely to see Kerry the Catholic, or the wrong war, wrong time Kerry. Do you think that has anything to do with your book and ads?
O’Neill – Yes, that’s the disassociate part. It’s like he’s no longer one of us now.
Aylward – The initial coverage of the charges in Unfit For Command focused on John Kerry’s Purple Hearts as opposed to his post-war activities. Was this planned?
O’Neill – No. You have to remember that we were just a small bunch of veterans with no way to shape the coverage. The media initially focused on the Vietnam portion of the book so we didn’t have much choice but to go with the current.
Aylward – With two weeks until the election, what’s on the agenda for the Swift Vets?
O’Neill – As you know the Swift Vets started on a shoestring. The show of public support has been staggering. There have been over 110,000 individual contributors that helped us raise $20 million dollars to fund our ad campaigns.
We have 5 to 6 million dollars left, all of which is going toward media buys in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and Minnesota – all states with large veteran populations. There are two new ads (Why? And Questions) airing as well as some of the previous ads. We’re doing on average 20-25 interview a day, mostly radio and occasionally some TV appearances.
Additionally the Swift Boat veterans are manning phonebanks this week, and next, in an effort to get out 500,000 calls to veterans in swing states.
Aylward – Do you have plans for after the election, in the event that Kerry wins?
O’Neill – No. For us this was a matter of duty, not choice. We have an obligation to the men who served and those who died to tell the full story of John Kerry’s service and his post-war activities because he is running for the Presidency and to be Commander-In-Chief. Our goal was to expose the facts and raise the awareness of the John Kerry that we knew so that Americans could make an informed choice. Those who served with him overwhelmingly feel he is unfit for this command.
Aylward – On a personal level, what has been the most surprising or shocking thing that you’ve learned through this whole experience.
O’Neill – The level of depravity in John Kerry’s soul. I knew of his post-war activities, but I believed some of the stories in the Brinkley biography. I had no idea he fabricated the Sampan event. There was a point in our 1971 debate when I pinned him down and he was forced to admit he had never personally seen atrocities committed. In the writing of Unfit For Command and gathering the stories of other Swift Boat veterans we learned of the Sampan event, of Kerry burning villages with his Zippo lighter, slaughtering animals, etc. It turns out the Kerry lied about every single bit of his Vietnam story.