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August 22, 2004
Newsweek: Kerry's Bronze Star Story Doesn't Hold Water

In the latest edition of Newsweek, reporters Evan Thomas and T. Trent Gegax take on the story of John Kerry's Bronze Star engagement of 13 March 1969 and write a fairly balanced article describing the controversy and the effect it has had on the Kerry campaign. In the middle of the article, Newsweek notes an interesting change of story from Del Sandusky, one of Kerry's crew (emph. mine):

As sailors who weren't on Kerry's boat tell the story of what happened on March 13, 1969, Kerry did nothing very heroic. That day Kerry was leading five boats back from a mission up the Bay Hap River. Encountering a fishing net across the canal, the boats split. Kerry and one other boat went through a gap near the right bank, and the other three boats headed through an opening on the left. Suddenly, the lead boat on the left, some 25 yards away from Kerry's boat, hit a mine and stopped dead in the water. All the American boats opened up with machine gun fire, hosing down the shoreline. The firing stopped after about 40 seconds, according to the Swift Boat vets, when they realized that no one was shooting back. Kerry, they say, had roared ahead and then turned back to pick up a soldier who had fallen off his boat. When Kerry pulled the man out of the river, they claimed, no one was shooting.

Del Sandusky, the man steering Kerry's boat, told a different version to NEWSWEEK. He says his boat was jarred by an explosion, probably from a rocket, knocking the soldier, Jim Rassmann, off the boat. Kerry was thrown against the bulkhead, injuring his arm. Sandusky says he could see muzzle flashes from the jungle and bullets skimming across the water. Sandusky says he can't remember if anyone was still shooting when Kerry pulled Rassmann from the river, but in any case, the boat was banged up and taking on water. An official report made available to NEWSWEEK shows windows blown out and the engine and steering damaged; it's unclear from the report when the damage happened.

Sandusky's story presents a problem for the Kerry narrative -- he received his commendation for retrieving Rassmann under enemy fire, not for coming back after the shooting stopped. Not only that, but as I mentioned last Friday, here is the complete damage report for PCF-94:

BRAVO: ... 2. PCF not capable of executing Market Time Patrol. ...

DELTA: Two stbd and one port main cabin windows blown out. VRC-46 radio and all remote units pilot house inop. AC wiring shorted out. Onan generator inop. Steerage control after helm inop. Stbd bilge pump broken. Screws curled and chipped. Radar gear box frozen. Main engines experienced RPM drop.

Not one mention of a single bullet hole, despite Kerry's contention on his website that he turned his boat back into hostile fire to rescue Rassmann:

Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry directed his gunners to provide suppressing fire, while from an exposed position on the bow, his arm bleeding and in pain and with disregard for his safety, he pulled the man aboard. Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry then directed his boat to return and assist the other damaged boat to safety.

Again I ask -- how does a boat that has curled screws, engines power diminished, no AC power or generator on line, and no radio communication manage to get back to Rassman to pull him out of the water, and how does such a boat tow another back to harbor? These boats aren't dinghies, after all; they're 50-footers with some heavy equipment on board. Some speculate that the damage assessment for PCF-94 got confused with PCF-3, but now we have Sandusky claiming that PCF-94 was "taking on water", even though the patrol selected it to tow PCF-3 back to base. And how exactly could the boat be taking on water when the damage report doesn't include and hull breaches?

And how exactly could all that damage be repaired in five days? The COSDIV11 chronology shows this action for 18 March:

PCFs 5, 9, 44, 72, and 94 conducted operations on the Cua Lon River destroying 41 sampans and 5 structures.

That's a might quick recovery time for a boat whose engines were damaged, AC systems shot, generator inoperative, steerage control useless, and screws curled and chipped. PCF-94 also patrols on 19 March, 20 March, 23 March, and 26 March, and so on.

Sandusky told Newsweek that PCF-94 was taking on water, but Kerry's stories don't seem to hold much water on their own.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 22, 2004 10:39 AM

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» Newsweek examines Kerry's Bronze Star and the Bay Hap River action; Sandusky backtracks on enemy fire from BeldarBlog
In its latest issue, another news weekly, Newsweek, begins to look closely at the Bay Hap River action out of which Kerry's Bronze Star was awarded, and offers this new bit to the mix: Del Sandusky, the man steering Kerry's boat, told a different versi... [Read More]

Tracked on August 22, 2004 12:45 PM

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