Skip to comments.Did Kerry write own report of disputed clash?
Posted on 10/02/2004 11:53:23 AM PDT by NonLinear
Did Kerry write own report of disputed clash? October 1, 2004
BY THOMAS LIPSCOMB
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.
The report in question described a mission of five swift boats ambushed by a mine explosion that seriously damaged one boat while the swift boats received heavy fire from both banks. The fire continued for three miles, the report said. Roy Hoffman, the admiral who commanded the swift boats in Vietnam, finds that detail alone absurd. Hoffman, a member of the anti-Kerry swift boat veterans group, says: "There was never an incident under my command in all of Vietnam where my boats were engaged by continuous fire from both banks of a half mile in length, much less three."
'It never happened'
The report mentions two other mines detonating as well. 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."
After he returned to the United States the following month, Thurlow was surprised to find that he had received a Bronze Star himself because of his activities described in the after-action report. When Thurlow first saw the report last July, he didn't recognize the mission it described. The Kerry campaign pointed to Thurlow's own citation, referring to his being "under constant enemy small arms fire," when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth first contested Kerry's account in August.
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 184.108.40.206/1."
An operations order by Adm. Hoffman two months earlier set the format for the designation. The operations order procedures, originated by the operational commander of the Coastal 11 An Thoi unit Kerry served with, Cmdr. Adrian Lonsdale, was the basis for the terms of designation used in this kind of report subsequently. Upon seeing the report, Lonsdale, a Swift Boat Veterans for Truth member, recognized it and recalled the procedures it required as being followed in his command.
"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. If the report had been submitted by the mission commander, in this case Thurlow, according to the operations order, it would have begun with a "C" for commander of the Task Element, and the sender would have been "CTE 220.127.116.11."
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. Kerry had been in Vietnam since November. Droz just arrived at An Thoi in February." Thurlow adds, "I never liked the paperwork anyway. I was happy to have Kerry write them up."
Operations order verified
And there is another factor. Thurlow ordered Droz to take care of the wounded after the action on the Bay Hap. Droz had ferried them 40 miles out to the Spencer and now had to take them 25 miles back to the USS Washtenaw County. Moving wounded on and off a 327-foot cutter from a 50-foot swift boat on the open sea was not something Droz was likely to leave unsupervised long enough to dash off a report. Kerry had no duties other than reporting to the sick bay, where according to his doctor he was seen at 7 that night. And he spent the night on the Spencer.
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 18.104.22.168/1." 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.
Thomas Lipscomb is a senior fellow at the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future in New York.
I'm sure Dan Rather will be all over this.
Sorry, left a stray "N" in the title. If an admin knows how to edit it, I would appreciate the fix.
This was POSTED YESTERDAY.
I see you're a NEWBIE - Kindly READ THE RULES ABOUT searching BEFORE POSTING
Sorry, read the rules, tried to search for a posting of it, but the server problmems disabled the seach function. I also scrolled through multiple pages looking for it first.
Give a guy a break how 'bout it?
This is FR. We don't give guys breaks here!
(They're all DU trolls anyway)
But seriesly, welcome to FR.
Thanks for posting this, even if by mistake. I don't always check FR every day - glad for the double posting!
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