Friday, October 01, 2004

Did Kerry write own report of disputed clash?

Did Kerry write own report of disputed clash? I've been wondering about this for a while. A faded 35-year-old operations order recovered from the Naval Historical Center in Washington bears directly on the ongoing dispute between Sen. John Kerry and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth about who wrote the key after-action report that ended Kerry's service in Vietnam. The report appears in the official Navy records and is posted on Kerry's presidential campaign Web site. The report details Kerry's participation in a naval operation on the Bay Hap River on March 13, 1969, in such glowing terms that he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for pulling Special Forces officer James Rassmann out of the water while under heavy enemy fire. This third Purple Heart allowed Kerry to cut short his Vietnam tour after only four months. ... So according to this report, which now stands as the official Navy record, this swift boat mission concluded by running a three-mile gantlet of enemy fire from both banks, the detonation of three mines, and yet the only casualties occurred on the boat that hit the first mine. The boats managed to escape and, even more miraculously, retrieve the sinking boat, PCF-3, without getting a single bullet hole in any vessel or crew member. "It is miraculous all right because it never happened," recalls Larry Thurlow, a Kerry critic who commanded the mission. "PCF-3 hit a mine; all of my boats directed suppressing fire on both banks, expecting the mine to be followed up by gunfire. But after a couple of minutes, we ceased firing and took steps to aid the sinking PCF-3 and its injured crew members. There was never a shot fired at us, and no additional mines went off, either. And if we had been facing gunfire from both sides of three miles of riverbank, I would have called in the standby air support. I didn't." ... As the commander of the mission, normally Thurlow would have filed the disputed after-action report. But he denies writing it. And the after-action report supports his denial. It was written by someone designated "TE 194.5.4.4/1." ... "TE" refers to a "task element," which is defined by the numbers to the right, which show the command structure over the task element in action. "194" is Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, commander of U.S. naval forces in Vietnam; "5" is Hoffman's swift boat command; "4" is Lonsdale's command, and the last "4" is Capt. George Elliot's swift boat base at An Thoi, where the boats on this mission were based. The last "1" indicates someone other than the commander of the mission. ... According to a Navy communications expert, Chief Petty Officer Troy Jenkins, who has examined the message traffic, the report in question was sent from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spencer, Lonsdale's command ship, at 11:20 that night. Only three of the officers on the mission that day were on the Spencer, John Kerry, Dick Pease and Donald Droz. Droz took the wounded from the mine explosion to be examined and treated at the Spencer, including the third officer, the severely wounded Dick Pease. Since the Spencer had no helipad for the evacuation of the wounded, Droz then had to return to the USS Washtenaw County, stationed about 25 nautical miles away, leaving only Kerry aboard the Spencer at the time the message was sent at 11:20 p.m. Could Droz have somehow written the report? Lonsdale says command precedence of days in swift boat service alone rules this out. "According to the command procedure I set down, Kerry would have been the only logical candidate." ... The head of the Operational Archives Branch of the Naval Historical Center in Washington, Kathy Lloyd, has verified Hoffman's operations order. Neither Kerry's campaign nor his swift boat veteran critics contest the validity of the after-action report by "TE 194.5.4.4/1." Kerry spokesmen have repeatedly insisted that Kerry denies writing the report and that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were arguing with the official Navy record. But if "the official Navy record" now turns out to have been written by Kerry himself, the principal beneficiary of its glowing references to his performance, the swift boat critics' charges look far more consequential. After all, the report completely leaves out how Kerry's own boat, PCF-94, ran down river leaving James Rassmann overboard and the other three boats to deal with the ambush and the sinking PCF-3. All of the living boat commanders on that mission are in firm agreement on that action by Kerry and agree that the report is a fraudulent misrepresentation of an action they remember well. The Kerry campaign didn't return calls for this article. But members of Kerry's crew have said Kerry is telling the truth. And Rassmann said he has vivid memories of enemies firing at him from both banks. So Kerry and some men from Kerry's crew - are they on the campaign payroll? - say there was enemy fire. Rassman, who says he spent most of the incident under water and has told different stories about which boat he was knocked off of, says so too, though he doesn't seem to have been in much of a position to know. Everyone else who was there says there was no enemy fire, and the damage reports on the boats seem to bear that out. Jooohhhneeeee?!?!! You got some 'splainin' to do!

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