Posted: 8/19/2004 9:41:57 AM EDT
Yes, these men served WITH Kerry; they were in his unit and served on some of the same missions as he did.
'Sampan incident' belies heroic image
By John E. O'Neill and Jerome R. Corsi
Second of three excerpts
John Kerry invented a "war hero" persona in his private journals and in the home movies he filmed and staged in Vietnam. Playing the lead role, he developed a past intended to advance his future political ambitions.
In reality, Kerry was regarded by his Navy peers as reckless with human life. Although Douglas Brinkley's biography "Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War" recalls that Kerry used the call sign "Square Jaw" for a short time, it doesn't mention the sign he actually used for most of his four months in Vietnam: "Boston Strangler."
Kerry portrays himself as a Swift Boat officer constantly protesting to his superiors about criminal war policies and inappropriate tactics. In reality, while Kerry constantly complained about the location of assignments to his peers, he hardly ever said a word of protest or spoke out in objection to any superior officer.
Kerry, who skippered two Swift Boats in the Mekong Delta from Dec. 6, 1968, to March 17, 1969, often sported a home-movie camera to record his exploits for later viewing. Fellow "Swiftees" report that Kerry would revisit ambush locations for re-enacting combat scenes where he would portray the hero.
Kerry would take movies of himself in combat gear, sometimes dressed as an infantryman walking resolutely through the terrain. He even filmed mock interviews of himself narrating his exploits.
A joke circulated among Swiftees was that Kerry left Vietnam early not because he received three Purple Hearts, but because he had recorded enough film of himself to take home for his planned political campaigns.
Only after returning home did Kerry argue publicly that war crimes were committed on a daily basis at the direction of all levels of command. He compared his superior officers to Lt. William Calley of My Lai infamy. Kerry's accusations typically relied on impostors who concocted incidents that, when investigated, proved to be exaggerations or fabrications.
On the other hand, the propriety of Kerry's own conduct in Vietnam was and is the subject of serious question.
"Kerry seemed to believe that there were no rules in a free-fire zone, and you were supposed to kill everyone," Swift Boat veteran William E. Franke of Coastal Division 11 told us. "I didn't see it that way. I will tell you in all candor that the only baby killer I knew in Vietnam was John F. Kerry."
The evidence shows John Kerry was a ruthless operator in the field, with little regard for life. One example is the sampan incident in An Thoi in January 1969.
Kerry recounts that the Swift Boat under his command, PCF 44, and another, PCF 21, were patrolling a shallow channel on a pitch-black night and continually running aground.
For "Tour of Duty" (William Morrow, 2004), Brinkley drew his account from Kerry's journals and subsequent explanations, noting that "neither Swift's search or boarding lights were working properly."
" 'Many minutes of silent patrolling had gone by when one of the men yelled, "Sampan off the port bow," Kerry wrote [in his journal]. 'Everybody froze, and we slowed the engines quickly. But the sampan was already by us and wasn't stopping. It was past curfew, and nothing was allowed in the river. I told the gunner to fire a few warning shots, and in the confusion, all guns opened up. We moved in on the sampan and taking one of the battle lanterns off the bulkhead, shone it on the silhouette of the craft that was now dead in the water.' "
Critical in this account is Kerry's statement that he ordered the gunner to fire "a few warning shots." Brinkley records Kerry's self-justification of the action, one of many versions Kerry would subsequently offer to make the actions he took seem part of standard operating procedure:
"Technically, the two PCFs had done nothing wrong," Brinkley wrote. "The sampan, operating past curfew, was undeniably in a free-fire zone; what's more, there had been more than a few instances of sampans trying to get close enough to U.S. Navy vessels to toss bombs into their pilothouses."
In other words, Kerry is trying to establish that opening fire on the sampan (a flat-bottomed Chinese skiff propelled by oars) was justified — a pre-emptive attack in self-defense. For Kerry, it was critical to maintain that his actions were taken according to Navy policy; otherwise, he had no defense. A Nuremberg defense — "just following orders" — was and is Kerry's chosen line.
Kerry then admitted the civilian casualties he caused, according to the Brinkley biography:
"But knowing that they were following official Navy policy didn't make it any easier to deal with what the crews saw next. 'The light revealed a woman standing in the stern of the sampan with a child of perhaps two years or less in her arms,' Kerry wrote. 'Neither [was] harmed. We asked her where the men from the stern were, as one of the gunners was sure that he had seen someone moving back there. She gesticulated wildly, and I could see traces of blood on the engine mounting. It was obvious that they had been blown overboard.
"'Then somebody said there was a body up front, and we moved in closer to see the limbs of a small child limp on the stacks of rice. She had already covered it, and when one of the men asked me if I wanted it uncovered I said no, realizing that the face would stay with me for the rest of my life and that it was better not to know whether there was a smile or a grimace or whether it was a girl or boy.' "
Boston Globe's find
Coastal Division 11 personnel recall at least two different explanations given for the action by Kerry, in addition to his excuses that it was the crew's fault and that it was a free-fire zone.
Kerry has suggested that, under the rice on the sampan, there might have been a bomb that could have been thrown into the Swift Boat had Kerry allowed the sampan to move close enough.
Additionally, Kerry has suggested that the Viet Cong used women and children to cover their actions and that there could have been Viet Cong in the boat ready to fire on them when they got closer. Another of Kerry's suggestions was that the woman might have been hiding weapons in the sunken boat.
These are strange explanations, since Kerry also says in the Brinkley biography that during his "entire stint in Vietnam, he never found a single piece of contraband" on the hundreds of vessels he searched.
Critically important is the fact that Kerry filed a phony after-action operational report concealing the fact that a child had been killed during the attack on the sampan and inventing a fleeing squad of Viet Cong. The operational report is one of the important missing documents that Kerry neglects to make public on his campaign Web site.
The book written by three Boston Globe reporters, "John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography" (PublicAffairs Reports, 2004), cites a Navy report of "a similar-sounding incident."
"In any case, while Kerry said in a 2003 interview that he wasn't sure when the boy in the sampan was killed, a Navy report says a similar-sounding incident took place on Jan. 20, 1969. The crew of No. 44 'took sampan under fire, returned to capture 1 woman and a small child, one enemy KIA [Killed in Action] ... believe four occupants fled to beach or possible KIA.' "
Kerry was the skipper of PCF 44 at the time. The Kerry campaign was sent a copy of the report, but did not respond when the Boston Globe asked if it matched Kerry's memory of the night the child was killed.
The Globe reporters, who unknowingly uncovered a critical piece of evidence, were skeptical there could have been two such incidents.
Gunner Steve Gardner sat above Kerry on the double .50-caliber mount that night in January 1969.
PCF 44, engines shut off, lay in ambush near the western mouth of the Cua Lon River. The boat's own generator was operating and its radar was on, with Kerry supposedly in the pilothouse monitoring the radar.
Although the radar was easily capable of picking up the sampan early, Kerry gave no warning to the crew and did not come out of the pilothouse. Instead, first an engine noise and then a sampan suddenly appeared in front of the boat — still no Kerry.
The PCF lights were thrown on — still no Kerry. The sampan was ordered to stop by the young gunner, Gardner — still no Kerry.
According to Gardner, there was no order to fire warning shots, as Kerry claimed. Indeed, there was no Kerry until it was over. When an occupant of the sampan appeared to Gardner to reach for or hold a weapon, he opened up (as did others), killing the father and, unintentionally, a child.
Then Kerry finally appeared; he ordered the crew to cease-fire and then threatened them with courts-martial.
'Bone of contention'
Steve Gardner is the sole crewman not swayed by Kerry during his many post-Vietnam years of solicitation aimed at gaining the support of his own crew.
Today, Gardner asks: "How can Kerry possibly be commander in chief when he couldn't competently command a six-man crew?"
Gardner, a two-tour Swift Boat sailor who sat five feet behind Kerry in Vietnam and who saw many officers during his two years, judges Kerry to be by far the worst.
"Kerry was erratic," Gardner said in an interview June 19. "He hardly ever did what he was supposed to do. His command decisions put us in more peril then he should have. But mostly he just ran. When John Kerry looked out the bow of the boat and he saw tracer fire coming after him, he'd turn and run."
Gardner added: "When he should have been fighting, calling in air support, he was hightailing it. That's always been my bone of contention with Kerry — his decision-making capabilities. That's what takes him out of contention as far as I'm concerned."
Kerry's failure to pick up the sampan on radar is hard to understand. Harder still to understand is his absence as the officer in charge during the critical part of the episode.
The fog of war can obscure anyone's vision, but there would certainly have been an inquiry at An Thoi to determine what happened and how a small child could have been inadvertently killed. The inquiry would have focused on why the sampan was not detected early and why normal measures like a flare or small-caliber warning shot were not used.
Gardner irks Kerry
To be fair, it is likely the purpose of such an inquiry would not be to fix blame on anyone, but to avoid future miscalculation.
And the major questions would have been: Where was Kerry? Why was there no warning? Why was a gunner's mate making the critical life-and-death decision instead of the officer in charge? Why the different accounts by Kerry?
Kerry avoided any problem by filing an after-action report in which the dead child simply disappeared from the record and was replaced by a fleeing squad of Viet Cong, some likely killed.
According to Gardner, Kerry threatened to court-martial those involved, even though the crew believed they had seen weapons on the sampan. Gardner strongly believes that the sight of potential weapons justified the firing.
In their biography, the Globe reporters note that Kerry supporters have tried to discredit Gardner and dismiss his criticism of Kerry. In March, Gardner was quoted publicly for the first time about his views on Kerry, in the Globe and on Time magazine's Web site.
In the Time article, written by Kerry biographer Brinkley, Kerry was quoted as reacting strongly to Gardner's criticism, saying that Gardner had "made up" stories. Brinkley dismissed Gardner, a supporter of President Bush, as being motivated by "one word: politics." Kerry said he couldn't remember the court-martial threat.
Gardner denied that politics had anything to do with his comments. "Absolutely not," he said, saying he kept his feelings about Kerry to himself for 35 years and responded only when a Globe reporter tracked him down.
Cmdr. George M. Elliott of Coastal Division 11 never knew of the small child's death because all he received from Kerry was the false report, which found its way up the chain of command.
The Commander Coastal Surveillance Force Vietnam (CTF 115) Quarterly Evaluation Report of March 29, 1969, states: " ... 20 January PCFs 21 and 44 operating in An Xuyen Province ... engaged the enemy with a resultant GDA of one VC KIA (BC) [body count], four VC KIA (EST) and two VC CIA."
This is Kerry's victory: killing in action (KIA) five imaginary Viet Cong, capturing in action (CIA) two Viet Cong (an exaggeration of the mother and baby who were actually rescued from the sampan) and simply omitting the dead child from the body count (BC) and the estimate (EST).
Roy F. Hoffmann, then commander of Coastal Surveillance Force Vietnam, CTF 115, received Kerry's false report of probably killing five Viet Cong and capturing two others. Hoffman sent Kerry a congratulatory message.
Upon learning of what Kerry actually had done, Hoffmann, who retired as a rear admiral, recently expressed his contempt for Kerry as a liar, false warrior and fraud.
"I do not believe John Kerry is fit to be commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States," Hoffman said in May. "This is not a political issue. It is a matter of his judgment, truthfulness, reliability, loyalty and trust — all absolute tenets of command."
Despite Kerry's written report, rumors of the sampan incident on the Cua Lon River circulated for years.
The vivid memory of the small, bloody sampan haunts Franke, a Silver Star recipient and veteran of many battles.
"Absent clear indications of danger, Swift Boat crews simply did not open fire upon such boats," Franke wrote us in March. "Rather, the vessel would be boarded, searched and let go with a warning."
Yet in "Tour of Duty," Kerry, according to one of his own accounts, appears to have lost control of his boat after crazily ordering that "warning shots" be fired at a small sampan with heavy .50-caliber weapons, instead of the numerous small-caliber weapons on board.
And according to the biography written by the Globe reporters, Kerry simply butchers a small sampan in a free-fire zone because it would have been dangerous to approach.
Thomas W. Wright, another Swift Boat commander in Coastal Division 11, said Kerry "was not a good combat commander."
Wright said he had such "serious problems" working with Kerry that he finally objected to going on patrol with Kerry. Elliott granted Wright's request that Kerry no longer be assigned to operations under his command.
Wright remembers that Kerry would disappear without warning on multiboat operations. He recalls that Kerry's boat had poor fire discipline and would open fire without prior clearance or apparent reason.
"John Kerry's leadership and operational style were different from mine," Wright said in a written statement in April. "I can see how his crew thought he was a hero, but it seemed like he was a hero fighting out of situations he shouldn't have been in to begin with. I had a lot of trouble getting him to follow orders.
"You had to be right, and you had to have fire discipline. You couldn't blame something on the rules of engagement."
George Bates, another officer in Coastal Division 11, participated in numerous operations with Kerry from January 1969 to March 1969.
In Bates' view, Kerry was a coward who overreacted with deadly force when he felt threatened. Bates, a retired Navy captain, believed that Kerry treated the South Vietnamese in an almost criminal manner.
Bates is haunted by a particular patrol with Kerry on the Song Bo De River in early 1969. With Kerry in the lead, their Swift Boats approached a small hamlet with three to four grass huts. Pigs and chickens were milling around.
As the boats drew closer, the villagers fled. There were no political symbols or flags in evidence. It was obvious to Bates that existing policies, decency and good sense required the boats simply to move on.
Instead, Kerry beached his boat. Upon his command, numerous small animals were slaughtered by heavy-caliber machine guns. Acting more like a pirate than a naval officer, Kerry disembarked and ran around with a Zippo lighter, burning up the entire hamlet.
Bates was appalled by the hypocrisy of Kerry's quick shift to the role of a peace activist condemning war crimes upon his return home. Even today, Bates describes Kerry as a man without a conscience.
Whether one believes Kerry's or Gardner's version of the sampan debacle, Kerry's boat was ultimately responsible. The fishing vessel could not possibly have escaped given the vast disparity in speed between sampans and Swift Boats.
No discussion of the incident can be found on Kerry's campaign Web site, nor is there any official document of it among those Navy service records that Kerry has made public.
Gardner's testimony and the quarterly report quoted above both indicate Kerry's PCF 44 picked up the surviving woman and her baby, whom Kerry's after-action report described as captured Viet Cong. Yet no record indicates what became of the woman or the child when Kerry's boat returned to shore.
The squad of four fleeing Viet Cong existed only in Kerry's imagination and in his written report. It does not exist in Brinkley's "Tour of Duty," or in Kerry's statements to Boston Globe reporter Michael Kranish, or in Kerry's secret journal, or in any recollection of anyone.
Kerry's victory exists only in Kerry's mind. Nonetheless, he succeeded in pulling off this fraud until the recent comparison of records.
•Copyright 2004 by John E. O'Neill and Jerome L. Corsi.
Read it, remember it. Kerry is a lying piece of human waste. He is a coward and a murderer. He is not a war hero, he is a FAKE!
Military records counter a Kerry critic
Fellow skipper's citation refers to enemy fire
By Michael Dobbs
The Washington Post
Updated: 11:12 p.m. ET Aug. 18, 2004
Newly obtained military records of one of Sen. John F. Kerry's most vocal critics, who has accused the Democratic presidential candidate of lying about his wartime record to win medals, contradict his own version of events.
In newspaper interviews and a best-selling book, Larry Thurlow, who commanded a Navy Swift boat alongside Kerry in Vietnam, has strongly disputed Kerry's claim that the Massachusetts Democrat's boat came under fire during a mission in Viet Cong-controlled territory on March 13, 1969. Kerry won a Bronze Star for his actions that day.
But Thurlow's military records, portions of which were released yesterday to The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, contain several references to "enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire" directed at "all units" of the five-boat flotilla. Thurlow won his own Bronze Star that day, and the citation praises him for providing assistance to a damaged Swift boat "despite enemy bullets flying about him."
As one of five Swift boat skippers who led the raid up the Bay Hap River, Thurlow was a direct participant in the disputed events. He is also a leading member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a public advocacy group of Vietnam veterans dismayed by Kerry's subsequent antiwar activities, which has aired a controversial television advertisement attacking his war record.
In interviews and written reminiscences, Kerry has described how his 50-foot patrol boat came under fire from the banks of the Bay Hap after a mine explosion disabled another U.S. patrol boat. According to Kerry and members of his crew, the firing continued as an injured Kerry leaned over the bow of his ship to rescue a Special Forces officer who was blown overboard in a second explosion.
'Constant enemy small arms fire'
Last month, Thurlow swore in an affidavit that Kerry was "not under fire" when he fished Lt. James Rassmann out of the water. He described Kerry's Bronze Star citation, which says that all units involved came under "small arms and automatic weapons fire," as "totally fabricated."
"I never heard a shot," Thurlow said in his affidavit, which was released by Swift Boats Veterans for Truth. The group claims the backing of more than 250 Vietnam veterans, including a majority of Kerry's fellow boat commanders.
A document recommending Thurlow for the Bronze Star noted that all his actions "took place under constant enemy small arms fire which LTJG THURLOW completely ignored in providing immediate assistance" to the disabled boat and its crew. The citation states that all other units in the flotilla also came under fire.
"It's like a Hollywood presentation here, which wasn't the case," Thurlow said last night after being read the full text of his Bronze Star citation. "My personal feeling was always that I got the award for coming to the rescue of the boat that was mined. This casts doubt on anybody's awards. It is sickening and disgusting."
Thurlow said he would consider his award "fraudulent" if coming under enemy fire was the basis for it. "I am here to state that we weren't under fire," he said. He speculated that Kerry could have been the source of at least some of the language used in the citation.
In a telephone interview Tuesday evening after he attended a Swift Boat Veterans strategy session in an Arlington hotel, Thurlow said he lost his Bronze Star citation more than 20 years ago. He said he was unwilling to authorize release of his military records because he feared attempts by the Kerry campaign to discredit him and other anti-Kerry veterans.
The Post filed an independent request for the documents with the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which is the central repository for veterans' records. The documents were faxed to The Post by officials at the records center yesterday.
Thurlow and other anti-Kerry veterans have repeatedly alleged that Kerry was the author of an after-action report that described how his boat came under enemy fire. Kerry campaign researchers dispute that assertion, and there is no convincing documentary evidence to settle the argument. As the senior skipper in the flotilla, Thurlow might have been expected to write the after-action report for March 13, but he said that Kerry routinely "duked the system" to present his version of events.
For much of the episode, Kerry was not in a position to know firsthand what was happening on Thurlow's boat, as Kerry's boat had sped down the river after the mine exploded under another boat. He later returned to provide assistance to the stricken boat.
Thurlow, an oil industry worker and former teacher in Kansas, said he was angry with Kerry for his antiwar activities on his return to the United States and particularly Kerry's claim before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that U.S. troops in Vietnam had committed war crimes "with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."
Anti-Kerry TV ad
" 'Upset' is too mild a word," said Thurlow, a registered Republican, of his reaction to Kerry then. "He did it strictly for his own personal political gain, and it directly affected every single one of us as we were trying to put our lives together."
Two other Swift boat skippers who were direct participants in the March 13, 1969, mine explosion on the Bay Hap, Jack Chenoweth and Richard Pees, have said they do not remember coming under "enemy fire." A fourth commander, Don Droz, who was one of Kerry's closest friends in Vietnam, was killed in action a month later.
The incident featured prominently in an anti-Kerry television ad produced by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth earlier this month. "John Kerry lied to get his Bronze Star," says Van Odell, a gunner on PCF-23, one of the boats that came to the rescue of the stricken boat. "I know. I was there."
The Bronze Star controversy is also a major focus of an anti-Kerry book by John E. O'Neill, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," which will hit No. 2 on The Post's bestseller list this weekend. The book accuses Kerry of "fleeing the scene" and lying repeatedly about his role.
Members of Kerry's crew have come to his defense, as has Rassmann, the Special Forces officer whom he fished from the river. Rassmann says he has vivid memories of being fired at from both banks after he fell into the river and as Kerry came to his rescue. The two had an emotional reunion on the eve of the Iowa Democratic caucuses in January, an event that some political analysts believe helped swing votes to Kerry at a crucial time.
The Bronze Star recommendations for both Kerry and Thurlow were signed by Lt. Cmdr. George M. Elliott, who received reports on the incident from his base in the Gulf of Thailand. Elliott is a supporter of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and has questioned Kerry's actions in Vietnam. But he has refused repeated requests for an interview after issuing conflicting statements to the Boston Globe about whether Kerry deserved a Silver Star. He was unreachable last night.
Money has poured into Swift Boat Veterans for Truth since the group launched its television advertisement attacking Kerry earlier this month. According to O'Neill, the group has received more than $450,000 over the past two weeks, mainly in small contributions. The Dallas Morning News reported yesterday that the organization has also received two $100,000 checks from Houston home builder Bob Perry, who backed George W. Bush's campaigns for Texas governor and for president.
Bush campaign officials have said they have no connection to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which is not permitted to coordinate its activities with a presidential campaign under federal election law.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
That is unrelated to the subject of the article I posted. Different incident.
Bumped for the night crew.