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Now that John Kerry's Viet Nam narrative, which once formed the center of his campaign, has come under a sort of peer review, major and minor inconsistencies keep popping up more often than VC the Wonder Dog. CQ reader Sam Conner notes another one, and in light of speculation about Kerry's Cambodian adventures, it bears investigation.
Kerry's last combat mission has widely been considered his Bronze Star engagement of 13 March, the same mission where he rescued Jim Rassmann from the river and sustained an injury to his arm or shoulder. According to the timeline on the Kerry campaign site, this mission came four days before he put in his request to be reassigned based on his three Purple Hearts. No other combat missions are listed. In the Boston Globe article written by Michael Kranish on June 16, 2003, at the start of Kerry's campaign for president, Kranish confirms the account:
Kerry had been wounded three times and received three Purple Hearts. Asked about the severity of the wounds, Kerry said that one of them cost him about two days of service, and that the other two did not interrupt his duty. "Walking wounded," as Kerry put it. A shrapnel wound in his left arm gave Kerry pain for years. Kerry declined a request from the Globe to sign a waiver authorizing the release of military documents that are covered under the Privacy Act and that might shed more light on the extent of the treatment Kerry needed as a result of the wounds. ...
But Kerry thought he had seen and done enough. The rules, he said, allowed a thrice-wounded soldier to return to the United States immediately. So Kerry went to talk to Commodore Charles F. Horne, an administrative official and commander of the coastal squadron in which Kerry served. Horne filled out a document on March 17, 1969, that said Kerry "has been thrice wounded in action while on duty incountry Vietnam. Reassignment is requested ... as a personal aide in Boston, New York, or Wash., D.C. area."
However, official Kerry biographer and historian Douglas Brinkley tells a different story. On pages 323-328 of Tour of Duty, Brinkley writes several passages that offer contradictory passages to a number of assertions in the Kerry narrative, mostly having to do with Cambodia and Kerry's last date of combat. For instance, on page 323, Brinkley writes (emphasis mine):
Operation Menu [Nixon's secret air bombardment of the Cambodian border area] began March 18, 1969, and during the next four months 3,630 B-52 sorties dropped more than 100,000 tons of bombs within five miles of Cambodia's border with South Vietnam. Kerry and the other Swift crewmen running the rivers near Cambodia were stunned at their government's concentrated bombing campaign directed into a neutral country. Every time they had so much as fired an M-16 round into the Cambodian underbrush it seemed the U.S. State Department had received a complaint from Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
This passage casts John Kerry as Captain Louis Renault from Casablanca; after all, Kerry had run guns, SEALs, CIA, and Green Berets across the border into Cambodia, depending on when and where one heard Kerry tell his story. But on March 18, 1969, the day after he requests his three-hearts transfer to the states and the day after his last mission, he's shocked, shocked to see American military action against Cambodia?
On 324, the narrative continues:
...And that wasn't counting the Cambodian peasants killed by the Menu bombings. And all the while, Kerry's PCF-94 and its fellow Swifts in An Thoi went on dropping US Navy SEALs off along the Cambodian border to destroy Viet Cong base camps along "Bernique's Creek". Kerry described one such mission in his "War Notes":
The banks of the "Creek" whistled by as we churned out mile after mile at full speed. On my left there were occasional open fields that allowed us a clear view into Cambodia. At some points, the border was only fifty yards away and then it would meander out to a hundred or even as much as a thousand yards away, always making one wonder what lay on the other side ...
On occasion we had shot towards the border when provoked by a sniper or ambush but without fail this led to a formal reprimand by the Cambodian government and accusations of civilian slaughters and random killings by American "aggressors".
Kerry describes this mission as a participant, even though the Menu bombings took place after his last recorded mission, and at least the day after Horne signed his reassignment request. As I pointed out earlier on the blog, Kerry's curiosity about the other side of the border certainly implies he'd never been there up to this point. For the next several pages, Kerry relates a compelling narrative about going twenty knots in a canal in pitch-black night by hanging out the side of the PCF and telling Del Sandusky when Sandusky steered too close to the bank. He describes the trip on the river as going past the target point to drop the SEALs and disguising their intentions by traveling all the way to a fork, where one option could take them into Cambodia -- but they stopped, rested, and went back down the river instead, the way they'd come.
On Page 328, Brinkley notes that the clandestine mission was Kerry's last as commander of PCF-94 and the end of his Swift boat career; he was replaced the next day by another lieutenant.
All of Brinkley's version conflicts with both Kerry's own timeline on his website as well as Kranish's article for the Globe. Unfortunately, it also conflicts with the COSDIV 11 chronology, which gives the following descriptions of the next several missions of PCF-94 after the Bronze Star engagement of 13 March:
18 [March]: PCFs 5, 9, 44, 72 and 94 conducted operation on the Cua Lon River destroying 41 sampans and 5 structures.
19: The same 5 PCFs swept the Bo De and the Den Chin rivers destroying 43 bunkers, 67 structures, 49 sampans, and several motors.
20: PCFs 9, 31, 44, 72, 93, and 94 swept the Rach Giang destroying 43 bunkers and 10 structures.
23: PCFs 5, 9, 37, 93, and 94, working with UDT and KSF, destroyed the remaining fish trap barricades in the Bay Hap River along with 7 bunkers and 12 structures.
26: ... PCFs 21, 22, 66, and 94 returned to the Cua Lon that night and destroyed 4 sampans.
Only the entry for the 20th mentions "Bernique's Creek", and the results of that mission hardly sounds like a clandestine insertion mission for SEALs or CIA spooks. Not only that, but that date would have been 7 days after what Kerry and Kranish say was Kerry's last combat mission, while Brinkley's attribution of Kerry's story as his last mission would have had Kerry out two times between his Bronze Star engagement and his twenty-knots-in-the-moonless-dark encore appearance.
How many 'last missions' did Kerry have, anyway? Elvis didn't make this many comebacks. The obvious conclusion was that Kerry either misdated his "War Notes" or he simply made the whole thing up. Brinkley's anchoring the date to the start of the Menu bombings on 18 March strongly indicate the latter.
UPDATE: Man, Brinkley is really confused:
John Kerry's last mission in Vietnam was a deadly Swift boat patrol up the Bay Hap River where everything was ventured but nothing gained -- except another medal and more horrific memories.
March 13, 1969, would prove among the worst and best days John Kerry spent in Vietnam.
Remind me again -- he's a respected historian?Sphere It View blog reactions
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Tracked on August 26, 2004 1:31 AM
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