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Veterans Speak Up, Washington Post Listens

This is a must read story. By Colbert I. King

Those who dismiss critics of John Kerry's Vietnam service as just a bunch of right-wing Republicans out to advance George W. Bush's cause don't know what they are talking about -- or they are engaged in wishful thinking. Okay, I may have once thought that about the critics, too. But after poring over the large volume of e-mail I received after my Aug. 28 column, "What Matters About Kerry and Vietnam," I don't any longer.

I had taken to task the authors of the blistering anti-Kerry bestseller "Unfit for Command" for giving readers an unbalanced view of Kerry's service in Vietnam, and for not revealing their own connections with the Bush campaign and the sources of their financial support. The column also criticized "Unfit for Command" for smearing Kerry, a decorated former naval officer, as disloyal because of his antiwar activities. Writing as a former Army officer, I concluded: "Speaking for myself, it is enough that he served."

A number of readers agreed with that conclusion. Many more, however, most of them angry veterans, did not. Most striking was the fact that those who identified themselves seemed to span the political spectrum, with one even describing himself as a Howard Dean Democrat.

Two weeks later, another e-mail arrived on the same topic. It was from a Howard University classmate, a friend of 47 years, former assistant secretary of the Air Force Rodney Coleman. A Democrat, Coleman has local roots, having worked for the D.C. Council and later the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp.