For one night only, it'll be spitballs and Swift Boats together on the same stage — a who's who of John Kerry bashing. The American Conservative Union yesterday announced...

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WASHINGTON — For one night only, it’ll be spitballs and Swift Boats together on the same stage — a who’s who of John Kerry bashing.

The American Conservative Union yesterday announced Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., will present the “Courage Under Fire” award to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth at the Conservative Political Action Conference’s Feb. 18 banquet.

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Miller and the group of Vietnam veterans were behind perhaps the campaign’s two fiercest attacks on Kerry’s unsuccessful presidential bid.

Miller, who is retiring next month, scorched Kerry in a Republican National Convention keynote address in which he suggested the four-term Massachusetts Democrat had voted to cut so many weapons systems, it appeared he wanted to send the military to war with spitballs.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ran ads after the Democratic convention questioning Kerry’s Vietnam War decorations.

“The Swift boat veterans performed an invaluable service to America,” Miller said in a statement. “These veterans took a lot of undeserved criticism for daring to speak the truth.”

Official military records and even statements from Swift boat veterans in Navy documents raised questions about their largely unsubstantiated claims, but the political damage had been done. At a forum Wednesday in Boston, Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry’s campaign manager, said she regretted underestimating the effect of the ads.

Roy Hoffmann, the retired Navy rear admiral who founded the Swift boat group, said he didn’t know much about Miller but was pleased with the honor. The real goal, he said, was to ensure that Kerry didn’t become commander in chief.

“We achieved our goal,” Hoffmann said. “That was our primary concern, and we are pleased someone recognized the effort — or at least the impact — we had on the election.”

Richard Lessner, executive director of the American Conservative Union, said Miller had spoken at a previous banquet and “lit up the crowd.”