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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interviews With John Kerry, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, George Joulwan

Aired December 14, 2001 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, firsthand accounts about a special operation in Afghanistan from those who were there. Live from Fort Benning, Georgia, four U.S. Army Rangers just back from Afghanistan.

And then, dramatic stories of war from combat heroes. In Los Angeles, Senator John Kerry, decorated Vietnam veteran; in Washington, Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, former Navy ace fighter pilot; also, he has commanded troops from platoon leader to supreme allied commander, General George Joulwan. Then in Los Angeles, a man who survived seven years as a POW in Vietnam's notorious Hanoi Hilton, Brigadier General Robinson Risner.

And finally, Diana Krall, with a song for the holidays straight from the heart. And they are all next on LARRY KING LIVE!

Good evening. Let's begin in Fort Benning, Georgia. Standing by are Colonel Joseph Votel, United States Army commander of the 75th Ranger Division; Sergeant 1st Class Edmund Sealey, United States Army; Staff Sergeant Chad Carpenter of the United States Army; and 1st Lieutenant Sean MacRae, also of the Army.

Colonel Votel, you commanded the October 19 mission of the 75th regiment. What was that mission? Refresh our memory.

COLONEL JOSEPH VOTEL, U.S. ARMY RANGER: Larry, thanks, for letting us come on tonight.

That mission on the 19th of October involved parachuting a Ranger force into an airfield in southern Afghanistan. The purpose was to go in there and basically conduct an airfield assessment, to destroy the Taliban forces that were operating in that area and to gather information for intelligence use.

KING: And that is now known as Camp Rhino. Sergeant Sealey, how well did it go?

SERGEANT 1ST CLASS EDMUND SEALEY, U.S. ARMY: I would say that that mission would be rated as extremely successful, Mr. King.

KING: Very little resistance.

SEALEY: I think is more that that resistance was dealt with rather swiftly on the ground, Mr. King. KING: And no loss of life?

SEALEY: No loss of life on our side, Mr. King.

KING: You can call me Larry, Sarge. Sergeant Carpenter, what was it like for you?

STAFF SGT. CHAD CARPENTER, U.S. ARMY RANGER: It was a great experience, all the away from the jump through when we landed, everything went well. And once we got on the ground, our training took over and it went like clockwork.

KING: I want to talk to all of you in a moment about being a Ranger. But first, Lieutenant Sean MacRae, now you were not on that mission, but you were on a -- right? You were not on the October 19 mission.

FIRST LIEUTENANT SEAN MACRAE, U.S. ARMY RANGER: That is correct. I was on a different mission.

KING: And what was your mission?

MACRAE: On November 13, my mission -- we jumped -- my platoon jumped into southern Afghanistan in order to secure a staging base for some other operations that were occurring in southern Afghanistan.

KING: And all of you are based in Fort Benning? That is the home of the Rangers?

MACRAE: That is correct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that is correct.

KING: Colonel Votel, why are you a Ranger?

VOTEL: Well, the Rangers are the best the Army has to offer. It's the best people. We get the best training. We get the best resources and it's just a great place to serve.

Everybody who comes to the Ranger regiment is a volunteer. They volunteer to come to the Rangers. They volunteer to go to airborne school. They volunteer to go to Ranger school. They are here because they are committed. They had believe in America and they believe in the great heritage of the American Ranger.

KING: And when, Sergeant Sealey, you are committed to be a Ranger, that means you will do what sort of things that the typical Army person does not do?

SEALEY: Larry, I would say that it is basically volunteering to be put in harm's way on a minute's notice. It doesn't matter where it is or what the mission is. It is basically volunteering to be right up there on the cutting edge, like the missions that we executed in Afghanistan.

KING: So a Ranger is, in time of active duty, always facing danger. Why, Sergeant Sealey, do you like that?

SEALEY: It makes me feel alive, Larry. There is -- I mean, you know, you could work a normal job and be surrounded by people that you would call your comrades or your friends. But here, I mean, your lives are directly in the hands of other Rangers and that is -- it is a thing that draws us all here, is a thing that keeps us all here because you know that you can count on the guy to your right and your left.

KING: Sergeant Carpenter, what attracted you to the Rangers?

CARPENTER: What attracted me to the Rangers is because this is the best unit. I mean, the guys I work with are top-notch. And, me and my whole family are all patriotic. And I knew there -- once I saw things about Rangers, I knew this was where I wanted to go.

KING: What's the training like, Sergeant Carpenter?

CARPENTER: The training is realistic. It was amazing how the training was just like what we did over there in Afghanistan, that is why it went so smooth. And it is just -- it's awesome training every day and it's something new, different on the plate every day.

KING: In other words, how they trained you is how it turned out?

CARPENTER: Oh, exactly.

KING: What attracted you, First Lieutenant MacRae?

MACRAE: Larry, it is always been a place I have wanted to come. I can't see myself anywhere else. Between the resourcing and the ability to train hard and the camaraderie that you get with other Rangers, it is the best environment I can think of to work in.

KING: Colonel Votel, you are back at Fort Benning. Can you go back again over there? I mean, how does it work? Are you back for a certain period of time? How -- give me the modus operandi.

VOTEL: Well, the -- we were able to redeploy a portion of our Ranger force back here to Fort Benning. Fortunately, we've got good leadership in theater that is always looking at the mission and maintains the ability to refocus and restructure. So we brought a portion of the Ranger force back here. These guys will go on, leave and then we'll get them on back on to the training path here. But certainly we can go back to Afghanistan and we can go anyplace that the nation, the Army, needs us to go to perform our mission. And we are happy to do it.

KING: And Sergeant Sealey, you are now off for Christmas?

SEALEY: I'm about to be, Larry.

SEALEY: Well, you certainly deserved it. Where is home, Sergeant Carpenter?

CARPENTER: Home for me is in Kansas. Looking forward to going there.

KING: And that is where you are going to taking your leave. And where are you going, Lieutenant MacRae?

MACRAE: Well, Larry, I'm from north of Atlanta, so I will just be going up to Atlanta to be with the family for the holidays.

KING: Nice easy drive.

MACRAE: Very easy.

KING: Thank you all very much. We salute you all: Colonel Joseph Votel; Sergeant 1st Class Edmund Sealey; Staff Sergeant Chad Carpenter and 1st Lieutenant Sean MacRae, all Rangers, all at Fort Benning, all saw action in Afghanistan.

As we go to break and before we meet three heroes of past wars who are going to join us. And then later, another incredible heroic story. We show you shots of the 75th coming home to Fort Benning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We are going to talk about war at the end of this week. We are learning a lot more about it. We seem to, every few years or so, get into one. We are in another one now on two fronts.

So we welcome three heroes. Senator John Kerry is with us here in Los Angeles. He is the Senate Foreign Relations committee member, highly decorated Vietnam war hero, three Purple Hearts, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star. In Washington, Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, former Navy ace -- saw the movie "Top Gun", Tom Cruise may have played him -- highly decorated Vietnam veteran, Purple Heart, the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars and numerous other decorations. And also in Washington, General George Joulwan, United States Army retired, Vietnam veteran himself, and a former NATO supreme commander. Before we talk about their experiences, and a little bit about what war is like, Senator Kerry -- and this is for all of you, how goes it so far in Afghanistan, in your opinion?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I think our guys are doing a superb job. I think we've had, things break for us, the way, one would want them to, but in addition, I think the people you just heard, they are trained, they are ready. I think we have been smart, I think the administration leadership has done it well and we are on right track.

KING: Congressman Cunningham, has the -- this success surprised you?

REP. RANDY "DUKE" CUNNINGHAM (R-CA), SELECT INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: No, and a matter of fact my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, I think daily, talk about that -- with President Bush Colin Powell, Rice and the others, that they've got the leadership, that they are proud of and that they have confidence in.

KING: And General Joulwan, in your expert opinion how is it going and why is it going the way it's going?

RETIRED GENERAL GEORGE JOULWAN, FORMER NATO SUPREME COMMANDER: Well, I think it's going extremely well, and those last four rangers you had, are a good indication of why. I think one of the things that we are seeing is this tough training -- not just Ranger training, but the interface with the air and the land forces has been superb. And I think that made a tremendous difference in this fight.

KING: Senator Kerry some have feared a kind of Vietnam quagmire here. Do you?

KERRY: Never. Not for an instant, it is so different from Vietnam, in every regard. I mean you don't have the superpower confrontation we had in Vietnam, you didn't have any ambivalence by the leadership, no ambivalence by Congress by American people. We were attacked on our soil the terrain is different, we didn't go into occupy, we have gone in for a limited target. I just think it is so different, and everybody saw that from the outset. This did not have the potential and does not have potential to be Vietnam.

KING: Now let's talk about combat, we'll start with Randy Duke Cunningham, let me tell you a little; he flew over 300 combat mission overseas North Vietnam Laos. He qualified as the first ace of the Vietnam War, shot down several enemy MiGs, and was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor. Why did you like flying?

CUNNINGHAM: I think like most kids, Larry, since I was five years old, I built model airplanes, I'd always wanted to fly. Although, I grew up in a little town called Shelbina in Missouri, I never thought I'd have the opportunity. And when that opened its doors, and allowed me to do that, I jumped at it. I was a swimming and football coach before I went into the service, but I always wanted to fly and serve my country.

KING: Do you think, Congressman Cunningham, there are such things as a natural fighter pilot?

CUNNINGHAM: I have never seen a good fighter pilot that smokes a pipe, Larry. If...

(LAUGHTER)

KING: That's something to think about, okay, gets in the way.

CUNNINGHAM: I think it takes some certain skills, three dimensional kinesthetic sense ability, aggressiveness, and we've got some of the best pilots in the world.

KING: General, this has been said before, there are others who deny it: Do lifetime military men, like yourself -- I don't know how to put it -- like war?

JOULWAN: I don't think the word is like war. I started with those soldiers, I started with ranger training and airborne training 40 years ago, and you get a responsibility of service to the country -- and that's what drives you, responsibility. for lives, and in war you have to fight to win, and that's what you're trained for and that is what we need to do for our country. So that's what drives you, Larry, not the fact of liking war, although I must say, that those years in Vietnam -- you get an adrenaline rush in all of that, but that just makes you work harder.

KING: Senator John Kerry, you've seen him so much on television, you know he's a prospective Democratic candidate for the presidency, but this you may not know, when he got his Bronze Star the commission said, once when he discovered he had a man overboard he returned up river to assist, the man was receiving sniper fire from both banks, Lieutenant Kerry directed his gunners to provide suppressing fire, while from an exposed position on the bow, his arm bleeding in pain, disregard for his own personal safety, he pulled the man on board. Why did you do that?

KERRY: Anybody would have done that, Larry. Because you don't leave people behind. It's very simple. One of my men was knocked overboard when a mine went off underneath us, you just don't -- I mean there isn't even a choice. And I don't think there's a person who puts uniform on in war who wouldn't make the same choice.

KING: Do war memories linger?

KERRY: Oh, sure. Oh, gosh. There isn't anybody who hasn't been in combat who doesn't wake up some night stirred by some sound or some impression that doesn't remind you of it. It's with you for the rest of your life, but I think -- I'm sure General Joulwan, and Randy -- Duke, would say right away -- that all of us feel a tremendous pride for having worn the uniform of our country, having served our country. There are people --

KING: Even though, you later opposed the war.

KERRY: Well I did, because I thought that -- I mean we now know as a matter of history, listen to the Lyndon Johnson tapes, read Bob MacNamara's book. They weren't committed doing what we needed to do, and I think one of the great lessons is -- thank God, you know, General Powell, and a whole bunch of people -- all of us, have contributed to the dialogue where we know that when we are going to send American youth into harm's way, at any time, we are going to do so with the intent of winning and we're going to be united and we're going to be clear about that. And I think that's one of the best things to come out of that period.

KING: Talk about men in war, Duke Cunningham, were you nervous before every mission?

CUNNINGHAM: Absolutely. More so when I got down, not during the fight, but afterwards and you know one of the things that I think soothed that, Larry, was the day I was fortunate enough to shoot down my first MiG. I came back aboard the USS Consolation all 5,000 guys were on the flight deck. Willie White my plane captain broke across the bow, he knocked over Admiral Cooper, which you don't do in Navy, and jumped up on wing came back down the turtle back, as I'm trying to get the injection seat pin in, and he grabbed me by the arm and he said, "Lieutenant Cunningham, Lieutenant Cunningham, we got our MiG today, didn't we?"

And people are seeing the stories over in Afghanistan of the pilots, but behind every pilot, you know, there's hundreds of men and women serving on that ship, and they fill an equal part of that team.

KING: General Joulwan, leading men in war, the hardest part must be when you lose somebody, right?

JOULWAN: It's tough, but again what those rangers said you train, you train hard, you train the mission to try to reduce that likelihood. But you do you lose men, and what you have to do is overcome that and drive on. You try to minimize casualties, but you know in a fight that you are going to take them. I've taken casualties in my units, but you have to drive on to the mission, and that is what we trained to do and that is in -- that's a mission focus that we've got to have.

KING: We'll be right back with our guests. We will include some of your phone calls, as well, as we talk about war.

Sunday night Jim Carrey will be a board -- another Carrey, he spells it differently.

And Tuesday night, the first lady Laura Bush, from White House.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Senator Kerry, how do you take the mental approach to going into battle? I mean, what is that like?

KERRY: Well, I -- it may be different for people who volunteer for it from those who were drafted back in the time when we were in Vietnam. But I think everybody feels a level of fear. And there is just...

KING: Even the Rangers?

KERRY: Oh, absolutely, a level of it. But you've trained and you have learned and you are there by choice. And you recognize that it is a test, to a degree. It is a passage. I mean, you can go back and read in the earliest of times and all through the history of warriors.

The Rangers are warriors. I mean, I sort of separate it from citizen soldiers, the guys who go in and know they are going to get out. These are professionals. These are the guys who do it because they are warriors, there is a warrior piece of them. But, anybody feels apprehension, fear, terror, at times, I mean, sheer terror. But you learn how to manage it and you learn how to get through it. And to some degree, after a period of time, you compartmentalize it. I mean, I know there is a period where you just realize there is no other choice. It is put aside and it is so straight ahead, it is almost scary.

KING: With the knowledge you could go in a second.

KERRY: With the knowledge, but you know what, nobody thinks it is going to be them somehow or even if you come to the belief that it is going to be you, you really know that you've got to do your best and you give your best and everybody around you depends on you. And that brotherhood -- and now brotherhood and sisterhood -- is so strong. It is a compelling, extraordinary feature, which is why there is such a bond between people until the day they die.

KING: And, Congressman Cunningham, what is that unique thing about the fighter pilot?

CUNNINGHAM: I don't think there is anything unique about a fighter pilot. You look at these four young men that spoke before us. It is a pride in what you do. I don't care if you are an Air Force weenie, or like General Joulwan, an Army puke, or whatever...

(LAUGHTER)

CUNNINGHAM: ... or Senator Kerry, you take a lot of pride in what you do. I was just a lieutenant doing what I was told to do. And you take -- and it is the training that you go through that protects you. I think it was the theme with those four young men, that you fight like you train and you try and create as most realistic scenarios you can in training so that when you get into combat -- and there is a lot of stories that actually shooting down airplanes was exactly like my instructors at top gun put me through.

KING: In other words, the practice worked?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, sir, you fight like you train.

JOULWAN: And if I could add to that, Larry, I used to have a saying from my old football days, "You got to make the scrimmage tougher than the game." And so you try to make your training to replicate even tougher than what you are going to find in combat. And the challenge we face is, you know, one percent of our population in this country provide the security for the other 99 percent. And that one percent really has to be well trained and very, very, very disciplined. And that is what we found in our troops today. We are much smaller than we were for Desert Storm, half the size of the Army than we were in 1990. And those troops have got to be extremely well trained and focused and dedicated to the service to their country.

KING: I almost hesitate to ask what is an Air Force weenie?

(LAUGHTER)

KERRY: I guess I'm not supposed to know.

CUNNINGHAM: Well, you know what...

(CROSSTALK)

KERRY: From the perspective of the Navy, it's anybody that's in the Air Force. CUNNINGHAM: Larry, you know what you put on the bottom of a Coke bottle at an Air Force base?

KING: What?

CUNNINGHAM: Open other end.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: I got you. OK, Pikeville, Kentucky for our heroes -- hello.

CALLER: Hello. I'm calling to find out what are they going to do with bin Laden when they bring him back to the United States? Are they going to bring him back to the United States or are they going to try him over there?

KING: What do you make of that? First, Senator Kerry, if they come upon him, what is the move?

KERRY: Well, I think it is probably the wish of most people in this country that justice is going to be delivered and we don't have the choice of the bin Laden that we have to try. And I think that is an honest appraisal by most people in this country.

If, on the other hand, we are in a situation where he is, in fact, taken prisoner, we will live by the rules, then has to be tried. I believe that it may very well be that he is being -- that that is why the president has established the tribunals. And I'm not against the tribunals. I do think, however, that it may be better -- I mean, I think America needs to talk more about our strengths. And one of the greatest strengths of our country is our justice system. I don't think we should be scared to use that and particularly with respect to him.

KING: But if he is brought back to the United States, that will be a spectacle, wouldn't it?

KERRY: Well, there are ways to handle this, I think. You may be able to do the tribunal, not do it here, but do it by our full measure of rules. I think that is subject still to determination, Larry.

KING: What do you think happens, Congressman Cunningham, if a member of the American military comes upon him?

CUNNINGHAM: I think they'll do their job. If they feel threatened, they will do what they have to do. But there are also under orders. They are under the Geneva Convention, although I don't believe terrorists are under the Geneva Convention. But he will be dealt justice one way or another. I think most of us would turn him over to the firemen and the policemen in New York City.

KING: What do you think, General Joulwan?

JOULWAN: I think the troops will follow the rules of engagement that they have been given and if the situation warrants it, they will fire if fired upon. If the situation is, they come upon him as he's trying to escape -- look, we have moral high ground here, no matter what we think of bin Laden. And we don't think very highly of him. But the troops will follow their instructions and will follow what their leadership has given them, in terms of rules of engagement.

KING: Mount Holly Springs, Pennsylvania -- hello.

CALLER: Hello. Yes, I would like to ask the panel why they don't use napalm or flamethrowers on those tunnels and caves up there in Afghanistan?

KING: Senator Kerry?

CALLER: My golly, I think they could smoke him out.

KING: Senator Kerry?

KERRY: Well, I think it depends on where you are tactically. They may well be doing that at some point in time. But for the moment, what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.

KING: Congressman Cunningham, what do you think of that question?

CUNNINGHAM: I think Senator Kerry is right on the mark. To use a flamethrower, you've got to get right into the area close in. And plus, it doesn't penetrate that deep in those tunnels. You've got to go in there after him. So I think you have to neutralize that threat. And then you can get him out in a lot of different, various ways including what the gentleman spoke about.

KING: General Joulwan, what are your thoughts?

JOULWAN: Well, I think what you are seeing here are laser- designated bombs going in that are highly effective. In fact, I think much more effective than napalm will be given the extent of these tunnels. You may see some of this when the troops get in there, you have troops on the ground. But right now, I think the laser- designated bombs are doing a great job.

KING: What about enhancing this war, Senator Kerry. What are your thoughts on going on further than Afghanistan, all terrorist places...

KERRY: Oh, I think we clearly have to keep the pressure on terrorism globally. This doesn't end with Afghanistan by any imagination. And I think the president has made that clear. I think we have made that clear. Terrorism is a global menace. It's a scourge. And it is absolutely vital that we continue, for instance, Saddam Hussein. I think we...

KING: We should go to Iraq? KERRY: Well, that -- what do you and how you choose to do it, we have a lot of options. Absent smoking gun evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the immediate events of September 11, the president doesn't have the authorization to proceed forward there.

But we clearly are he ought to proceed to put pressure on him with respect to the weapons of mass destruction. I think we should be supporting an opposition. There are other ways for us, clandestinely and otherwise, to put enormous pressure on him and I think we should do it.

KING: We are going to take a break and come back with more and then we're going to meet an extraordinary story. Brigadier General Robinson Risner, seven years as a POW at the notorious Hanoi Hilton.

This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE.

As we come back, you're watching the funeral of Sergeant Petithory, one killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. The eulogy at that funeral was delivered by one of our guests, Senator John Kerry.

What was that like?

KERRY: It was very, very moving. It wasn't easy. But I was so privileged, his family was just extraordinary, Larry. And what I wanted to try to convey was that their pain was really shared by the whole country. And to whatever degree you can alleviate a parent's unfathomable sorrow, at burying a child, I wanted them to know that he's really at the highest tier of patriot, that he gave himself for our -- you know, his life was given for our lives. And everyone in America should understand the full measure of that.

KING: Congressman Cunningham, what is it like to lose a buddy?

CUNNINGHAM: It's hard to go to the Vietnam wall. It's -- you still live it. You still see their voices, hear their voices, see their faces. And it hurts a lot.

KING: You know names on that wall, right?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes, sir. And one of my one of my heroes is your next guest, Robbie Risner, not only in his personal life, but what he had to go through in Hanoi. But people like that, that's what they pay these kids to do. And we -- the better trained you are, the less of them that you have die. But I know the people that I saw die, it still lives with me today.

KING: General Joulwan, what was it like for you to lose men?

JOULWAN: Very, very difficult. And you -- it stays with you even in 35 or more years later, you still recall it. I recently had a daughter of one of my soldiers get in touch with me, wanted to know about her father. And that was 35 years ago.

And so, you remember all of that. It sticks with you. And you remember every moment of the combat you've been in. And you know, we really have to take care of families. And that scene that just a soldier that was killed in Afghanistan, families are important. They're the strength of our military and the strength of our nation.

KING: So you know names on that Vietnam tablet as well?

JOULWAN: Too many, unfortunately.

KING: As you do, right, senator?

KERRY: Some of them to my best friends, literally my best friend at college, a couple of my best friends in Vietnam, and high school friends. They're there. And I go down and visit. I think we all do.

KING: Porterville, California, hello.

CALLER: Hi. I was wondering if the gentlemen could tell me about how long the war will last?

KING: Any idea, Congressman Cunningham?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I think it's like the President said. This is just a step. I think he set the stage with Saddam Hussein, by enforcing and insisting on inspectors. If proof can be laid that someone attacks the United States or there were the terrorist activity, we're not just looking at Afghanistan. We're looking around the world. And the threats not only to the United States, but the free world.

KING: Woodland Hills, California, hello.

CALLER: Yes.

KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: Yes, first I'd like to say as a veteran myself, I'm very proud to have served in the military. I currently work at the VA myself right now. And since the President has said this war is going on a long time, I want to make sure to ask everybody why is the VA being cut back in so much of its finances, and not being allowed to be able to help everybody that they need to help?

KING: That's the Veteran's Administration -- John.

KERRY: Well, I'm very troubled by it. For the first few years, there was a sort of realignment because a lot of the veteran population had moved to the south and southwest of the country. So there was an initial redistribution.

But I think it's gone way beyond that now. I think we are losing the quality of service in some of our hospitals. We're losing it in the northeast, I know, other parts of country. And boy, if there's anything we learned in the course of our prior wars, its keep faith with those that serve. Keep faith with them when they come back. You've got to keep that contract, Larry.

And to some degree, it is in great stress, as is the whole medical system of our country, but it's a reflection of that.

KING: What do you think, Congressman Cunningham?

CUNNINGHAM: We've increased some of the funding. And we've instituted programs like tri-care subvention, where you can use your Medicare dollars. I believe that the best system that we can provide for our veterans are the same ones that Senator Kerry and I have, is the federal FEHBP. And I think that that would take care of our veterans. And we're losing hundreds of thousands veterans every day, especially from World War II.

KING: General Joulwan, as on overview, what do we owe a veteran?

JOULWAN: I think we owe them a great deal. We owe them our freedom, to begin with. And I think we owe -- when he commits himself to 20 or 30 years to his country, a decent pension, to be able to raise a family and provide for his children. If he gets sick, to take of them. You know, what a soldier goes through, whether it's five years or 20 years or 30 years, it is a tremendous price that he pays in separation from his family and the dangers.

Whether it's the middle of Rwanda or Bosnia or now in Afghanistan. And we ask these troops to do a lot. We need to take care of them. A great country takes care of their veterans.

KING: Are you glad you served, Senator Kerry?

KERRY: I'm so glad I served. I'm proud of the service. I learned so much, Larry. I mean, I think each of the others would agree that some of the best tools of leadership, some of the best training of management, all came to me in the course of my military service.

And I, you know, I miss much of the camaraderie, and the responsibility, as a young person, having a command as I did in Vietnam, being alone in rivers with you know, six, seven other guys for days at a time. It -- and having the ability to call in this most amazing firepower, the jets, the bombers, the artillery. It's an incredible level of responsibility we give young people. And I think it is -- I'm so glad I did it.

KING: Any regrets congressman?

CUNNINGHAM: No. I learned that you can't be a maverick in life or in the service. It is a team -- it is a lot of teamwork. The day that I was shot down, some of my Air Force weenie friends and Army guys risked their lives to make sure that I wasn't captured. And it's a team effort. And I don't think I will ever forget that camaraderieship and that fellowship, as long as I live.

KING: General Joulwan, you must be very proud of the people who he served under you and the people you've appeared with tonight? JOULWAN: Certainly I am. And those four troops add on, make me proud to be a Ranger. And I know what they're talking about. And it's a great feeling for our country. And it's just -- to say "God bless America," is understatement right now. We're a great country. And we have great people to serve.

KING: When we come back, we're going to introduce to you to an extraordinary American, Brigadier General Robinson Risner, the United States Air Force, retired. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We now bring you on LARRY KING LIVE, one of the most heroic American figures of the Vietnam War. Four Purple Hearts, the highest Air Force honor, the Air Force cross. He's Brigadier General Robinson Risner, U.S. Air Force retired, shot down September 16, 1965, and captured.

What were the circumstances?

ROBINSON RISNER, RETIRED BRIGADIER GENERAL, POW FOR SEVEN YEARS: We were trying to take out some radar sites. And I was doing 600 at about 10 feet high. Trying to stay on the radar. And raised up to go over a small hill. And when I did, they must have seen my tail tip before my eyes, because when I got up over the top of the hill, I was already getting gunfire. So right down the intake into the engine and engine got ingestion.

KING: And out you went?

RISNER: Yes, pretty soon because I was on fire.

KING: Now you were taken -- captured and taken eventually to Hanoi, right?

RISNER: Yes, took for three days.

KING: And in solitary four years?

RISNER: Yes.

KING: Captured altogether seven years?

RISNER: Yes, over seven.

KING: Four years in solitary meant what? No one seeing no one?

RISNER: Yes. Now it didn't all occur. I want to make it straight. It didn't all occur in a four-year period, about three. And then I had a couple breaks for the other year. But during those times, I had covert communication with someone else.

KING: By what? By doing what?

RISNER: Tapping on the wall, the tap code. Are you familiar with the tap code? KING: I've heard of tapping, yes.

RISNER: Yes. Well, that's the way we communicated. And we broke the English language down to this bear minimum.

KING: They paraded you down the streets of Hanoi, didn't they?

RISNER: Yes, that was -- well, I guess for the Vietnamese to show contempt for the American fighting forces, they instructed us by sound truck in a camera that was set way high to keep our heads down, so we would look hang dog. And we passed the word, "Don't lower your heads."

Some of the political commissars would leap up and grab us by the hair and try to pull our head down, but I think we made it through that rather terrifying march because people were trying to take us away from the guards.

KING: Everybody who knows you, talks about you and your heroism and steadfastness. You were a maverick, too, right? You didn't take sitting down easy?

RISNER: That's right.

KING: Yes, for that solitary you got solitary?

RISNER: Yes.

KING: You were, I'm told, tortured so badly that one day your shoulders popped out of their sockets?

RISNER: The first time they tortured me was they tied my wrists behind me, wrapped my arms tightly together up under my armpits behind me. And of course, you're not built that way. So it pulled my shoulders out of joint and separated my ribs. And that was the first time they tortured me.

KING: How'd you live with that pain?

RISNER: Well, they turned me loose after a while. I didn't think they could torture me enough to make me give them anything, but I found out I was wrong. After I was in pain for so long, it was like my willpower was a totally different person. They said, "Hey Jack, I've taken all I can. You better give him something." So I lied to them. And then of course, I got it again when they found out I was lying.

KING: So you gave them information, but it was false?

RISNER: Yes.

KING: You were on the front cover of "Time" magazine in April 1965. And some people, there's the cover, some people think because of that, you might have gotten more severe treatment. Do you?

RISNER: Yes. KING: In other words, they didn't like seeing that?

RISNER: No. My first interrogation, they plopped that right down in front of me. Some good soul from the United States said send them the copy. And they said, "We know you, Robinson Risner." And they thought I was much more important than I ever was.

You know, a president of the United States, the American people may forget him in a couple years. Well, because my picture was on "Time" magazine didn't mean anything to Americans much.

KING: What kept you going, general?

RISNER: God and country. Now that sounds very simple, but faith in God and love of country. I made a vow while I was over there. And I said never again. I found this was very helpful to me, in other words, to remind myself.

KING: Never again.

RISNER: Yes, never again would I be ashamed or reticent to talk about something that made me a better person.

KING: I'm told, general, there was a memorable church service in which fellow POWS of yours sang "The Star Spangled Banner." What happened?

RISNER: When we were first -- when they first put me in a room with 46 other living, breathing Americans, it was like phenomenal. Because I'd been in solitary confinement so much of the time. And I was warned, as the senior-ranking officer, you will have not had more than 20 men in one meeting.

See, they have four-hour brainwashing session for the North Vietnamese. So a young man came to me quickly and said, Could we have a church service, Sunday?" And of course, I leaped on that. We had a very short church service. They came in and tried to disrupt it. We always started, though, with the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America in unison. And you can't imagine...

KING: And then what? They sang the national anthem?

RISNER: No, we sang "Onward, Christian Soldiers." And then, they came in and tried to disrupt us. We did this three Sundays in a row, before they finally took three of us outside, began to tie our arms in a real painful manner, to lead us away to torture.

Someone stood on a tall man's shoulder, pulled himself up to the barred windows high on wall to see what was happening. And when he reported back inside, then is when from the men had been silent all this time, from hearts that were filled with love of country, came "The Star-Spangled Banner" in volume I'll never hear sung again.

KING: By the way, Ross Perot paid for a statue, which is dedicated to General Risner. It was dedicated at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It's nine feet tall, because he stood nine feet tall.

And we have a little surprise for you, general, tonight because coming out from behind the curtain are five former POWS who served with you at the Hanoi Hilton: Colonel Thomas Kirk, Colonel Carl Krumper (ph), Colonel Ben Pollard, Colonel Frederick Crow, and Colonel Verleen (ph) Daniels. And they want to do something for you. Guys, go.

(MUSIC, "STAR-SPANGLED BANNER")

KING: He got you, right? You can walk over there if you want.

RISNER: Robbie.

KING: These were one of the many men that stood that day at the Hanoi Hilton and sang the national anthem in honor of their friend Brigadier General Robinson Risner.

Guys, I thank you so much. Want to lean in a little to one of those mikes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

KING: What was he like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Awesome!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taught me everything I knew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Real McCoy.

KING: Well, you guys are all -- I guess you all remember all them. Are these some of the guys you tapped to?

RISNER: Sure. Don't remember what circumstance, but every time we were only one wall away, sure we tapped to each other.

KING: Colonel Kirk was shot down over Hanoi on October '67 leading a large fight bomber raid. Colonel Krumper (ph) was a POW for five years at the Hanoi Hilton. Colonel Pollard flew some of the most dangerous missions against some of the toughest targets. He was shot down in May of '67. Colonel Crow flew 85 missions, shot down in March of 1967. And Colonel Verleen (ph) Daniels served time as POW at the Hanoi Hilton.

Oh, he's signaling me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

KING: I think signaling you, General. We've got one minute.

RISNER: OK.

KING: What has this been like for you, the statue -- nine feet tall. Only Ross Perot could do this.

RISNER: Well, you must know, I'm a very ordinary individual, and I'm not...

KING: Yes, I'll bet.

RISNER: And truthfully, I didn't deserve that. I think of it, the statue as dedicated to all the Vietnam POWS. Ross, a friend of mine, just used me as the model.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.

KING: So you're saying they all stood nine feet tall?

RISNER: You bet your life. If I did, certainly they did, and maybe taller.

KING: We only have 30 seconds. What was it like to walk out?

RISNER: Beyond any description. Beyond any description.

KING: You knew John McCain in there, too, right?

RISNER: Oh, yes. I tell you what it was like. Cicero said "Freedom once lost and then regained bites with deeper things than freedom never in danger." That's what it was like.

KING: Can't top that. We'll be back with a great close for tonight's edition of LARRY KING LIVE with Diana Krall. I'm Larry King, and for all of our guests, don't go away. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We close out things tonight with Diana Krall. She's one of the best singers alive. Her new album is "Look of Love." You know, Jim Carrey's going to be with us Sunday night. He's a Canadian. So are you, right?

DIANA KRALL, SINGER: Yes I am, from Vancouver Island.

KING: September 11 really affected you though, right?

KRALL: Yes, it did. It did very -- as an artist, you know, it's important for us to sing, and perform. And so, that's what we've been doing. And it's been healing for me, as well as I hope for audiences.

KING: One of the best in business. Here's Diana Krall and the very appropriate, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

(MUSIC, DIANA KRALL, "HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS")

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If you allow you a moment, we want to wish the best of luck to Victoria McCardo, one our top production assistants here, who's going onto MTV. Hey, a little too young for us. Good luck, Victoria.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


 
 
 
 


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