RAY SUAREZ: Jim, I spoke to delegates from states that may end up deciding the 2004 presidential race. States like Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania.
The delegates differed over whether to be surprised or not that a war over almost 30 years can still provoke furious debate. But they were unanimous in concluding that once Sen. Kerry made Vietnam a centerpiece of his appeal, his record there was fair game.
KEN DAVIS: I guess I am surprised, but, of course, it was the other candidate who raised the issue initially in his campaign, and I think it's a fair opportunity to go back and evaluate that. I was a young man working on Capitol Hill at the time of the Vietnam War, and I remember the passions and the debates that went on.
I think, frankly, it will go on for a long time after this. I don't think the wounds have ever healed on Vietnam, and I think it's unfortunate that it came back, but, again, it was Mr. Kerry who raised the issue, and I think he can't be surprised that others would pick it up.
RAY SUAREZ: Are you surprised to hear the war still being discussed in this hot, passionate way?
GLENDA BRION: Well, I think Kerry has chosen to make that a topic for himself and about himself, and if either he or his campaign advisers have done that... so once you choose to do that, then you open up the door for it to become a discussion.
RAY SUAREZ: So it's fair game?
RAY SUAREZ: So it's fair game then?
NANCY BRIGGS: We thought it had been dropped. I thought that was in the past. We're looking to the future and protecting ourselves in the future from our threat now.
ALAN DOTY: Well, I was there. And I've got to tell you, as a Vietnam veteran I haven't forgiven Kerry, and that is probably the one thing that could remove me from being Republican. If that man was a Republican, I'd have to become a Democrat.
I could not support that man, no way, no shape, no form, and I think almost every Vietnam veteran who served there and come home was called a baby killer or a rapist or was spit on, and I don't think today's veterans have a clue how little respect the Vietnam veterans got when we came back, you know, and a big chunk of that was his fault.
RAY SUAREZ: I'm asking people about how, 30 years after the fall of Saigon, we're once again engaged in a passionate conversation about Vietnam. Does it surprise you?
PETER SECCHIA: Well, we're not engaged in a passionate conversation about Vietnam. We're engaged in a passionate conversation of truth. There's a difference.
RAY SUAREZ: Explain the difference.
PETER SECCHIA: Well, one guy says, "I'm reporting for duty; I'm a hero," and someone else is saying, "no, he wasn't; he didn't report for duty; he shirked his duty, and he isn't a hero." I don't know who is right, but that's the discussion. The discussion is over truth.
I haven't heard any discussion over the Vietcong or the fall of the government of South Vietnam. I haven't heard that. We're not discussing that. We're discussing personal activity during Vietnam, personal recollection. That's different.
RAY SUAREZ: And that last speaker, a Michigan delegate, is a Bush pioneer, a major fund- raiser for the president and a Marine Corps veteran. Jim?