An Exchange of Letters:  The Kerry-Edwards campaign generated some media attention on Aug. 25, 2004 when it dispatched former Sen. Max Cleland and Jim Rassmann, whose life Kerry saved in Vietnam, to Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas to deliver to the President a letter signed by Democratic Senators who are veterans.  The Senators asked Bush to "recognize this blatant attempt at character assassination, and publicly condemn it."  They did not get through.  The Bush-Cheney campaign responded with a letter of its own in which veterans expressed concern about Kerry's activities upon his return from Vietnam.

Dear President Bush:

We, the undersigned members of the United State Senate call on you to specifically condemn the recent attack ads and accompanying campaign which dishonor Senator John Kerry’s combat record in the Vietnam War. These false charges represent the worst kind of politics, and we agree with both Senator John McCain and Senator Kerry that a firmly established service record in the United States Military is fully above reproach. As veterans of the armed services, we ask that you recognize this blatant attempt at character assassination, and publicly condemn it.

Our outrage over these advertisements and tactics has nothing to do with the tax code or campaign finance reform efforts of this nation. Our pain from seeing these slanderous attacks stems from something much more fundamental, that if one veteran’s record is called into question, the service of all American veterans is questioned. This administration must not tacitly comply with unfounded accusations which have suddenly appeared 35 years after the fact, and serve to denigrate the service of a true American patriot. The veterans serving today should never have to expect this kind of treatment, when the wars of their generation have passed into history. We brothers and sisters in arms expect our Commander-in-Chief to stand up and reject this assault upon John Kerry’s honor, the honor of American veterans and that of the United States Navy.

As you yourself have said, there is nothing complicated about supporting our troops. The leader so of this nation should make it clear that the members of our military will not only be supported when they wear the uniform, but also when they return home to the land they fought to defend. Their valor and their wounds, both physical and psychological, make them heroes for as long as they live, a status which should not and must not change simply because they seek to enter public service. We who wore the uniform, served in different branches of the military join together today to defend a fellow veteran from attacks we know to be false, and politically-motivated slander. Such attacks have no place in our democratic process.

Mr. President, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, we believe you owe a special duty to America’s combat veterans when they are under false and scurrilous attacks. We hope you will recognize this duty, and speak out against this group and their efforts to smear the reputation of a man who has served this country nobly.

Call on this group to cease and desist. We can return this campaign season to a discussion of the issues on either side, and restore faith in the political system. As Americans, we should expect nothing less.

The Bush campaign responded with a letter of its own:

August 25, 2004

Senator John Kerry
304 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Kerry,

We are pleased to welcome your campaign representatives to Texas today. We honor all our veterans, all whom have worn the uniform and served our country. We also honor the military and National Guard troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today. We are very proud of all of them and believe they deserve our full support.

That’s why so many veterans are troubled by your vote AGAINST funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, after you voted FOR sending them into battle. And that’s why we are so concerned about the comments you made AFTER you came home from Vietnam. You accused your fellow veterans of terrible atrocities – and, to this day, you have never apologized. Even last night, you claimed to be proud of your post-war condemnation of our actions.

We’re proud of our service in Vietnam. We served honorably in Vietnam and we were deeply hurt and offended by your comments when you came home.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t build your convention and much of your campaign around your service in Vietnam, and then try to say that only those veterans who agree with you have a right to speak up. There is no double standard for our right to free speech. We all earned it.

You said in 1992 “we do not need to divide America over who served and how.” Yet you and your surrogates continue to criticize President Bush for his service as a fighter pilot in the National Guard.

We are veterans too – and proud to support President Bush. He’s been a strong leader, with a record of outstanding support for our veterans and for our troops in combat. He’s made sure that our troops in combat have the equipment and support they need to accomplish their mission.

He has increased the VA health care budget more than 40% since 2001 – in fact, during his four years in office, President Bush has increased veterans funding twice as much as the previous administration did in eight years ($22 billion over 4 years compared to $10 billion over 8.) And he’s praised the service of all who served our country, including your service in Vietnam.

We urge you to condemn the double standard that you and your campaign have enforced regarding a veteran’s right to openly express their feelings about your activities on return from Vietnam.


Texas State Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson
Rep. Duke Cunningham
Rep. Duncan Hunter
Rep. Sam Johnson
Lt. General David Palmer
Robert O'Malley, Medal of Honor Recipient
James Fleming, Medal of Honor Recipient
Lieutenant Colonel Richard Castle (Ret.)