By Mike Stuckey Politics editor
updated 8/27/2004 12:11:57 PM ET 2004-08-27T16:11:57

Almost a month after Swift Boat Veterans For the Truth began airing ads that call Sen. John Kerry a liar, journalists and others are still trying to get to the truth. Here, in Q&A form, is a look at one element of the controversy.

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Q: What’s all the fuss over Kerry’s service record in Vietnam?

A: Much of the talk centers on a March 13, 1969, incident on the Bay Hap River. For his actions that day, Kerry received a Bronze Star and his third Purple Heart, which allowed him to leave the combat zone. He says the incident occurred during a firefight. while members of the group Swift Boat Veterans For Truth say there was no enemy fire.

Q: Who’s telling the truth?

A: Since no photographs or film footage has been uncovered from the 35-year-old incident, journalists, voters and others must rely on documents from that era and eyewitness accounts.

Q: What do the documents say?

A: All documents uncovered so far support Kerry’s version of the events.

Q: What, exactly, are those documents?

A: Five are known to exist: the March 18, 1969, weekly report from Task Force 115, which oversaw Kerry’s Swift Boat; Kerry’s own “after action” report from the incident; and three Bronze Star citations.

Q: Has Swift Boat Veterans For Truth released any official government documents to support its claims?

A: No.

Q: Other than Kerry, what do participants in the event say?

A: A man whom Kerry rescued, Jim Rassmann, and the crew of Kerry’s boat all say there was gunfire from both banks of the river at the time. Larry Thurlow, the commander of another boat in the task force and a member of the Swift Boat Veterans group, says there was no enemy fire. His story is supported by Van Odell, a gunner on the scene, and at least two other  officers, Jack Chenoweth and Richard Pees. But Robert E. Lambert, a member of Thurlow’s own crew who got a Bronze Star for pulling Thurlow out of the river, says all five Swift Boats in the task force “came under small arms and automatic weapon fire from the river banks.”

Q: Is Lambert a Kerry supporter?

A: No. Lambert says, “I don’t like the man himself” and does not plan to vote for him.

Q: What does President Bush say?

A: He says he does not believe that Kerry is lying about his war record, and spokesman Steve Schmidt says, “The Bush campaign has never and will never question John Kerry’s service in Vietnam.”

Q: Who is Swift Boat Veterans for Truth?

A: According to its Web site, “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has been formed to counter the false ‘war crimes’ charges John Kerry repeatedly made against Vietnam veterans who served in our units and elsewhere, and to accurately portray Kerry's brief tour in Vietnam as a junior grade Lieutenant. We speak from personal experience — our group includes men who served beside Kerry in combat as well as his commanders. Though we come from different backgrounds and hold varying political opinions, we agree on one thing: John Kerry misrepresented his record and ours in Vietnam and therefore exhibits serious flaws in character and lacks the potential to lead.”

Q: Is it connected to Bush’s re-election campaign?

A: Kerry has alleged that it is. Overt cooperation between the two groups would be illegal. Bush’s campaign and the veterans group deny such cooperation, but Benjamin L. Ginsberg, the chief outside counsel to the Bush campaign, resigned from the campaign after it was disclosed that he had also advised the veterans. The campaign also dismissed from its veterans steering committee a volunteer and Vietnam veteran, retired Col. Kenneth Cordier, who appeared in a Swift Boat veterans ad.

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