Sunday, August 22, 2004
John Kerry's Silver Star: After reading William Rood's account of the Feb. 28, 1969, on the Dong Cung River in Vietnam, I'm satisfied that John Kerry's Silver Star citation is deserved.
We agreed that if we were not crippled by the initial volley and had a clear fix on the location of the ambush, we would turn directly into it, focusing the boats' twin .50-caliber machine guns on the attackers and beaching the boats. We told our crews about the plan.
The Viet Cong in the area had come to expect that the heavily loaded boats would lumber on past an ambush, firing at the entrenched attackers, beaching upstream and putting troops ashore to sweep back down on the ambush site. Often, they were long gone by the time the troops got there.
The first time we took fire--the usual rockets and automatic weapons--Kerry ordered a "turn 90" and the three boats roared in on the ambush. It worked. We routed the ambush, killing three of the attackers. The troops, led by an Army adviser, jumped off the boats and began a sweep, which killed another half dozen VC, wounded or captured others and found weapons, blast masks and other supplies used to stage ambushes.
Meanwhile, Kerry ordered our boat to head upstream with his, leaving (Lt. j.g. Donald) Droz's boat at the first site.
It happened again, another ambush. And again, Kerry ordered the turn maneuver, and again it worked. As we headed for the riverbank, I remember seeing a loaded B-40 launcher pointed at the boats. It wasn't fired as two men jumped up from their spider holes.
We called Droz's boat up to assist us, and Kerry, followed by one member of his crew, jumped ashore and chased a VC behind a hooch--a thatched hut--maybe 15 yards inland from the ambush site. Some who were there that day recall the man being wounded as he ran. Neither I nor Jerry Leeds, our boat's leading petty officer with whom I've checked my recollection of all these events, recalls that, which is no surprise. Recollections of those who go through experiences like that frequently differ.
With our troops involved in the sweep of the first ambush site, Richard Lamberson, a member of my crew, and I also went ashore to search the area. I was checking out the inside of the hooch when I heard gunfire nearby.
Not long after that, Kerry returned, reporting that he had killed the man he chased behind the hooch. He also had picked up a loaded B-40 rocket launcher, which we took back to our base in An Thoi after the operation.
John O'Neill, author of a highly critical account of Kerry's Vietnam service, describes the man Kerry chased as a "teenager" in a "loincloth." I have no idea how old the gunner Kerry chased that day was, but both Leeds and I recall that he was a grown man, dressed in the kind of garb the VC usually wore.
The man Kerry chased was not the "lone" attacker at that site, as O'Neill suggests. There were others who fled. There was also firing from the tree line well behind the spider holes and at one point, from the opposite riverbank as well. It was not the work of just one attacker.
I believe Rood's testimony on this point is definitive and this should, hopefully, be the first step in getting off of the subject of a 30+ year old war. Kerry should still release all of his military records.
On a political note: While I am willing (as I'm sure many others are) to accept Rood's account of what happened that day, John Kerry's campaign and its 527 allies are not so consistent.
Ever since the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth started with their first TV ad, one of the Democrat talking points has been that these men don't know what they're talking about "because they didn't serve with John Kerry; they weren't on his boat." This canard has perhaps been the most infuriating part of this debate (every time I hear it I want to scream), because you have intelligent people demonstrating unparalleled foolishness everytime they say it. Some have shown this stupidity graphically by showing a photograph of two two-seater jet fighters flying in tandem and pointing out that under the Democrat talking-point logic that the pilot and the RIO (radar intercept officer) "served together" but their wingmen didn't "serve together."
Under those talking points' logic, we should also dimiss Rood's account -- after all, he was in command of another boat, PCF-23, so how could he know anything about Kerry?
If Kerry's folks want to tout Rood's account, then they're going to have to give up their precious "served on the same boat" canard.