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August 10, 2004
Rassman Shoots Back, Readers Question His Presence

Jim Rassman, the Kerry campaign mainstay who reminds everyone that the young lieutenant saved his life under fire, attempts to return the favor in today's Wall Street Journal On Line. Rassman attempts to do this with a handy bit of misdirection and a few ad hominem attacks on the Swiftvets, in whose company he spent a few days back in 1969:

While returning from a SEA LORDS operation along the Bay Hap River, a mine detonated under another swift boat. Machine-gun fire erupted from both banks of the river, and a second explosion followed moments later. The second blast blew me off John's swift boat, PCF-94, throwing me into the river. Fearing that the other boats would run me over, I swam to the bottom of the river and stayed there as long as I could hold my breath.

When I surfaced, all the swift boats had left, and I was alone taking fire from both banks. To avoid the incoming fire, I repeatedly swam under water as long as I could hold my breath, attempting to make it to the north bank of the river. I thought I would die right there. The odds were against me avoiding the incoming fire and, even if I made it out of the river, I thought I'd be captured and executed. Kerry must have seen me in the water and directed his driver, Del Sandusky, to turn the boat around. Kerry's boat ran up to me in the water, bow on, and I was able to climb up a cargo net to the lip of the deck. But, because I was nearly upside down, I couldn't make it over the edge of the deck. This left me hanging out in the open, a perfect target. John, already wounded by the explosion that threw me off his boat, came out onto the bow, exposing himself to the fire directed at us from the jungle, and pulled me aboard.

For his actions that day, I recommended John for the Silver Star, our country's third highest award for bravery under fire. I learned only this past January that the Navy awarded John the Bronze Star with Combat V for his valor. The citation for this award, signed by the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam, Vice Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, read, "Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry's calmness, professionalism and great personal courage under fire were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service." To this day I am grateful to John Kerry for saving my life. And to this day I still believe that he deserved the Silver Star for his courage.

Rassman then goes on to excoriate the more than 200 veterans who served in Kerry's unit for the months before, during, and after his abbreviated tour of duty as liars and partisan hacks. Rassman notes that he has voted "largely Republican" most of his life, but presumes that the Swiftvets are all of the same diabolical VRWC first exposed by Hillary Clinton:

Now, 35 years after the fact, some Republican-financed Swift Boat Veterans for Bush are suddenly lying about John Kerry's service in Vietnam; they are calling him a traitor because he spoke out against the Nixon administration's failed policies in Vietnam. Some of these Republican-sponsored veterans are the same ones who spoke out against John at the behest of the Nixon administration in 1971. But this time their attacks are more vicious, their lies cut deep and are directed not just at John Kerry, but at me and each of his crewmates as well. This hate-filled ad asserts that I was not under fire; it questions my words and Navy records. This smear campaign has been launched by people without decency, people who don't understand the bond of those who serve in combat.

People who don't understand the bond of those who serve in combat? The Swiftvets number more than 200 men who did serve together in combat -- and in fact served together for far longer than Rassman did with Kerry. The notion that this underfinanced group of Viet Nam veterans (who only raised $150,000) somehow represents the spearpoint of a huge Republican smear machine attack is laughable. Rassman wants us to take his word based on his combat experience, but then denigrates hundreds of other combat veterans as unworthy of speaking their minds about a colleague they knew a hell of a lot better than he did.

Rassman is correct in one point in his essay. In their response to John Kerry's threat to sue them into silence, the Swiftvets indicate tha the incident for which Kerry won that Bronze Star included no enemy fire at the time of the rescue, that the disabling fire came from a mine and not enemy fire, and they also indicate that they have evidence to back that claim up. If true, it does undermine Rassman's credibility, even if it just means that he was too dazed to understand what the circumstances of his rescue really was:

As recounted in the attached affidavits of three on-scene participants (and verified by many others present) Kerry's operating report, Bronze Star story, and subsequent "no man left behind" story are a total hoax on the Navy and the nation. As recounted in the affidavits of Van Odell (Exhibit 6), Jack Chenoweth (Exhibit 7), and Larry Thurlow (Exhibit 10) (and verified by every other officer present and many others), a mine went off under PCF 3 -- some yards from Kerry's boat. The force of the explosion disabled PCF 3 and knocked several sailors, dazed, into the water. All boats, except one, closed to rescue the sailors and defend the disabled boat. That boat -- Kerry's boat -- fled the scene. After a short period, it was evident to all on the scene that there was no additional hostile fire. Thurlow began the daring rescue of disabled PCF 3, while Chenoweth began to pluck dazed survivors of PCF 3 from the water. Midway through the process, after it was apparent that there was no hostile fire, Kerry finally returned, picking up Rassman who was only a few yards from Chenoweth's boat which was also going to pick Rassman up. Each of the affiants (and many other Swiftees on the scene that day) are certain that Kerry has wholly lied about the incident. Consider this: How could the disabled PCF abandon the scene of the mine? Why did Kerry have to "return" to the scene?

A CQ reader who wishes to remain anonymous sent this over to me this morning. The reader claims that he had Special Forces experience in Viet Nam and has this to say about Rassman:

There are a lot of angles to the Kerry saga. I doubt anyone gets to every question, but some are compelling to me. The question that goes begging today is why was Rassman there at all?

I don't believe SF will take an official position on this, so I'll post what I have heard. I have never bad mouthed fellow SFers before, but I do have these comments from some sources I trust.

Rassman was reportedly the Asst S-1, which means he was the assistant admininistrative officer. Not exactly a key sought after job for an SF officer LOL. In fact I don't recall knowing of any official Asst S-1 officer slots in the field. Jobs like that are created to keep idiots off the teams.

He was supposedly in charge of awards and decorations (A&D) in a field unit. SF didn't issue many, so it was hardly a taxing assignment. The man doing that job at SF HQ RVN was a Sergeant. Giving it to an officer in a field unit as a primary duty is beyond unusual.

He was probably AWOL when he was with Kerry. At best someone may have said, OK go, just to get him out of the way.

My comments and speculation.

If Rassman was an A&D clerk, his knowledge of how to get awards approved was probably very interesting to Kerry. Since reports indicate he wrote the citation for Kerry's SS, I believe this speculation is well-founded.

And how does an SF LT fall out of a 50' boat? I have been through days and weeks of small boat training and drills, we never had anyone fall out.

Rassman says he was under fire. Anytime anyone was shooting within 50 yds of me I always assumed I was the target until I could prove otherwise. Rassman could not do that while in the drink. I will take the word of the other boat crews that there was no enemy fire at all. They had the best view to assess the situation. My mind keeps going back to Rassman's A&D job. He knew if there was no enemy fire there would be no award citations.

This entire operation smells bad to me. Kerry was in command he gets credit for everything his unit did and everything it failed to do. The Swiftvets are getting heavy pressure and questioning. I would like to see a reporter question Rassman in detail.

To me, the Bronze Star story is really the least of Kerry's problems. However, if the official after-action reports ever come out from the other teams there that day, it may prove rather embarrassing for Rassman, regardless of how many times he can say Spaeth Communications and John McCain in a 1500-word essay. And that's really the crux of the matter: we need to see the entire file on John Kerry to determine who's telling the truth. Is it John Kerry and a handful of people, or over 200 combat veterans who were also there and saw him in action?

Until John Kerry releases his complete military records, the credibility of the Swiftvets will continue to grow. As long as Kerry keeps answering their well-documented allegations with nothing but intimidation tactics, his credibility will be completely suspect. Jim Rassman cannot save John Kerry from himself.

UPDATE: CQ reader Jack wonders if he's missing something. It appears that Rassman has told different stories about this Bronze Star incident. Story 1, January 2004 -- he's on a boat following the one Kerry commanded:

Former Lieutenant John Kerry was reunited today with fellow Vietnam veteran Jim Rassman, who says Kerry saved his life during combat.

On March 13, 1969, Rassman, a Green Beret, was traveling down the Bay Hap river in a boat behind Kerrys when both were ambushed by exploding land mines and enemy fire coming from the shore. Kerry was hit in the arm, while a mine blew Rassmans boat out of the water. With enemy fire coming from both sides of the river and swift boats evacuating from the area, Kerrys crew chose to turn their boat toward the ambush to save Rassman.

Story 2, today's WSJ -- Rassman was on Kerry's boat:

While returning from a SEA LORDS operation along the Bay Hap River, a mine detonated under another swift boat. Machine-gun fire erupted from both banks of the river, and a second explosion followed moments later. The second blast blew me off John's swift boat, PCF-94, throwing me into the river. Fearing that the other boats would run me over, I swam to the bottom of the river and stayed there as long as I could hold my breath.

Well, which was it? Was Rassman on Kerry's boat at the beginning of the action, or on another boat? I would assume that the first version would be the most reliable, but it would also detract from Rassman's contention that he "served" with Kerry.

Beldar also gives Rassman a fisking.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 10, 2004 9:56 AM

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