August 30, 2004
NEW YORK - John Rutledge of Mesa shares a common bond with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. But the Navy veteran who served in Vietnam says he and his fellow servicemen were betrayed by Kerry.
Now Rutledge, a delegate to the Republican National Convention here, is doing all he can to ensure that President Bush defeats Kerry and wins a second term in November.
Rutledge said he believes Kerry maligned Vietnam veterans after he returned from the war and became an activist in the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Recent allegations from the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ring true, said Rutledge, who has been active in Republican politics since he left the service.
"I find it hard to believe that anybody who is a veteran would vote for Kerry," said Rutledge, 63, a retired real estate salesman.
Kerry served four months as a swift boat officer in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. He was awarded three Purple Hearts for combat wounds, as well as a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for heroism.
After his discharge, Kerry became active in the antiwar movement. In 1971, he testified before a Senate committee about atrocities that he alleged occurred on a daily basis in Vietnam, war crimes that he said were sanctioned by commanders.
"I thought that was horrendous, because I knew better," Rutledge said of Kerry’s testimony. "He painted with a brush. Everybody that was on the ground in ‘Nam was killing women and children and babies. Come on. We couldn’t believe that somebody who had been over there and was supposedly a vet would do that because we knew that they were lying flat out."
Rutledge served in the Navy from 1959 to 1963. He was on a heavy cruiser patrolling the coast of Vietnam in 1961 and 1962, when tensions were rising and some American advisers were on the ground, but before the major influx of U.S. forces.
Though Rutledge did not spend time in the jungle, he said he lost many friends in Vietnam and remained close with many who did, he said.
Kerry’s war record has been the centerpiece of his campaign and dominated his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last month in Boston. Kerry made only passing mention of his time as an antiwar activist.
In recent weeks, Kerry has been dogged by allegations that he fabricated or embellished his heroism in Vietnam, charges made by members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Many in the group say they witnessed the events that led to Kerry’s decorations. The group has launched television ads in a few states laying out their allegations, which are also contained in a new book, "Unfit for Command."
Earlier this month, Kerry went on the offensive to rebut the group’s charges. Kerry has attacked the veterans’ group, saying it is a front for the Bush campaign.
While he was still in the Navy, Rutledge became active in Republican politics, putting on civilian clothes while stationed in California and passing out literature for Richard Nixon’s failed 1962 gubernatorial campaign. After his military service, Rutledge returned to Michigan, where he grew up, and became active in Republican politics. He helped local candidates and joined Young Republicans, becoming that organization’s national committeeman from Michigan in the late 1970s.
He found the ground more fertile when he came to Arizona in 1982 and stayed active in East Valley Republican politics. Rutledge is currently the District 21 Republican chairman.
"I’m a political junkie," Rutledge said. "I’ve been involved almost every way you can think of."
What happened more than 30 years ago is not the only reason Rutledge opposes Kerry and supports Bush, he said.
He said he is troubled by Kerry’s voting record in the Senate against funding for the military and his proposed cuts to American intelligence agencies, both of which have been made an issue by the Bush campaign.
Rutledge also said that Bush has proved himself an effective leader in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"I think he’s handled it the best it could be handled," Rutledge said of Bush. "The Bush administration went at it the right way and as quickly as possible."