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Autograph THIS!

Book signings elsewhere are events of quiet, respectful decorum. Not here, no sirree.

By Jon Yates, Chicago Tribune
October 6, 2004

The battle over John Kerry's Vietnam War record flared up in Chicago on Tuesday, when members of a fledgling group that supports the Democratic presidential nominee confronted one of the authors of an anti-Kerry book at a downtown luncheon.

At one point, the bickering became so intense that organizers called in police. No arrests were made, but the book signing and speech, sponsored by the City Club of Chicago, were punctuated with sharp exchanges between co-author John O'Neill and members of a group called truthandtrust.com.

Several members of the group accused O'Neill of lying in the book, "Unfit for Command," in which O'Neill and co-author Jerome Corsi say Kerry exaggerated his service record.

"My book was the truth," O'Neill said after the luncheon. "I'm thrilled that they could bring people in and find not one single thing that was wrong with the book."

Debate over Kerry's military service has raged since May, when O'Neill and other members of a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth came forward to challenge key portions of Kerry's record. The group began running commercials in battleground states during the summer--ads that have been credited with damaging Kerry's presidential campaign. When "Unfit for Command" was released in August, it became a best seller.

Members of truthandtrust.com said they organized to challenge O'Neill's claims that Kerry did not deserve his three Purple Hearts or military awards. Several members of the group, including Rich McCann, served with Kerry in Vietnam.

"It's time for us to bury Vietnam," McCann, of Cleveland, said before the City Club event. "It's time for us to move on to other issues."

But Kerry's Vietnam record was the only issue debated during O'Neill's visit, and tempers flared before the book signing portion at the Chicago Athletic Association on Michigan Avenue was completed.

As O'Neill autographed books, military veteran Bobby Muller approached in his wheelchair, shook the author's hand, then asked repeatedly if O'Neill would debate him on Kerry's record.

After the two bickered for a few moments, O'Neill's wife, Anne, intervened, telling Muller to stop while nudging him away in his wheelchair.

"Tell her about the wreath you laid on Ho Chi Minh's grave," O'Neill said derisively, apparently in reference to a 1981 trip Muller made to Vietnam as a representative of the Vietnam Veterans of America, a group he formed in 1978 with Kerry.

A representative for Muller said the 1981 trip was part of an effort to get information on POWs and MIAs, and that Vietnamese soldiers, not Muller, laid the wreath at the gravesite.

"Come on, open it up, John," Muller told O'Neill. "Stop ducking me. Let's go head to head. Let's debate."

Organizers called in security and threatened to throw Muller out, but he was allowed to stay for the luncheon. Several times during O'Neill's speech, Kerry supporters jeered or shouted "that's not true" as O'Neill laid out the basis of his book.

October 6, 2004 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink