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August 9, 2004
Christmas In Cambodia, Part IV: Patrol Or Tourist?

Longtime CQ reader Retired Military points out yet another article with yet another version of the Christmas in Cambodia story from John Kerry. Kerry had long insisted that he was ordered to patrol in Cambodian waters, and spoke of his disillusionment with the war and how it kindled when he heard the president deny that any servicemen were in Cambodia on Christmas Eve, 1968, while he patrolled their waters. He claims that the moment was "seared into his memory," an embittered recollection that would cause him to protest the war and American actions in it on his return to the US.

However, in June 2003, as part of a profile written by Michael Kranish (a name that keeps popping up in Kerry mythmaking), John Kerry tells the Boston Globe that his patrol area was within South Viet Nam -- and he only went into Cambodia to chase down attackers:

The Christmas Eve truce of 1968 was three minutes old when mortar fire exploded around John Forbes Kerry and his five-man crew on a 50-foot aluminum boat near Cambodia. ''Where is the enemy?'' a crewmate shouted.

In the distance, an elderly man was tending his water buffalo -- and serving as human cover for a dozen Viet Cong manning a machine-gun nest.

"Open fire; let's take 'em," Kerry ordered, according to his second-in-command, James Wasser of Illinois. Wasser blasted away with his M-60, hitting the old man, who slumped into the water, presumably dead. With a clear path to the enemy, the fusillade from Kerry's Navy boat, backed by a pair of other small vessels, silenced the machine-gun nest.

When it was over, the Viet Cong were dead, wounded, or on the run. A civilian apparently was killed, and two South Vietnamese allies who had alerted Kerry's crew to the enemy were either wounded or killed.

On the same night, Kerry and his crew had come within a half-inch of being killed by "friendly fire," when some South Vietnamese allies launched several rounds into the river to celebrate the holiday.

To top it off, Kerry said, he had gone several miles inside Cambodia, which theoretically was off limits, prompting Kerry to send a sarcastic message to his superiors that he was writing from the Navy's "most inland" unit.

Back at his base, a weary, disconsolate Kerry sat at his typewriter, as he often did, and poured out his grief. "You hope that they'll courtmartial you or something because that would make sense," Kerry typed that night. He would later recall using court-martial as "a joke," because nothing made sense to him -- the war policy, the deaths, and his presence in the middle of it all.

This narrative makes clear that Kerry disobeyed orders in order to continue his attack, if it happened at all. Otherwise, why would he have sat at his desk hoping to be court-martialed? Compare this to his statement to the Senate in 1986, when his seared-in memory of sitting on a patrol boat in Cambodia, listening to the US president deny he was there embittered him against the war.

Inconsistencies? You bet:

1. Given this account of his Christman in Cambodia, the president (whichever one) couldn't possibly have known of his incursion into Cambodia, since no one authorized it, and even Kerry somewhat hoped to get court-martialed for it.

2. Pushing his Swiftboat into hostile territory to chase down the VC, when would Kerry have time to listen in on American Armed Forces radio? If so, who commanded the boat while he listened to the radio?

3. Wouldn't it be incredibly stupid to have the radio on while trying to engage the enemy on a clandestine mission inside unauthorized territory?

Kerry's story keeps changing over the years -- and the changes are significant, not just minor details. His Christmas in Cambodia myth has had him at various times doing routine patrols to a reckless disregard of orders to complete an engagement. In both cases, having a radio on would almost be equivalent to shouting over a bullhorn that Americans were on the river. It doesn't add up, and neither does Kerry.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 9, 2004 7:37 AM

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» Xmas in Cambodia from The Key Monk
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