December 19, 2008

Swiftboat, Part V

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 5th and last post, containing responses to falsehoods 8 - 10.
Eighth Falsehood: Perhaps your group’s single most cynical lie was the deliberate deceit and misuse of Captain George Elliott, who was John Kerry’s commander at Coastal Division 11. In Vietnam and at all times up until SBVT’s slander in 2004, Captain Elliott expressed praise for John Kerry’s performance and service in Vietnam, in both authoritative Navy records and public statements, as detailed above and below. Despite deep disagreement with Senator Kerry over his testimony to Congress in 1971, Captain Elliott always separated Kerry’s service and ability as an officer from his views about the war.

Despite all this history, SBVT, without ever interviewing those present or otherwise checking the truth, enlisted Captain Elliott into signing a statement questioning LTJG Kerry’s award of the Silver Star by means of false “facts” concerning the nature and circumstances of the VC fighter Kerry personally killed and by falsely treating this encounter as the totality of the action. SBVT then featured this criticism in its first advertisement, as mentioned above. Asked about the total contradiction between SBVT claims and his own past endorsement of LTJG Kerry’s medals and service, Captain Elliott acknowledged he had made “a terrible mistake” in signing the affidavit SBVT prepared for him. [Veteran retracts criticism of Kerry,” Boston Globe, 8/6/04] He retracted his criticism on the Silver Star, including the false notion LTJG Kerry had shot the VC in the back and that retraction appeared in the press. (In an attempt at damage control, SBVT then crafted a second affidavit for Elliott, purporting to retract his retraction but which, when read closely, actually says nothing.) Captain Elliott is an honorable man highly regarded by the officers and men who served under him, including us and Senator Kerry. He deserved far better than to have been drawn into your group’s web of lies and deception for political gain.

Ninth falsehood: Not content to misstate the facts of the action on 28 February, 1969, and mischaracterize its effectiveness, your group next takes aim at the Navy awards process itself. Your group claims “virtually all documentation required for a Silver Star in 1969 is missing… [including] the nomination form for a Silver Star, the required official investigation, or the required statements of two witnesses.” (Unfit, p. 204-205) You falsely try to assert something wrong when nothing has ever been deemed, or could have been deemed, to be wrong. This particular innuendo is insulting to the United States Navy, to Admiral Elmo Zumwalt who personally made the award and ironically, to Captain Roy

Hoffmann who as we said attended and concurred in the award ceremony. Many of those in Coastal Division 11 not on patrol or duty were assembled at the ceremony on An Thoi while the crews and officers of PCF-23, PCF-43 and PCF-94 were all personally decorated and congratulated by Admiral Zumwalt, Captain Hoffmann and Commander Elliott. How totally ridiculous and insulting that despite his entire Chain of Command being present for and themselves making the award at a special ceremony at their base in Vietnam, you try to challenge the award for lack of documentation!

Your group’s underhanded tactic was definitively pre-refuted by Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Commander Naval Forces Vietnam. Responding to an earlier campaign smear on Senator Kerry, Zumwalt traveled to Massachusetts in 1996 to tell press and public that he had personally considered and authorized Kerry’s award. This is what he said at that time: “My firm recollection of that event is that in Saigon we believed he deserved the Navy Cross. It would have taken a number of months to get it up through the system. I had the authority to award a Silver Star.” George Elliott has likewise vouched for the process: “In this particular case and in all cases, there are after action reports. They were read. Men were interviewed who were eyewitnesses…And the award was recommended, the paperwork was filled out and it was forwarded up the chain of command.” (Admiral Zumwalt and Commander Elliott’s witness is available on videotape, should you doubt our account of it.) Your group’s false claims in this regard were additionally reviewed and rejected by the United States Naval Inspector General in 2004, in response to a complaint lodged by one of your conservative allies, “Judicial Watch.” The Naval Inspector General wrote, and we quote: “Our examination found that existing documentation regarding the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Hearts medals indicates the awards approval process was properly followed.”

It is no wonder Admiral Zumwalt said of this particular attack on Kerry: it is “a disgrace to the United States Navy that there is any inference that that process was other than totally honest. It is a disgrace to the honor and memory of the people who served there.”6 Admiral Zumwalt’s words have particular meaning to us as the men who were there. Three of us signed below (Langhofer; Medeiros; Hirschler) were awarded Bronze Stars Medals for our actions on 28 February 1969; while four others of us received Navy or Army Commendation Medals (Sandusky, Short, Thorson and Reese). Bill Rood and Don Droz both received Bronze Star Medals, as did Tom Belodeau. Don Droz, a Naval Academy graduate, who was subsequently killed in action in another river on another day, wrote home to his wife how proud he was of what he and his crew did that day with John Kerry. So, your group’s attack on Kerry’s Silver Star is not only a flagrant, disgraceful assault on the integrity of Admiral Zumwalt and the United States Navy which had previously confirmed the appropriateness of these awards, 6 October 1996 press conference it is also an attack on the courage and honor of all of us who were there, including those who are not alive to defend themselves, and on the decorations we received for our own roles in this same action.

Tenth Falsehood: As shown again and again by records and eyewitnesses as set forth above in one through nine, your flagrantly false assertion that the Silver Star award “was based on false and incomplete information provided by Kerry himself” and that this event “was nothing out of the ordinary” (Unfit p.81) is an outright lie. First, if it was nothing out of the ordinary, then why the contemporary statements of Captain Hoffman and Admiral Zumwalt to the contrary? Were they not telling the truth in 1969 ? Were they not honorable Navy commanders doing their job according to their oaths?

And as to your ridiculous claim that the information was “false and incomplete,” we tell you unequivocally that not only was there was no relevant information missing from any report, but you have no evidence of anything missing. And far from being based on information “provided by Kerry,” none other than Captain Elliott has said that the Silver Star award came after “men were interviewed who were eyewitnesses.” [Statement of Captain Elliott, Charlestown, MA 10/27/96] You also completely ignore the reality of such an event.

After a successful combat action with such consequences, all the men involved, enlisted and officers, talked excitedly and at length amongst one another about the event. In this case, moreover, there was a description of the event copied to all involved (Hoffmann’s congratulatory message), and even a press release! In such a setting, there is simply no reality whatsoever for reports to be filed and awards to be made – given and accepted by all concerned – if the facts were not as set forth. Your attempt thirty five years later to just make things up is beyond disgraceful and beyond credibility.

What we have set forth here documents beyond any possible reasonable doubt SBVT used ten individual lies to concoct one big lie about one of the most significant events of LTJG Kerry’s tour in Vietnam and his highest military honor: the action leading to the Silver Star Medal. In doing so, we have more than met your standard of showing “anything the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth said in 2004 was false” – the standard set by you in your Washington dinner challenge, as originally reported.

We state for the record, however, that we know your group’s many other major character attacks on Kerry are just as false, lies calculated to damage Senator Kerry and influence an election. The attempt to denigrate the circumstances of Kerry’s first Purple Heart, for example, is disproved by the two enlisted men, Pat Runyon and Bill Zaladonis, together with Kerry, who state categorically your so-called eyewitness, William Schachte, was not on the skimmer in the action that night. (Responding to this lie, Zaladonis has quipped: “me and Pat aren’t the smartest, but we can count to three.” [New York Times, 8/20/04]) Should William Schachte ever consent to sit in a room with them, which he has thus far refused to do, or to be interviewed publicly with them present, which he has also avoided, they will offer further proof of his lie.

The slander that Kerry acted improperly in not reporting the death of a youth in a sampan is a falsehood directly refuted by the skipper of the accompanying PCF and Officer in Tactical Command of the mission and person responsible for filing the report, LTJG Rich McCann.

The innuendo that Kerry “put himself in” for his Bronze Star Medal on a mission where there was no hostile fire, is completely disproved by the man, Lieutenant James Rassmann, USASF, who, after LTJG Kerry had departed the area and without Kerry’s knowledge, personally recommended Kerry for saving his life; by all of the other crew members who were actually on the boat in this ambush; by the original document of recommendation for the Bronze Star by LTJG Kerry’s Commanding Officer, Commander Elliott; by the first hand observations of the Psychological Operations Officer, Lt. Jim Russell, riding on PCF 43, who unsolicited wrote a public article in 2004 confirming enemy fire as well as LTJG Kerry’s actions; and finally, by the awkward-for-you fact that one of your leading members, OINC of PCF-51, Larry Thurlow, himself received a medal for heroism under fire during the same incident and whose statements are completely contradicted by his own gunnersmate, Robert Lambert. The fact is that the procedures in place in Coastal Division 11 would never have permitted any Officer in Charge of a Swift Boat to “put themselves in” for a medal and surely the senior officers in command who controlled and signed off on such matters would acknowledge this truth.

Finally, the continued insistence that Kerry has not released his full military record is refuted by the Navy, which has publicly certified he has, and by three newspapers which have independently received signed releases and reviewed those records. In fact, all of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s major assertions regarding each of Senator Kerry’s medals and his service in Vietnam are false and can be disproven.


MiniKat said...

You sir, are thorough. I admire that.

Anonymous said...

I see that those fine folk who spoke out prior to your posting of the verifiable facts offered by Swift Boat veterans are strangely silent. I expected more "Yeah but. . ." comments.
Good job, Sir.