August 19, 2004

The Thurlow "inconsistency" explained
Posted by McQ

Actually the Thurlow "inconsistency" probably has a very reasonable explanation. Why is "enemy small arms fire" mentioned in Thurlow's citation when he and the other Swift Boat Vets claim that in reality there was none?

Because Jim Rassmann says there was, and Jim Rassmann wrote the citation for John Kerry's award:

For his actions that day, I recommended John for the Silver Star, our country's third highest award for bravery under fire. I learned only this past January that the Navy awarded John the Bronze Star with Combat V for his valor.

That quote is from Rassmann's August 10th WSJ op/ed piece. The original award recommendation, apparently, came from Rassmann's account of the action. Rassmann also wrote the first (and perhaps only) citation for the incident in his recommendation for a Silver Star for Kerry.

Now folks if you've never been in the military, you need to understand something. Military guys and gals don't like to reinvent the wheel or do extra work. When they have what they consider to be a perfectly good citation in their hands (they have no idea nor do they really care what the truth of the situation was), and if they're told to include some other awards for other people in the same action to those going forward, they're not going to write another citation. They're going to use the one they have.

They're going to depend on the version of the officer who submitted the original recommendation as being valid.

The only problem here is Rassmann's may very likely have not been valid, through no fault of his own.

Jim Rassmann got blown off of a boat (most likely the number 3 boat, since everyone except Rassmann agree no other boat hit a mine). He lands in the water. Most likely he's slightly concussed (all the others on that boat were diagnosed with concussions) and confused. He hears weapons firing and assumes they're bad guys. But instead the weapons firing are from the other PCFs laying down suppressing fire on the shore in case its an ambush. Standard operating procedure. Rassmann thinks he's in mortal danger from all of this and is diving and coming up to try to dodge what he thinks is enemy fire. Finally someone picks him up and he's a grateful as a grunt in the water can be to his rescuer. Because he thought he was under enemy fire and because Kerry picked him up in that perceived enemy fire, he is grateful enough to write him up for the Silver Star. Then the contents of his writeup for Kerry is used in other awards for that same action.

Absolutely and positively the probable scenario in this little "inconsistency." Having read both versions, I come down on the side of the SBVT's version, although I do believe that Jim Rassmann honestly believes what he described was true.

The facts of the situation, however, seem to coincide more with the SBVT version now than the Rassmann version then. Why? Because there is no memory of hostile fire by the rest of the crews in the event. Probably more importantly, there wasn't a single bit of damage to any boat out there from the impact of enemy rounds. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. Nary a single bullet hole in any of them.

The suppressing fire probably had a confused and concussed Rassmann thinking he was under fire, and it translated into a citation for an award which mirrored his confused memory. Clerks, being clerks, used that citation for the other awards which were recommended, since it was already in their hands and required no further work on their part.

Human nature.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

UPDATE: Thurlow responds:

I am convinced that the language used in my citation for a Bronze Star was language taken directly from John Kerry's report which falsely described the action on the Bay Hap River as action that saw small arms fire and automatic weapons fire from both banks of the river.

To this day, I can say without a doubt in my mind, along with other accounts
from my shipmates-there was no hostile enemy fire directed at my boat or at
any of the five boats operating on the river that day.

I submitted no paperwork for a medal nor did I file an after action report
describing the incident. To my knowledge, John Kerry was the only officer
who filed a report describing his version of the incidents that occurred on
the river that day.

It was not until I had left the Navy-approximately three months after I left
the service-that I was notified that I was to receive a citation for my
actions on that day.

Read the whole thing here.

Hat tip to reader Mike for the link.



So why did Thurlow accept his medal?

Posted by: mklutra at August 19, 2004 01:55 PM

One explanation--one I've offered below--is that he was disingenuous...willing to take credit for an event that didn't occur exactly as his citation said.

Another is that the small arms fire that allegedly occurred when he went in was separate from the small arms fire alleged to occur when Kerry picked up Rassmann.

Posted by: Jon Henke at August 19, 2004 01:58 PM

But look at what he said:

"To this day, I can say without a doubt in my mind, along with other accounts
from my shipmates-there was no hostile enemy fire directed at my boat or at
any of the five boats operating on the river that day." (Emphasis added.)

What I find fascinating is that in his effort to besmirch Kerry, he is willing to "admit" that he is not entitled to his medal either. Now that's taking one for the team!!

Gosh, you think they would have thought this through a little better.

That giant sucking sound you hear is the sound of the SwiftVets credibility going down the toilet.

Posted by: mkultra at August 19, 2004 02:05 PM

Obviously, that would eliminate that possibility, and leave open the former possibility that he accepted a medal for circumstances he knew to be false.

Nevertheless, there is quite a lot of circumstantial evidence--detailed in McQs post--that indicates the SBV may be correct.

Posted by: Jon Henke at August 19, 2004 02:09 PM

What Digby said:

"Nixon hatchetman O'Neill gets caught in serveral lies about his recent Republican ties --- makes complete fool of himself trying to claim that half of the money he gave to the GOP was actually given by someone with a similar name."

"Jerome Corsi is revealed as an insane Freeper bigot."

"George Elliott can't decide from day to day which affidavit about Kerry's silver star is correct and makes the strong point that his own documentary evidence of 30 years ago was likely wrong because he can't think of a reason why these guys would lie 30 years later."

"Now we have Thurlow."

Kerry's strategy is starting to come into focus. I think he has known all along that these guys would implode. So Kerry plays the rope-a-dope, doesn't get down in the mud with them, and allows them to bury themselves. My guess is that he will hold back for a little while longer, and then go in for the kill.

Just ask old Bill Weld. He and George Foreman have much in common.

Posted by: mkultra at August 19, 2004 02:14 PM

McQ et al.

You guys are doing great work - work that in another time and place may have been covered by journalists. But as this is not the time that we live in, I always know that I can come to your blog to see some of the questions and observations that the old media is failing to raise.

Keep up the good work

Posted by: Elliot Fladen at August 19, 2004 02:43 PM


Thurlow is officially a liar. Here is what else he had to say:

"I believed then as I believe now that I received my Bronze Star for my
efforts to rescue the injured crewmen from swift boat number three and to
conduct damage control to prevent that boat from sinking.
My boat and several other swift boats went to the aid of our fellow swift
boat sailors whose craft was adrift and taking on water. We provided
immediate rescue and damage control to prevent boat three from sinking and
to offer immediate protection and comfort to the injured crew."

The only problem with this explanation is that it would not be the basis for a Bronze Star. Here are the circumstances under which the Bronze Star may be awarded.

(1) While engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States. A-7

(2) While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.

(3) While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

Not on this list are rescue operations, obviously.

Whatever "inconsistency" existed, Thurlow has now established himself as a liar.

Posted by: mklutra at August 19, 2004 03:12 PM

So where did the mine come from? Pixies?

Posted by: Christopher Cross at August 19, 2004 03:26 PM

Jon, Dale, & McQ,

I think, for the most part, you run an excellent blog. I check in a couple of times a day and am always interested to see what has piqued the curiousity of each of you. I also really enjoy your comments to each other and the comments of your readers.

However, commenter mkultra is making reading your blog (and its comments) exceedingly tedious. Mkultra's trollish comments and tone are beginning to cause me to reconsider my desire to read this weblog, much in the same way Tony Foresta did over at Daily Pundit and Jade Gold did at Balloon Juice before each of them were banned from those respective blogs.

Please consider banning this troll, as that is all that MKU is. He/she/it adds nothing to the debate/commentary of this website. Judging by the tone of the responses to MKU's comments, I can see I'm not the only one who feels this way.


Posted by: A fine scotch at August 19, 2004 03:38 PM

Excellent analysis mkultra. You've proven that a young military man may or may not have known what the exact requirements of an award were and may have misunderstood what he was receiving it for. Unlike Kerry, Thurlow didn't write his own citation for an awardm, he just accepted what someone recommended him for. As Henke says...yes, he may have been a little disengenous in taking credit for something that didn't happen exactly as it was described, but that doesn't make him a liar. This inconsistency in his story pales in comparison to the memory of Christmas in Cambodia that is seared into John Kerry's memory. Have you called Kerry a liar, yet? Your double-standards are amazingly obtuse.

Posted by: scott at August 19, 2004 03:40 PM

I'm not a big fan of banning. I've done it, but I'm not particularly happy to do so. as long as an absolute minimal amount of civility can be displayed.

Look,there are going to be opposing viewpoints to everything. Some of the expounders of those viewpoints are gonna be idiots.

Unless they go too far, I'd rather ignore them, than ban them. If no one take their bait, they usually leave anyway.

In general, speaking only for myself, and not for Jon or McQ, I reserve banning for meanness, not stupidity.

On the other hand, piss me off enough, and there's no telling what I might do.

Posted by: Dale Franks at August 19, 2004 03:56 PM

Wow, mklutra...I didn't realize soldiers should always go right to the regs to find out if their medals correctly fit the circumstances. I find Thurlow's explanation credible since he says he is willing to concede that he shouldn't have gotten it. He says he didn't ask for it and there is no paperwork as of yet showing he asked for it (unlike Kerry).

How in the world is he a "liar" because his description of the events don't match the regulations' description of the award? He would only be a liar if he made false claims to receive the recognition...

Kinda like Kerry lying about Cambodia. Or Alston and Kerry lying about being on the same boat in combat in January and February. But I guess those lies get canceled out because of your ad hominem attacks on several SwiftVets?

Posted by: JWG at August 19, 2004 03:59 PM


"Excellent analysis mkultra. You've proven that a young military man may or may not have known what the exact requirements of an award were and may have misunderstood what he was receiving it for." (Emphasis mine.)

Your point might have some merit, were it not based on a false premise. As you can see from Thurlow's quote, he not only believed it then, he believes it today. And whatever Thurlow is today (see my earlier comment), he is certainly not a young military man.

Indeed, his statement really does not make sense at all. According to the records, he got the award for performing under enemy fire. And yet he continues to believe, today, it was for something else. I am beginning to think he is more of a moron than a liar, but I will let someone else split that hair.

Posted by: mkultra at August 19, 2004 04:04 PM

mkultra: I don't know if you were ever in the military, but if you were in for more than a short-time and a wake up, you've been to ceremonies in your unit where a new guy coming from another unit gets an award that just showed up from his last unit.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that if Kerry wrote the sitrep and Rassmann wrote the citation for Kerry, its not a huge stretch to believe that Kerry helped convince Rassmann that there was hostile fire. You can't get a Silver Star otherwise. Its an award for valot UNDER FIRE. That have things like the "Soldiers Medal" for valor without hostile action. So a confused Rassmann, who thought suppressing fire was hostile fire has his perception bolstered by Kerry who wants that Silver Star and, oh by the way, is writing the sitrep to reflect hostile fire and the citation and recommendation go in.

In the meantime Thurlow also is recommended by someone and they use Kerry's sitrep and Rassmann's citation reworded slightly for Thurlow. Thurlow gets it at his next unit, not even knowing he was put in.

Believe it or not, that's not an uncommon occurrance.

Posted by: McQ at August 19, 2004 04:15 PM

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that if Kerry wrote the sitrep and Rassmann wrote the citation for Kerry, its not a huge stretch to believe that Kerry helped convince Rassmann that there was hostile fire."

It's not a huge stretch to believe Bush missed his flight exam because he was poz for coke. It's not a huge stretch to believe that Bush lied about fulfilling his guard duty. It's not a huge stretch ....

It's not a huge stretch to believe a lot of things, now is it?

Posted by: mkultra at August 19, 2004 06:52 PM

You're right, MK, it's not a huge stretch to believe these things....or, that they are possibilities, anyway.

Tell you what. Why don't you stack up your eyewitnesses to Bush's coke binge, and the other side will stack up their eyewitnesses to Kerry's exploits.

Posted by: Jon Henke at August 19, 2004 07:25 PM


Uh, yes, it is a HUGE stretch. You see Bush had cleared his unit in Texas in May of that year. That means he was no longer in a flying slot. The physical was scheduled for July (it is an annual requirement for those on flight status and his previous physical had been in July of the previous year). There's absolutely to requirement or need to take a flight physical when you're no longer in a flight status in a flying unit. Bush was in Alabama ... there was no reason for him to take a flight physical.

But you'd know that if you knew anything about military flight status.

Its obvious you don't.

Posted by: McQ at August 19, 2004 08:21 PM

mkultra As is your norm your full of beans and the resulting flatulence fails to quote the following para on Bronze Star requirements:

To justify this decoration, accomplishment or performance of duty above that normally expected, and sufficient to distinguish the individual among those performing comparable duties is required, although less than the requirements for the Silver Star or Legion of Merit. Minor acts of heroism in combat or single acts of merit or meritorious service in connection with military or naval operations may justify this award.

If you care to parse the fact he saved crewmen and it doesn't fit the above have at it. Waste your breath and QandO's bandwidth

Posted by: Marc at August 19, 2004 09:51 PM


It's not a huge stretch to believe Bush missed his flight exam because he was poz for coke. It's not a huge stretch to believe that Bush lied about fulfilling his guard duty. It's not a huge stretch .... It's not a huge stretch to believe a lot of things, now is it?

The accusations about Kerry are devastating because (A) there's proof, and (B) Kerry brought it on himself by focusing so strongly on the Vietnam angle. What a disaster! I think people are going to start concluding that Kerry went to Vietnam in order so that he could come back with medals to toss over the fence at the WH and launch a political career at the feet of Ted Kennedy among the "antiwar" generation.

Posted by: pdq332 at August 19, 2004 10:24 PM

One thing to consider vis-a-vis Thurlow. Since the medal came (probably in the mail) a few months after he left active duty, he may not have looked too closely at it. Many in the media are making the Bronze Star out to be a big deal, but they were handed out pretty liberally over there. Having left the Navy, he may not have bothered to read the citation carefully, or gotten all wrapped up in trying to correct the record (doing so is a lot of work, and probably wouldn't have gone anywhere anyway).

After all, how was he to know that 35 years later some other flunky Lt(j.g.) was going to make that day one of the signature pieces of a campaign for the presidency?

Heck, I barely looked at the medal I was given when I left active duty in 1999 (admittedly, it was not as prestigious as a Bronze Star)--it's sitting in its presentation case on a shelf in a closet. And I immediately went into the reserves, so the medal has some influence on my future career in the military. For someone leaving the military behind, it's hard to believe getting a Bronze Star months later was all that big a deal.

Posted by: jem at August 20, 2004 08:52 AM

Also, I'd say pdq332 got a little overwrought at the end. I doubt Kerry went to Vietnam with an eye to a post-war career as a war protestor. He may well have harbored ambitions of a political career (that wouldn't be vanishingly rare, unlike the war protestor wannabe premise).

I have no heartache with the medals being awarded--maybe he was the beneficiary of being especially effective in "pushing" the system, maybe the Navy was a little too eager to hand out medals. Whatever. He served honorably and the rest of the argument is a question of degree.

I'd say it's a different story when it comes to his public claims that his peers were war criminals and his active efforts to publicly support the North Vietnamese upon his return. Those were dishonorable acts unbecoming of someone seeking the highest office in the land. Given his efforts to support the Nicaraguan regime of Daniel Ortega and to defeat efforts to take strong action against the enemies of America, however, we can fairly state that those actions upon his return reflect the philosophical preferences he would bring to the office if he is elected.

I suspect a Kerry presidency would, in the foreign affairs arena, have a lot in common with the fecklessness of the Carter years--if confronted, negotiate, if negotiation fails, back down. We might get a few toothless treaties signed, but we'd give up opportunities to use influence events in favor of reacting to the actions of those who wish us harm.

Posted by: Jem at August 20, 2004 09:07 AM

I am a Vet from Vietnam. I saw men wounded and saw those men that saved them under fire. I never saw any bronze medles handed out liberally. I and my friends received medals. I know for a fact that myself and ALL my friends would not have accepted a medal that was not deserved!

Posted by: RonneyLee at August 20, 2004 10:54 AM

Several other veterans have come forward to support Kerry and Rassmann on this point: Wayne D. Langhofer, Del Sandusky, and James Wasser.

Myrtle Beach Sun, 08/14/04:

Other surviving crew mates corroborate that account. "I was there," crew mate Del Sandusky told CNN. "I saw the bullets skimming across the water. I saw the firefight gun flashes from the jungle. I know the firefight and the ambush we were in."

Washington Post, 08/21/04

Everybody aboard Kerry's boat, including Rassmann, says there was fire from both riverbanks, and the official after-action report speaks of all boats receiving "heavy a/w [automatic weapons] and s/a [small arms] from both banks." The Bronze Star citations for Kerry and Thurlow also speak of prolonged enemy fire.

A report on "battle damage" to Thurlow's boat mentions "three 30 cal bullet holes about super structure." ...

Until now, eyewitness evidence supporting Kerry's version had come only from his own crewmen. But yesterday, The Post independently contacted a participant who has not spoken out so far in favor of either camp who remembers coming under enemy fire. "There was a lot of firing going on, and it came from both sides of the river," said Wayne D. Langhofer, who manned a machine gun aboard PCF-43, the boat that was directly behind Kerry's.

Langhofer said he distinctly remembered the "clack, clack, clack" of enemy AK-47s, as well as muzzle flashes from the riverbanks. Langhofer, who now works at a Kansas gunpowder plant, said he was approached several months ago by leaders of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth but declined their requests to speak out against Kerry.

[See links, quotes, and further discussion at Political Animal.]

Posted by: Raven at August 22, 2004 10:28 AM

Here is what I think it happened.
Rassmann was in Kerry's boat, when the mine blasted the #3 boat Kerry gunned his engines to get out of the area surprising Rassmann who flipped over into the water. Simultaneously the other boats started suppressing fire into the banks of the river.
Rassmann disoriented thought the fire was coming from the VC.
The crew on Kerry's boat could possibly think that the gunfire from the other 3 boats was from the VC this because they were not around to know exactly where the fire came from.
It is inconceivable that during the time it took the 3 boats to rescue the crew of the #3 boat inside the boat as well as in the water and getting the boat under control from sinking which all took 90 minutes that only 3 bullet holes were found on one boat. These 3 bullets holes have been attributed to the previous day attack. If in fact all boats were under fire from both sides of the river for 90 minutes while salvaging the crew and getting the boat under control, there would not be anyone alive to talk about it now and the boats would be piles of scrap. Remember that Kerry in his book Tour of Duty refers to this incident as "5,000 meters (3 miles) gauntlet of fire". Again this would have been a massacre giving the fact that all boats were traveling at slow speed towing the #3 boat.
Since Kerry wrote the After Action Report I would suggest that he and Rassmann made up the enemy fire story therefore having the AAR match Rassmann's recommendation. I am sure Rassmann was grateful for being pulled out of the water.
The fact that Rassmann was the last to be pulled out of the water is consistent with Kerry fleeing the scene and returning when there was not gunfire and the site was secured. If anything hit Kerry's boat as he claims and the reason he got his arm bruised (3rd Purple Heart) could very possibly been a sand bank. In the hurry to get out of the area the driver inadvertently hit one.
Sand banks were abundant in these rivers and canals

Posted by: Al Y. at August 30, 2004 09:18 PM

Al Y., why didn't you bother to read the post immediately preceding yours?

You write,

The crew on Kerry's boat could possibly think that the gunfire from the other 3 boats was from the VC this because they were not around to know exactly where the fire came from.   ...   Since Kerry wrote the After Action Report I would suggest that he and Rassmann made up the enemy fire story...."

Compare:   "Langhofer said he distinctly remembered the 'clack, clack, clack' of enemy AK-47s, as well as muzzle flashes from the riverbanks."

See also:

Swiftboat Crewman: Kerry Boat Took Fire (AP) Retired Chief Petty Officer Robert E. Lambert joins in supporting Kerry's version of events

Swift boat memories: Eagle Point vet who was there backs Kerry's assertion that bullets were flying the day he won two medals on a river in Vietnam (Jackson County [Oregon] Mail Tribune)

Ads anger Colorado vet: Telluride man says he saw Kerry rescue soldier from river (Rocky Mountain News) "Retired Navy lieutenant Jim Russell, 60, backed up Kerry's version of an incident more than 35 years ago."

Navy records appear to support Kerry's version (MSNBC) Swift Boats came under fire, task force reported

Posted by: Raven at September 4, 2004 11:49 AM

What was an army lt special forces airbone ranger doing on a swift boat?? he was not assigned there...

Posted by: leroy dodd at October 23, 2004 10:19 AM