December 19, 2008

Swiftboat, Part IV

In the comments of my previous missive, and as argument with my position that the tales of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were falsehoods perpetrated in a scandalous attempt to rig an election, a gentleman calling himself Old Man states the following:

"I have yet to see any evidence to the contrary of the SBV claims. Surely there is some documentary or even anecdotal evidence refuting the charges"

The letter quoted below is written by some of Kerrys crewmates in response to a challenge by T. Boone Pickins. Mr. Pickins, a wealthy Texas oilman, who offered $1 million to anyone who could offer evidence contradicting the allegations made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The signatories of this letter, along with the documentation supplied, more than answered the challenge. The letter is very long so I've published it in sections over several days. This is the 4th post, containing responses to falsehoods 5 - 7.
Fifth falsehood: In hopes of diminishing Kerry’s (and our) achievement still further, your group asserts that not only was the VC killed by Kerry a “lone, wounded, fleeing young Viet Cong” (Unfit, p. 84) but no sizeable enemy force was present beyond this supposedly pathetic individual and the environment was one of “little or no fire.” As eyewitnesses, all of us signed below can tell you this is categorically false. Among our collective observations: multiple VC scrambling to get away and a half dozen or so enemy KIA at the site of the first beaching (Hirschler, who went ashore there); and a rocket attack and fire from both banks (Thorson and others) at the site of the second. We note also that Bill Rood wrote in the article cited above that there were multiple VC at the site where Kerry and one of us (Medeiros) got off the boat and chased the VC with the rocket launcher:

“It was not the work of just one attacker.” You do not need to take our word for it, however. Incredibly, the only member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who was there on 28 February, 1969 has testified the exact opposite of what you allege. Larry Lee, a crewman on PCF-23, has publicly said: “I have no problems with [Kerry] getting the Silver Star,” because he recognizes the courage shown by Kerry in the event. [Courier-Journal (Louisville), 8/26/04] Then there are the Vietnamese eyewitnesses located by Nightline. “Tam,” a VC commander during the war, says at least twenty Vietcong were in the village, including an elite 12-man squad sent specifically to target Swift boats. According to the villagers, seven of their local men died fighting our forces that day.

The official Navy records likewise debunk the claim that the enemy consisted of a single combatant. The after action report, based on the debriefing of all present and drafted/submitted by the senior officer on the Coast Guard Cutter, records “heavy small arms fire” preceding the first charge of the bank and three confirmed enemy dead even before the troops were landed and the “enemy was overrun.”

The second charge of the bank—the one involving Kerry’s chase of the VC—came in the face of “heavy small arms fire” and a rocket attack, with “sniper fire” and “small arms fire” also present, per the report. As always, in any military operation, those present were debriefed by a senior officer responsible and the report prepared on that basis. The citations accompanying the Bronze Star Medals awarded Don Droz, Tom Belodeau, and Mike Medeiros speak of their heroic achievement under “a barrage of enemy small arms fire” and “heavy automatic/semi-automatic weapons fire.” Additionally, there are photographic images of other dead VC taken after the ambush had been suppressed, evidence we will show you. Most importantly, we the men who were there at the time are telling you now, today, that we were under fire from multiple sources and that events happened on 28 February, 1969 exactly as set out in the records.

Sixth falsehood: In addition to lumping together a group of false assertions, as above, your group sought to denigrate our achievement and that of John Kerry through phony allegations about the tactical wisdom of turning the boat into the beach and the circumstances of how it came about. Depending on what serves your purposes, you sometimes claim the operation was reckless and a wanton endangerment of our lives, even as elsewhere you dismiss it as a preplanned operation involving no more than mere ordinary degrees of courage. Your claims contradict each other on this point, so both cannot be true. In reality, neither is.

There was no “plan” to charge the bank that particular day. During their tours, officers and men often had discussions about tactics, real and speculative. For us, some of these included the idea that charging the bank could be an effective—if unorthodox—way to take the fight to the enemy in the face of a small arms ambush. After an ambush preceding this event, LTJG Kerry and several members of our crew inspected “spider holes” on the river bank and saw firsthand how the enemy used them to duck down to avoid our return fire. LTJG Kerry did indeed have conversations with the other officers and men on these boats to explore the possibility of employing this new tactic–if the circumstances were right because he was convinced it might be a more effective way of beating the enemy. He proved correct. There was no predetermination as to where or when those right circumstances might present themselves. The choice was in this case totally Lt. Kerry’s discretion. As Officer in Tactical Command, he alone chose to employthe tactic on 28 February, 1969, because he judged the circumstances were right for it. And about this he was also correct.

Seventh falsehood: It would be inappropriate for us personally to show the lie of your group’s assertion that our actions required only an ordinary degree of courage and were militarily insignificant. They really need no further rebuttal in light of the extensive factual discussion above, but we forcefully and happily note that none other than Admiral Zumwalt, Commander of all Naval Forces in Vietnam, differed with you, saying this event “stood out among heroes as acts of total heroism.” And not only did LTJG Kerry’s immediate Commander at the time, George Elliott, praise him for his leadership and tactical thinking, but none other than Captain Roy Hoffmann personally sent a message of congratulations to the officers and men for a “shining example of completely overwhelming enemy forces”, ate breakfast with LTJG Kerry the morning of the awards ceremony and flew with him together with Admiral Zumwalt to An Thoi to join in the awarding of medals for the accomplishments of PCFs 23, 43, and 94 and their crews. In fact, in Commander Elliott’s evaluation of LTJG Kerry, which was publicly available at the time of these smears, he stated:

“In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action LTJG Kerry was unsurpassed. He constantly reviewed tactics and lessons learned in river operations and applied his experience at every opportunity. On one occasion while in tactical command of a three boat operation his units were taken under fire from ambush. LTJG Kerry rapidly assessed the situation and ordered his units to turn directly into the ambush. This decision resulted in routing the attackers with several enemy KIA. LTJG Kerry emerges as the acknowledged leader in his peer group…”

Likewise, then Captain Hoffmann was so pleased with this operation he sent a message up and down the chain of command stating:

1. The extremely successful raid and land sweep conducted along the Rach Dong Cung which demonstrated superb coordination and aggressive tactics stands as a shining example of completely overwhelming the enemy.

2. The tactic of attack and assault thoroughly surprised the enemy in his spider holes and proved to be immensely effective in rousting him into the open. This devastating application of the firepower of the Swifts may be the most efficacious method of dealing with small numbers of ambushers….

3. This operation did unreparable (sic) damage to the enemy in this area. Well done.

It was precisely because of his leadership, direction and coordination of this raid in its entirety that LTJG Kerry was awarded the Silver Star – not simply his courage in chasing an enemy with a loaded rocket launcher and killing him. And it was our execution of his orders and effectiveness at twice charging and overrunning an enemy ambush position – something no other Swift boat crew had done – that earned us our decorations. Captain Hoffmann’s message makes clear the immediate high regard this action was held in. More important, the fact that the Admiral in Command of all Naval Forces in Vietnam saw fit to personally intervene and, within days of the ambush, fly to An Thoi solely to make these awards, states in no uncertain terms the significance of the action. You and SBVT recklessly set out to portray this unique tactic and major naval success as something less than what it was. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and you should be ashamed for engaging in this indefensible tactic.