Thursday, August 19, 2004

Today on our front page, we reprint the third in a series of excerpts from “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry” by John E. O’Neill and Jerome R. Corsi. This final segment is taken from Chapter 5, “More Fraudulent Medals,” and focuses on the action of March 13, 1969 — John Kerry’s last combat experience in Vietnam, in which he won both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

The authors say Lt. Kerry shouldn’t have received either one.

By Mr. Kerry’s account, the action on Bay Hap River was dramatic and intense and is retold by the authors: “A mine went off alongside Kerry’s Swift Boat, PCF 94. [Jim] Rassmann was blown into the water. Kerry was terribly wounded from the underwater mine. Kerry, 25, turned his boat back into the fire zone and, bleeding heavily from his arm and side, reached into the water and pulled Rassmann to safety with enemy fire all around. Kerry then towed the sinking boat [PCF 3] out of action.”

To be sure, official Navy records corroborate Mr. Kerry’s version of events and are also retold in Douglas Brinkley’s “Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War,” as well as in an after-action report posted on The official Navy citation for Mr. Kerry’s Bronze Star describes “small arms and automatic weapons fire” directed at “all units.” (There were five swift boats in the convoy.)

The authors of “Unfit to Command” say, however, that the Kerry version is “another gross exaggeration of what actually happened and, in several ways, a fraud perpetrated upon the Navy and the nation.” To corroborate their version, the authors cite Larry Thurlow, commander of PCF 51 that day, who also received a Bronze Star for bravery. Mr. Thurlow signed an affadavit last month that Mr. Kerry was “not under fire” when he rescued Mr. Rassmann. According to Mr. Thurlow, other than the detonated mine, the five-boat team did not come under enemy fire. Furthermore, Mr. Kerry’s arm wound was a bruise that didn’t require medical attention, and that the bleeding from his side came from an wound in an episode earlier in the day in which a grenade Mr. Kerry had thrown exploded, leaving shrapnel in his buttocks.

But, as The Washington Post reported yesterday, Mr. Thurlow’s own Bronze Star Navy citation describes “enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire” directed at “all units.” The Post story does not address several crucial facts. First, it seems likely that one after-action report was used for both Navy citations and inevitably would describe the same version of events. No one can now say who wrote this after-action report. In a statement yesterday, Mr. Thurlow said, “I am convinced that the language used in my citation … was language taken directly from John Kerry’s report.”

Two other crewmen, Dan Odell and Dick Pease, both cited by the authors, agree with Mr. Thurlow’s version of events.

Mr. Brinkley also describes an incident that day when a grenade explosion wounded Mr. Kerry, though he treats it as superficial. This means Mr. Kerry received two shrapnel wounds, the other one occuring on the boat and earning the young lieutenant his third Purple Heart. The authors raise an interesting point: “Unless one believes in the amazing coincidence that Kerry got two wounds in the same place on the same day and from the same type of incident, then Kerry’s wound of March 13, 1969 was not the result of hostile fire at all.”

We are pleased that The Post has finally joined the debate swirling around Mr. Kerry’s Vietnam experience. The Post and other “major” news organizations would be more helpful to their readers, and to the debate, however, if they join the investigation and address the entire story — and not simply one part of it which they wish to debunk.

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