My name is David Alston, and I am a minister from Columbia, South Carolina. I join you here tonight in Boston, birthplace of the American Revolution, to celebrate the bedrock ideals on which our nation was founded - freedom, equality, and democracy.
I also come here tonight to honor a friend of mine, a man of courage and conviction who has fought for these ideals his entire life: John Kerry. Many of you in this hall already know John Kerry well. Others across this land are still learning about his long and distinguished record of public service.
I know him from a small boat in Vietnam, where we fought and bled together, serving our country. There were six of us aboard PCF-94, a 50-foot, twin-engine craft known as a "Swift Boat." We all came from different walks of life, but all of us - including our skipper, John Kerry - volunteered for combat duty. And combat is what we got.
We usually patrolled the narrow waterways of the Mekong delta, flanked on both sides by thick jungle. As our crewmate Gene Thorson put it, we were a traveling bulls-eye. And we often came under sudden attack from the enemy, hidden in the shadows. Machine-gun fire, rocket-propelled grenades, it all came fast and furious, and Lieutenant Kerry had to make quick, life-or-death decisions for the entire boat.
You have to realize, a Swift Boat isn't armored. The hull is aluminum, about as thick as two nickels. And in the middle of a narrow river or canal, with no cover at all, even small-caliber bullets could punch right through it - and often did.
Manning the deck guns, most of us got wounded sooner or later, including Lieutenant Kerry. It would have been easiest, in an ambush, to simply rake the shore with return fire and roar on down the river to safety. But Lieutenant Kerry was known for taking the fight straight to the enemy. I can still see him now, standing in the doorway of the pilothouse, firing his M-16, shouting orders through the smoke and chaos.
Once, he even directed the helmsman to beach the boat, right into the teeth of an ambush, and pursued our attackers on foot, into the jungle. In the toughest of situations, Lieutenant Kerry showed judgment, loyalty and courage. Even wounded, or confronting sights no man should ever have to see, he never lost his cool.
And when the shooting stopped, he was always there too, with a caring hand on my shoulder asking, "Gunner, are you OK?" I was only 21, running on fear and adrenaline. Lieutenant Kerry always took the time to calm us down, to bring us back to reality, to give us hope, to show us what we truly had within ourselves. I came to love and respect him as a man I could trust with life itself.
I am a man of faith, and I did not come here tonight to glorify what we did. I came here to share my personal knowledge of a young naval officer who rose to the challenges and responsibilities of leadership, and who has always shown the courage to speak truth to power.
The 27th Psalm tells us, "Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear. Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident" I stand before you tonight alive, while many of our brothers never made it home. I am grateful to have lived to enjoy my children, to see them grow up. But I stand here before you only because almighty God saw our boat safely through those rivers of death and destruction, by giving us a brave, wise, and decisive leader named John Kerry.
Today, 30 years after Vietnam, American soldiers are once again fighting and dying on distant battlefields, at war with an elusive enemy. We pray for these brave men and women. They are our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones. Their loss brings all of us sadness beyond measure.
In a few short months, we will choose our next President. I believe we need to elect a man of faith, experience, and wisdom. A man who knows that defending America means defending our most fundamental rights. A man who knows that leadership is not just about telling others what to do, but inspiring them to do it. A man who knows the true meaning of freedom, equality, and democracy. And that man is my former skipper, my friend, and our next commander-in-chief, John Kerry.
Friends, here in this city more than two centuries ago, patriots launched a revolution that changed history. Generations since have marched, fought, and died to defend the sacred ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness-and to make these ideals a reality for every American.
It is now our turn to defend these ideals. It is our time to speak out. It is our duty to exercise our most precious right as Americans: the right to vote.
So come November 2nd, join me in casting your ballot for a new, principled, and courageous leader-America's next president-John Kerry.
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
The Reverend David Alston served on a swift boat with John Kerry, and gave a speech at the convention. The speech received what I thought was disgracefully little attention from the news media. So I thought I would share it here. The whole thing. Without comment.