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Kerry Takes Flight

All positive, all the time--except for Fritz Hollings.

9:15 AM, Jan 24, 2004 • By DAVID TELL
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YESTERDAY here in Manchester Sen. Cleland was once again on location for his buddy John. And once again nobody mentioned anything about weaseling out of Vietnam. But Vietnam itself came up plenty, especially at the Kerry campaign noontime "veterans" event in a half-court gymnasium attached to the Jewish community center on the north side of town. It was a quite extraordinary scene, really: six or seven hundred wildly enthusiastic, chanting locals ("KERRY! KERRY! KERRY! KERRY!"), most of whom had arrived as much as an hour before the scheduled start. On a raised platform in the center of this crowd, Cleland was seated next to a casually dressed, beaming, relaxed-to-the-point-of-transformation Kerry. And a dozen or so of Kerry's Vietnam gunboat brothers were arranged like a choir at their feet.

Retiring Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina got things started. Hollings is . . . um, a dotty old fool and an infamously mean-spirited crypto-racist, actually. A short-circuited speaker wire produced a startlingly loud, explosive sound while Hollings was free-associating about the overseas export of furniture manufacturing jobs. "Some Chinaman got mad at me," Hollings remarked, 'cause that's how 'ol Fritz refers to 'em, see? And then 'ol Fritz got to talking about "Little George W." and Little George's puppetmaster, "that fella Cheney," who probably have conversations together where Little George says "Haven't we already given the rich a tax cut?"--and then Cheney says "no, we want more, we want more." Why, Cheney is "the Jesse Jackson of the Republican party," Hollings roared, mimicking an African-American accent: "He wants it allll! His tiiime has coooome!"

Presidential primary campaigns that feel like they're on the verge of final triumph can get away with stuff like this, apparently. Nobody seemed to mind.

Then it was the candidate's turn, and--general-election-season style--the candidate said hardly a single word of substantive note. But he did tell an eloquent, deeply moving story at the start: about visiting the Omaha Beach cemeteries in Normandy and finding the still personally-tended-to gravestone of an American soldier killed on D-Day. And Kerry did tell an eloquent, deeply moving story at the close: about Iwo Jima flag-raising hero Ira Hayes--"drunken Ira Hayes," for those familiar with the Johnny Cash song. One of the other marines in that famous Iwo Jima photo had been killed in action the very next day, Kerry explained. And somehow, no one ever told this young man's grieving mother that her son, Hayes's friend, was also one of the men in that iconic image, the one leaning over and planting the pole on the top of Mt. Suribachi. So one day years and years after the war, unable to stop thinking about his dead buddy, the troubled and unhappy Ira Hayes shook himself upright, hitchhiked all the way from Arizona to Texas, found his buddy's mother, and informed her that her son was a great man who'd never be forgotten.

John Kerry wants to think "that every American would say to himself, 'I'd have done that.'" Thank you and God bless.

Go ahead and roll your eyes if you want. I had a lump in my throat. Little George W. better watch his butt if he knows what's good for him.

David Tell is opinion editor of The Weekly Standard.