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Swift Boat Crew, Max Cleland Introduce John Kerry

Aired July 29, 2004 - 21:49   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. They are introducing now the members of that swift boat crew, the men who served with John Kerry aboard that swift boat in Vietnam. Let's listen in there.
JIM RASSMANN, RESCUED BY JOHN KERRY IN VIETNAM: You know, there was a time when I thought I'd never see these guys again. A lot of our friends never made it home. We still miss them, especially on a night like this. We're all proud and honored to be here.

But let me say something important right up front: Nobody asked me to join this campaign. I volunteered.


And not just because, 35 years ago, John Kerry saved my life.

RASSMANN: I volunteered because I've seen John Kerry in action. I know his character. I've witnessed his bravery and leadership under fire. And I know he will be a great commander in chief.


Any one of these 12 brave men will tell you that in a tight situation, when your whole future, your whole life, depends on the decisions of one man, you can count on John Kerry.


And that's why this band of brothers is here tonight. That's why this band of brothers is still fighting for America. And that's why we are working so hard to elect the next president of the United States: John Kerry.


RASSMANN: There's another soldier here tonight, one who, like John, knows the trials of war and the true meaning of courage.

This man nearly lost his life in Vietnam, but he never lost his will, his sense of duty, or his devotion to country. Whether in state government, the United States Senate, the head of the VA, he has always been a leader of courage and conviction.

And no matter how low the attacks, he has always taken the high road, inspiring us all with his strength and patriotism.

(APPLAUSE) Please welcome a great American: Max Cleland.

MAX CLELAND, FMR. GEORGIA SENATOR: Thank you so much, Jim.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

My fellow Americans, I'd like to share with you tonight my story of how I came to know and love John Kerry.


It was April 1968. I was being airlifted out of Vietnam on a stretcher. At that moment, Ensign John Kerry was headed in a different direction. He was on a Navy ship in the Pacific requesting transfer into Vietnam, into the line of fire.


He had graduated from college. The world was his oyster. There were a lot of other things he could have done with his life. But he wanted to serve because he had been raised to believe that service to one's country is honorable, is noble and is good.


CLELAND: While John Kerry was earning a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts, I was being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. I was 25 years old. My body was broken, and my faith was shattered.

I remember, one day, on leave from the hospital, a friend on mine was pushing me, and we were going around the city. I was in my new wheelchair.

Right there in front of the White House, we hit a little bump and it dumped me right on the street, right there on the curb. There were cigarette butts and trash all around me. And I remember trying to lift myself up off the street. I was angry in those days at war, saddened that veterans were not getting good care, and frustrated that people in power were not listening.

CLELAND: Those were difficult days for me. Those were difficult days for my country.

But I ultimately realized that although I had lost a lot, I still had a lot left.


I resolved to make something of my life.


I decided to run for the State Senate in my home state of Georgia.


I won, but when I got there, in 1971, I was a lone voice.

Then I heard this young veteran on TV speaking about the war. It was John Kerry. He put everything I was feeling into words.

CLELAND: Tonight, I'd like to let you know, that even before I met John Kerry, he was my brother.


Even before I knew John Kerry, he was my friend. Even before I spoke with John Kerry, he gave me hope.


The Bible tells me that no greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his friends. John Kerry's fellow crewmates -- the men I am honored to share the stage with -- are living testimony to his leadership, his courage under fire, and his willingness to risk his life for his fellow Americans.


Ladies and gentlemen, there is no greater act of patriotism than that.


CLELAND: As I look back over the last 36 years, I realize John Kerry's service to his country did not end in Vietnam; it began there.


Since Vietnam, John Kerry's life has become an object lesson in what was once described as the true definition of patriotism -- the long and steady dedication of a lifetime.


And when we make John Kerry our next president of the United States, he will put America back on the long and steady road toward the vision of the country we fought for, a vision of the country we can become once again, a country that doesn't alienate our allies, but works with them...


... a country that doesn't lose jobs, but creates them...


... a country that doesn't limit educational opportunity, but expands it..

(APPLAUSE) ... a country that doesn't make health care less available, but more affordable, a country that doesn't spoil our environment, but protects it. A country that is strong a country that is respected, a country that is worthy of generations of sacrifice, and our children's highest hopes.

CLELAND: That is the America John Kerry volunteered to fight for. That is the America John Kerry will lead.


When John Kerry declared he was going to be a candidate for the highest office in our land, the presidency of the United States, on a hot, steamy day in Charleston, South Carolina, a little less than a year ago, I joined the band of brothers at his side.

CLELAND: After the ceremony, I grabbed his John's are and pressed a Bible into his hand. It was the Bible I once read from as a child. I knew that he would need the strength that it provided, the guidance it provided, and the comfort it had to offer in the days ahead.

At first, he said he was afraid he might lose it, he refused to take it. But I insisted. I told him: "Hold on to this. You'll need it like your country needs you now."


He looked with those kind of long sad eyes, and said, "I won't let you down."

My fellow Americans, John Kerry has never let me down. And he won't let you down either.


Why? Why? Because he is an authentic American, an authentic American hero. He is the next captain of our ship of state. And he will be the next president of the United States.


AUDIENCE: Kerry, Kerry, Kerry...

CLELAND: In every hour of challenge our country has faced, in every hour of danger, there have been American heroes who have answered this country's call.

Just blocks from where we are tonight, some 230 years ago, a little group, a small group called the Sons of Liberty assembled to demand democracy and a voice in their future. Mere steps from where we are now, a former slave named Crispus Attucks gave his life for freedom.


And around the corner from where we are tonight, a beacon of light shows -- and showed on that fateful day -- from the old North Church that set Paul Revere on a mission to save this country's people from danger.

CLELAND: Those were fateful hours for our young country.

Tonight I am honored to introduce to you another son of liberty, a brother in arms, a man called by destiny at this fateful hour in our nation's history.

He is my brother. He is my friend. He is my hero.

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, John Kerry is able to answer this nation's call.



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