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Byron York of the National Review Online interviewed Fred Short in his investigation of the David Alston story, and Short gave his recollection that Alston returned to John Kerry's unit on or after 4 March. Earlier today, I gave Short the benefit of the doubt, because I didn't believe that Short had any particular axe to grind, except for his support for John Kerry. In the end, that testimony proves the specific points Tom "River Rat" Mortensen, The Bandit, and I (along with readers like Lori) have made about the lies built into the stories told by Alston and Kerry. Alston didn't take part in the action on 28 February and Kerry was not on PCF-94 on 29 January, as both had claimed since at least May 2002.
However, an anonymous reader sent me a link to an AP story, still available at Fox News, which throws some doubt on Short as a credible witness. Short gave an interview on April 29, 2003, in support of John Kerry in the early days of the campaign. In that interview, Short wildly exaggerated the ambush that Kerry fought through on 13 March:
Short recalled the third of three ambushes on their group of boats on March 4, 1969, when his twin 50-caliber machine guns couldn't tilt low enough to shoot a Viet Cong soldier lying in a ditch, aiming a rocket launcher at their boat.
"We were in a small canal and normally we would have tried to exit, but Mr. Kerry ordered us to charge," Short said. "While I shot high, he and Tommy Bellodeau charged under me, right at the guy, and we routed them. That's why Mr. Kerry won the Silver Star."
Short said the crew avoided any casualties, even though 800 of 900 American troops caught in that zone died that day [emph mine -- CE]. He said it was a few weeks later, April 28, 1969, that he finished his tour and last saluted Kerry.
The casualty counts in Short's story boggle the imagination. We lost over 58,000 men and women in almost a decade of fighting, and in the worst year, we lost 16,000 (1968). The worst week for KIA was 10-17 February 1968, when we lost 543. Short's assertion that we lost 800 in a single engagement is so outrageous that it goes beyond mere embellishment -- it's either a separation from reality, or another deliberate falsification in order to burnish Kerry's leadership credentials.
In fact, the ten worst engagements in terms of KIA were:
Ia Drang Valley..........300...........10/23/65 - 11/26/65
Khe Sanh.................205...........1/20/68 - 4/14/68
Dak To...................192...........11/1/67 - 12/1/67
Cu Nghi..................121...........1/28/66 - 1/31/66
Hue......................119...........2/2/68 - 3/2/68
Kim Son Valley...........107...........2/16/66 - 2/28/66
Con Thien(ambush near)....84...........7/2/67
"Nine Days in May"........79...........5/18/67 - 2/28/67
Vinh Huy..................73...........5/30/67 - 6/2/67
Not only would Short's description would have topped this list, but it would have almost tripled its nearest competitor. 800 casualties in a single engagement in 1969 would have amounted to almost 8% of all KIA for the year.
Even beyond this incredible embellishment, Short makes a very obvious factual error in the interview. He has his last day of service in Viet Nam as 28 April 1969, which one would assume a man would remember; you could reasonably expect it to be "seared" into his memory. However, he told the AP reporter that 28 April 1969 was the "last day he saluted Kerry," a nice rhetorical flourish. Unfortunately for Short, Kerry wasn't in Viet Nam to return the salute. Kerry left Viet Nam on 17 March 1969 after leveraging his third Purple Heart into a transfer stateside, either on his own (Kerry's version) or by persuasion (some SBVT reports).
None of this means Short lied, and indeed, the wild nature of his claims doesn't really help anyone out. It does, however, have some bearing to his reliability as a witness.
UPDATE: Thanks to alert reader Tom Howard for pointing out a searchable database for Viet Nam casualties. According to this database, there were 45 hostile-fire deaths for all branches of the service on 28 February 1969 in the entire country of Viet Nam. (You may need to reload the search to get the results.)Sphere It View blog reactions
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