But first . . .

JUST BECAUSE YOU WEREN’T THERE DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T SWEAR TO WHAT HAPPENED

From the KATU website:

August 23, 2004
Local Veterans Call For Attorney’s Resignation

OREGON CITY, Ore. – Clackamas County veterans are calling for the resignation of an assistant district attorney who appeared in television ads attacking Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s military record.

In the ad, and a sworn affidavit, Al French says he served with Kerry and that the Purple Heart medals Kerry received were obtained under false pretenses.

However, French admitted later that he did not witness the events mentioned in the affidavit and was relying on what his friends told him.

Veteran Don Stewart says he believes it was outrageous that French would try to smear Kerry’s military record.

“Mr. French signed an affidavit defaming John Kerry’s military service and then he admitted that he had no first-hand knowledge of what he swore to,” Stewart said on Monday. “Someone who the community trusts to carry out the law cannot be lying in sworn, legal affidavits.”

On Monday, French would neither confirm nor deny the reports that he did not witness the events mentioned in the affidavit.

The Oregon State Bar says they have received enough complaints to look into the matter, with the main question being whether French violated ethics.

☞ Oh, the French.

Steve: My brother-in-law wrote the attached letter. After college he served in Vietnam and then became a Secret Service agent on presidential protection. He now is director of corporate security for a Fortune 500 company. He is not politically affiliated:

August 24, 2004

I was a Navy lieutenant serving on a river patrol boat in Vietnam two months after John Kerry was a Navy lieutenant serving on a swift boat in Vietnam. I am very disappointed in the recent controversy surrounding Kerry’s service.

Those of us who patrolled the rivers and canals in Vietnam knew the risks. For every Navy Seal killed there, five river patrol crewmen died. The casualty rate in the river patrol forces averaged nearly 60 percent. No one volunteered for this duty in order to fill in his political resume or to obtain a photo-op. No one volunteered for this duty to serve less than honorably.

It is very difficult to reconstruct a firefight immediately afterward. Now we are trying to analyze one that took place 35 years ago. I find it ironic our last two presidents deliberately avoided military service in Vietnam. Now we have a presidential candidate who did serve in combat and we are debating how honorably. John Kerry served ”on the river.” That alone has earned my respect.

The Vietnam War was divisive enough. Thirty-five years later, those of us who served there should not continue this divisiveness. Many Americans at the time did not salute the war or those who fought it. Maybe now it is time to salute one who was there.

Joseph T. Petro

Ralph Sierra: ‘A friend has been following news reports about the Swift Boat controversy pretty closely, and says that most of them leave the impression that Kerry was only in Vietnam for four months – got wounded, and then got sent home. This feeds the Republican line that he ‘cut and run.’ She hopes the Kerry people starting talking more about the fact that he had ALREADY served a 12 month tour, prior to the one in which he got wounded.’

And now . . .

OH, WHAT THE HECK – LET’S HEAR FROM SOMEONE WHO WAS THERE

An account you may have missed:

Aug. 21, 2004, 4:46PM
Rood: Anti-Kerry vets not there that day
By WILLIAM B. ROOD
Chicago Tribune

There were three swift boats on the river that day in Vietnam more than 35 years ago — three officers and 15 crew members. Only two of those officers remain to talk about what happened on February 28, 1969.

One is John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate who won a Silver Star for what happened on that date. I am the other.

For years, no one asked about those events. But now they are the focus of skirmishing in a presidential election with a group of swift boat veterans and others contending that Kerry didn’t deserve the Silver Star for what he did on that day, or the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts he was awarded for other actions.

Many of us wanted to put it all behind us — the rivers, the ambushes, the killing. Ever since that time, I have refused all requests for interviews about Kerry’s service — even those from reporters at the Chicago Tribune, where I work.

But Kerry’s critics, armed with stories I know to be untrue, have charged that the accounts of what happened were overblown. The critics have taken pains to say they’re not trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did, but their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us. It’s gotten harder and harder for those of us who were there to listen to accounts we know to be untrue, especially when they come from people who were not there.

Even though Kerry’s own crew members have backed him, the attacks have continued, and in recent days Kerry has called me and others who were with him in those days, asking that we go public with our accounts.

I can’t pretend those calls had no effect on me, but that is not why I am writing this. What matters most to me is that this is hurting crewmen who are not public figures and who deserved to be honored for what they did. My intent is to tell the story here and to never again talk publicly about it.

I was part of the operation that led to Kerry’s Silver Star. I have no firsthand knowledge of the events that resulted in his winning the Purple Hearts or the Bronze Star.

But on Feb. 28, 1969, I was officer in charge of PCF-23, one of three swift boats — including Kerry’s PCF-94 and Lt. j.g. Donald Droz’s PCF-43 — that carried Vietnamese regional and Popular Force troops and a Navy demolition team up the Dong Cung, a narrow tributary of the Bay Hap River, to conduct a sweep in the area.

The approach of the noisy 50-foot aluminum boats, each driven by two huge 12-cylinder diesels and loaded down with six crew members, troops and gear, was no secret.

Ambushes were a virtual certainty, and that day was no exception.

The difference was that Kerry, who had tactical command of that particular operation, had talked to Droz and me beforehand about not responding the way the boats usually did to an ambush.

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 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.

Our initial reports of the day’s action caused an immediate response from our task force headquarters in Cam Ranh Bay.

Known over radio circuits by the call sign “Latch,” then-Capt. and now retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffmann, the task force commander, fired off a message congratulating the three swift boats, saying at one point that the tactic of charging the ambushes was a “shining example of completely overwhelming the enemy” and that it “may be the most efficacious method of dealing with small numbers of ambushers.”

Hoffmann has become a leading critic of Kerry’s and now says that what the boats did on that day demonstrated Kerry’s inclination to be impulsive to a fault.

Our decision to use that tactic under the right circumstances was not impulsive but was the result of discussions well beforehand and a mutual agreement of all three boat officers.

It was also well within the aggressive tradition that was embraced by the late Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, then commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam. Months before that day in February, a fellow boat officer, Michael Bernique, was summoned to Saigon to explain to top Navy commanders why he had made an unauthorized run up the Giang Thanh River, which runs along the Vietnam-Cambodia border. Bernique, who speaks French fluently, had been told by a source in Ha Tien at the mouth of the river that a VC tax collector was operating upstream.

Ignoring the prohibition against it, Bernique and his crew went upstream and routed the VC, pursuing and killing several.

Instead of facing disciplinary action as he had expected, Bernique was given the Silver Star, and Zumwalt ordered other swifts, which had largely patrolled coastal waters, into the rivers.

The decision sent a clear message, underscored repeatedly by Hoffmann’s congratulatory messages, that aggressive patrolling was expected and that well-timed, if unconventional, tactics like Bernique’s were encouraged.

What we did on Feb. 28, 1969, was well in line with the tone set by our top commanders.

Zumwalt made that clear when he flew down to our base at An Thoi off the southern tip of Vietnam to pin the Silver Star on Kerry and assorted Bronze Stars and commendation medals on the rest of us.

My Bronze Star citation, signed by Zumwalt, praised the charge tactic we used that day, saying the VC were “caught completely off guard.”

There’s at least one mistake in that citation. It incorrectly identifies the river where the main action occurred, a reminder that such documents were often done in haste and sometimes authored for their signers by staffers. It’s a cautionary note for those trying to piece it all together. There’s no final authority on something that happened so long ago — not the documents and not even the strained recollections of those of us who were there.

But I know that what some people are saying now is wrong. While they mean to hurt Kerry, what they’re saying impugns others who are not in the public eye. . .

William B. Rood is an editor at the Chicago Tribune.

☞ I’d give a nickel to know what George W. Bush was doing on February 28, 1969? But leaving that aside, does it actually matter what the truth is? Not to talk show hosts like Sean Hannity:

Doug Jones: ‘While driving home from a long trip last Thursday (Aug 19), about the only thing I could hear on the radio was Sean Hannity. Please note that the 19th is well after Senator McCain denounced the anti-Kerry swift boat attack ads. Hannity was going on and on ad nauseum about how Kerry is scared to talk about his war record because Kerry’s war record is a pack of lies as demonstrated by those ads. No mention was made anywhere about Senator McCain’s statement [or any of the other things that had come out]. I know several otherwise sane and rational people who listen to Hannity on a daily basis, and who believe that he is more truthful than the newspaper or television news.’

SO . . . HAS THE PRESIDENT NO SHAME?

From the blog of David Weinberger:

August 21, 2004

This Swift boat attack is a predictable Karl Rove smear. Here’s what I want
Kerry to say, not that anyone asked:

At long last, we have to ask: Mr. President, have you no shame?

You said you looked forward to a campaign on the issues, one based on mutual respect. And yet some of your largest supporters are sponsoring an unrelenting campaign of mudslinging, attacking my record in the service.

The connections between your campaign and these outrageous attacks are close and documented. So, stop your flip-flopping. Don’t say you want a clean campaign and then turn your back as mud is thrown in your name.

The other day, a man at one of your carefully controlled town hall events said, “We’ve got a candidate for President out here with two self-inflicted scratches, and I take that as an insult.” And how did you reply? Did you do the decent thing? Did you try to quiet the applause? Did you tell him that you’d have no part in such accusations against a man who put on a uniform and put himself in harm’s way to serve his country, like millions of other veterans? No, here’s what you said: “Well, I appreciate that. Thank you.” Thank you? Mr. President, where is your common decency?

These trumped up, false attacks on my war record and my character are distractions from the real issues that face America. You did this to [John McCain and to] my friend and great patriot, Max Cleland, who left three limbs in Vietnam. Now you are doing it to me. Your pattern is clear: You can’t campaign on the issues so you attack veterans, people who when they were needed showed up and did their duty. In the name of respect for those of us who did our service and in the name of the American people who face issues that will shape our destiny, I call on you to make good on your word and denounce these attacks.

David Weinberger

 

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