Thursday, May 27, 2004

Senator John Kerry's Military Record

A lot has been going around these days concerning the military record of Senator John Kerry. A few Viet Nam era Veterans have written letters or posted articles attempting to tarnish Sen. Kerry's record. While I respect their opinions, I must respectfully disagree.

First, let me state that I respect their opinions because they served and more than anyone-else they are entitled to express their feelings on military matters. But! This is a double edged sword, it cuts both ways! As such, Sen. Kerry also earned the right to express his opinions. While it's true he was a co-founder of Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, I have no problem with that, he earned that right. I agreed with him then and I agree with him now. Viet Nam was a total waste of American lives and American money. What the Hell did we accomplish? You can't say we "lost" because we weren't there to "win". Since Viet Nam is officially listed as a "Police Action", not a "War", it wasn't our mission to "Win", but rather, "assist" the legitimate Government of South Viet Nam "resist" Communist efforts from within and the North to overthrow said "legitimate" Government.. You tell me, how'd we do?

Both my brother, Scroff, at Any Which Way, and I served in the United States Marine Corps and have had to endure being called "Un-patriotic" and "traitor" by some on the Right. These are the same people who have branded retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni "Un-patriotic" and a "Traitor". If I had to guess I would say that they are also the same people trying hard to cast aspersions on Senator John Kerry's record.

In an effort to get to the bottom of this controversy, I came across a post at Snopes dealing with the rumors flying around that Sen. Kerry's record is "fishy". Here are a few excerpts: (You can read the entire post at Snopes)

"This was written by a retired admiral and Annapolis graduate. The item offers no direct testimony about Kerry, but it does provide informed background useful in assessing what Kerry seems to have claimed for himself. It confirms information I have received from other sources.

Our media should be demanding that Senator Kerry open his service records in the same way they demanded that of President Bush regarding his NG service.

I was in the Delta shortly after he [Kerry] left. I know that area well. I know the operations he was involved in well. I know the tactics and the doctrine used. I know the equipment. Although I was attached to CTF-116 (PBRs) I spent a fair amount of time with CTF-115 (swift boats), Kerry's command.

Here are my problems and suspicions:

(1) Kerry was in-country less than four months and collected, a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and three purple hearts...

(2) Three Purple Hearts, but no limp...

(3) The details of the event for which he was given the Silver Star make no sense at all...

Something is fishy."

Something certainly is fishy. Read on.

". . . two weeks after [Kerry] arrived in Vietnam, the swift boat mission changed — and Kerry went from having one of the safest assignments in the escalating conflict to one of the most dangerous. Under the newly launched Operation SEALORD, swift boats were charged with patrolling the narrow waterways of the Mekong Delta to draw fire and smoke out the enemy. Cruising inlets and coves and canals, swift boats were especially vulnerable targets....

... It was not at all unusual that a Swift boat crew member might be wounded more than once in a relatively short period of time, or that injuries meriting the award of a Purple Heart might not be serious enough to require time off from duty. According to a Boston Globe overview of John Kerry's Vietnam experience:

Under [Navy Admiral Elmo] Zumwalt's command, swift boats would aggressively engage the enemy. Zumwalt, who died in 2000, calculated in his autobiography that these men under his command had a 75 percent chance of being killed or wounded during a typical year....

"There were an awful lot of Purple Hearts — from shrapnel, some of those might have been M-40 grenades," said George Elliott, Kerry's commanding officer. "The Purple Hearts were coming down in boxes. Kerry, he had three Purple Hearts. None of them took him off duty. Not to belittle it, that was more the rule than the exception."

John Kerry was wounded in his first significant combat action, when he volunteered for a special mission on 2 December 1968...(Kerry)"We opened fire," he went on. "The light from the flares started to fade, the air was full of explosions. My M-16 jammed, and as I bent down in the boat to grab another gun, a stinging piece of heat socked into my arm and just seemed to burn like hell. By this time one of the sailors had started the engine and we ran by the beach, strafing it. Then it was quiet."

The "stinging piece of heat" Kerry felt in his arm had been caused by a piece of shrapnel, a wound for which he was awarded a Purple Heart. The injury was not serious — Brinkley notes that Kerry went on a regular Swift boat patrol the next day with a bandage on his arm, and the Boston Globe quoted William Schachte, who oversaw the mission and went on to become a rear admiral, as recalling that "It was not a very serious wound at all."

Kerry earned his second Purple Heart while returning from a PCF mission up the Bo De River on 20 February 1969...Brinkley noted that, as in the previous case, "Kerry's wound was not serious enough to require time off from duty."

Kerry earned his Silver Star on 28 February 1969, when he beached his craft and jumped off it with an M-16 rifle in hand to chase and shoot a guerrilla who was running into position to launch a B-40 rocket at Kerry's boat. Contrary to the account quoted above, Kerry did not shoot a "Charlie" who had "fired at the boat and missed," whose "rocket launcher was empty," and who was "already dead or dying" after being "knocked down with a .50 caliber round." Kerry's boat had been hit by a rocket fired by someone else — the guerrilla in question was still armed with a live B-40 and had only been clipped in the leg; when the guerrilla got up to run, Kerry assumed he was getting into position to launch a rocket and shot him...

Another member of the crew confirmed Kerry's account for the Boston Globe and expressed no doubt that Kerry's action had saved both the boat and its crew...The crewman with the best view of the action was Frederic Short, the man in the tub operating the twin guns. Short had not talked to Kerry for 34 years, until after he was recently contacted by a Globe reporter. Kerry said he had "totally forgotten" Short was on board that day...Short said there is "no doubt" that Kerry saved the boat and crew... Charles Gibson, who served on Kerry's boat that day because he was on a one-week indoctrination course, said Kerry's action was dangerous but necessary. "Every day you wake up and say, 'How the hell did we get out of that alive?'" Gibson said. "Kerry was a good leader. He knew what he was doing."

Kerry was injured yet again on 13 March 1969, in an action for which he was awarded both a Bronze Star and his third Purple Heart. According to Kerry's Bronze Star citation (signed by Admiral Zumwalt himself):

Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry was serving as an Officer-in-Charge of Inshore Patrol Craft 94, one of five boats conducting a Sealords operation in the Bay Hap River. While exiting the river, a mine detonated under another Inshore Patrol Craft and almost simultaneously, another mine detonated wounding Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry in the right arm. In addition, all units began receiving small arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks. When Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry discovered he had a man overboard, he returned upriver to assist. The man in the water was receiving sniper fire from both banks. Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry directed his gunners to provide suppressing fire, while from an exposed position on the bow, his arm bleeding and in pain and with disregard for his personal safety, he pulled the man aboard. Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry then directed his boat to return to and assist the other damaged boat to safety. Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry's calmness, professionalism and great personal courage under fire were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
According to the Boston Globe, this was the only one of Kerry's three Purple Heart injuries that caused him to miss any days of service...

Now you may disagree with Kerry's actions after his service in the Navy, and that's your right, but his Record speaks for itself. His superior officers speak for him. His crew speaks for him. Has anybody yet come forward to verify that they served with GW Bush during his "missing months" in the Texas Air National Guard? (And before you accuse me of "Guard Bashing" anyone over 50 knows that service in the Guard during the Viet Nam Conflict in no way compares to serving in the Guard today.)

To read the entire Snopes post, go here.

Hopefully, this will help put to rest any questions regarding Sen. John Kerry's service to his country.