VFW members were a lot nicer to John Kerry than he was to them in 1971, when he accused Vietnam veterans of war crimes "on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.''
But when he said, "For 35 years I have fought and kept the faith with our veterans,'' it was more than some could take.
About 50 to 100 veterans walked out before Kerry spoke, said Vietnam veteran and Bush supporter Gene Watts of Columbus, a former Ohio state senator.
And in the Massachusetts delegation - Kerry's home state - two Vietnam vets stood and turned their backs on Kerry for his entire speech.
Before Kerry showed up a half-hour late, some in the Massachusetts delegation planned to walk out. "I told our group to show respect, we want to hear what he has to say,'' said Massachusetts state Commander Robert VanKirk.
So some vets just stayed away. Twelve minutes before Kerry was supposed to speak, it was announced: "There are still many seats up front.''
"I've already heard him, and I am not impressed,'' said one boycotter, Anthony Albano of New Jersey. "To me, he's an 'I' and 'me' man.''
In the Texas group, where Bush's home state sat next door to Kerry's, Vietnam vet Glen Gardner of Austin said, "There was lots of talk about walking out,'' but most showed respect.
Several vets said they didn't believe media reports that the VFW convention was evenly divided.
My own "Hoo-Ah Poll'' results show Kerry was drubbed by Bush. Monday, Bush had three Hoo-Ahs and four strong standing ovations. Kerry got zero Hoo-Ahs, two polite bookend standing ovations, one loud boo and scattered heckling.
Maybe it was his droning monotone that could put a double espresso to sleep. Or maybe it was just hard to tell which Kerry showed up. Was it the leader of the anti-war party, or was it a new Kerry auditioning to play George C. Scott doing Patton?
"Since (9/11), we have become a country divided over Iraq - and it didn't have to be that way,'' said the nominee of the party that gives French kisses to Michael Moore.
Then he pledged: "Any imminent threat to our security will be dealt with swiftly and severely. I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security.''
So how does that differ from Bush, who didn't wait for permission from France and Germany to snuff an imminent threat from Saddam?
Kerry said, "I know what to do in Iraq,'' but didn't offer many details except to say he wants Germany and France "on the team'' - which is like asking Whoopi Goldberg to join the Navy Seals.
Kerry said he had a plan for a "smarter, more efficient war on terrorism,'' but again it was Kleenex-thin on specifics.
And Kerry couldn't resist boasting about his increasingly suspect record in Vietnam. It was not a wise move. Many VFW members have not forgotten Kerry's reckless slander of Vietnam vets as baby-killers in 1971.
"I'm here because I have to be, to take pictures,'' said William Juteau, a Vietnam vet from New York. "I don't care for him, his actions overseas or his associations with Jane Fonda.''
Korean vet Theodore Eaton said he understood why guys in his Massachusetts group turned their backs on Kerry. When Kerry talked about "keeping faith'' with vets, "It was like rubbing salt in the wounds,'' he said.
The Massachusetts commander was more diplomatic: "The war in Vietnam is over,'' he said.
Someone should tell Kerry.
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105TH VFW CONVENTION
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