Before the 2004 presidential elections, few people knew much about the U.S. Navy swift boats used during the Vietnam War.

Thanks to former candidate John Kerry’s campaign tactics, most Americans became acquainted with the swift boat program and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who spoke up during the election.

Andy Horne, former Navy lieutenant and swift boat captain, was the featured speaker at a special event hosted by Edmond Republican Women Friday evening.

“An Evening with Andy Horne: Service, Honor and Truth” took place at Sellers Event Center.

Four members of the Tinker Air Force Base honor guard presented the colors before the event, and Renee Russell of Guthrie sang the National Anthem and “America the Beautiful.”

Former Edmond Mayor Bob Rudkin introduced the speaker. Other state and local dignitaries attended the reception and dinner, including Congressman Ernest Istook and Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett, along with several current political candidates.

Horne first addressed the four young members of the Tinker honor guard.

“It’s for you and yours and your generation that my generation did what we did,” Horne said.

Horne described the swift boat program and his experiences as a captain.

The patrol boats were 50 feet long and weighed 22 tons, he said. Made of aluminum, “they couldn’t stop a .22-caliber bullet.” Powered by two diesel engines, the boats were equipped with mortar and grenade launchers and various other weapons.

“It sounded like a Greyhound bus,” Horne said of his vehicle. They patrolled the rivers of Southeast Asia during the war, providing safety for American troops and support for the residents of the area.

His crewmen’s safety was his paramount concern.

“I wanted to have my men come home whole, and they did,” he said.

Horne’s service in Vietnam did not overlap with John Kerry’s, so the two were not personally acquainted.

“We knew of his reputation, though,” Horne said. “Virtually every one of us knew of this guy.”

And that wasn’t a positive impression, according to Horne. Kerry was known for posing for photographs and “interviewing himself” on his own video camera.

“There was no room (during the war) for political aspirations or partisan dreams — except for some,” Horne said. “Most of us recognized that we had a higher mission.”

Thirty years later, when Kerry used his military experience as a platform in his presidential campaign, other swift boat veterans felt it was time to speak up.

“If Mr. Kerry had stayed in Massachusetts, with what he did and said and his background, then that would have been the business of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Horne said. “They could elect Daffy Duck if they wanted to. That’s their business.

“But when he determined that he wanted to be Commander in Chief, then it became our business.”

Many swift boat vets were opposed to Kerry’s bid for the presidency, Horne said.

“We were dead solid convinced that he was the wrong guy. We were determined to tell the American public that. We had the unity of heart to speak the truth about John Kerry.”

The group particularly opposed Kerry’s use of a photograph showing himself with his swift boat crew. Members of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth felt that Kerry’s use of the picture in his campaign implied that all members of Kerry’s crew supported his bid for election.

Many didn’t, according to Horne. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth refuted the ad’s message, and brought themselves to the attention of the American public.

“If the Kerry campaign had the common sense not to use that photograph, they would have taken from us one of our major talking points,” Horne said. “Kerry was his own worst enemy.”

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth also felt that Kerry’s “wrong place, wrong war, wrong time” rhetoric was a reflection of leftover anti-war sentiment from the 1970s.

“We’d heard those same words back in ’71,” Horne said. “Kerry just dusted off the old tapes and replayed them for a new audience.”

Horne said he’s proud of the group’s effort to disclose the facts about Kerry. “We knew the truth about John Kerry more than any other men on earth. We’re proud we told it.”

Horne urged those present at the dinner to take a proactive part in the political arena, and he urged current candidates to be truthful about their backgrounds and military service history.

“Stand fast and be shameless in your principles,” he said. “Don’t put up with the bullies.”

Horne said he had no intention of becoming involved in the 2004 campaign process until a phone call came, asking him to join in the swift boat veterans’ efforts.

“One day your phone may ring, asking you to do something unforeseen,” he told his audience. “Don’t be bashful. Cherish the emotions that come. Remember that service, honor, truth and duty are internalized, powerful words. We’ve got to keep trying.”

Angie LaPlante, president of Edmond Republican Women, said she was happy to have Horne speak at the dinner.

“This was not a fundraiser for the Republican Party,” she said. “Money raised from the ticket sales and the silent auction will go to the Helping Our Heroes Foundation.”

That organization assists wounded soldiers and their families at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland.

“We just wanted to inform the community,” LaPlante said, “to give them something different — a fun and enlightening evening.”

LaPlante’s term as ERW president expires at the end of 2005. She was recently elected vice chairperson of the Oklahoma County Republican Party.

Recommended for you