August 22, 2004

Swifties and Rood
Posted by McQ

I have to admit I sort of chuckled when I read Rood's account of the action in which Kerry won his Silver Star. It was funny because the first thought that popped in my head was "how can this matter, he wasn't in the same boat as Kerry". This has been an article of faith with the pro-Kerry side in all of this. I'm going to be interested to see how they manage the acceptance of Rood's story while still rejecting the stories of the other Swift boat commanders who served "with" Kerry as Rood did.

Having read the book "Unfit for Command" and Rood's version, I really don't see much in Rood's story that contradicts what was said in the book.

It more of a case of differing opinions about the incident. The book, for instance, points out that Kerry didn't act alone in his pursuit of the wounded VC. Rood confirms that. If I'm not mistaken, "Tour of Duty" alludes to Kerry acting alone.

BTW, that's the one part missing in all of this. Much of the dispute "Unfit for Command" has is with Kerry's biography "Tour of Duty" and its version of the events. Note that the "Tour of Duty" version is not related in any of these articles.

"Unfit for Command" also claims the move to beach the boats was orchestrated while "Tour of Duty" alludes to it being a spontaneous action. Rood confirms the "Unfit for Command" version, but his explanation says it was done for tactical surprise (it wasn't standard operating procedure) while the "Unfit for Command" claims or infers that it was done for other less savory reasons (again, based on the treatment by "Tour of Duty"). Based on Rood's recollection I'd have to go with him on this point although tactically, I think it was a poor idea.

Rood also confirms that when the initial ambush was sprung Kerry's boat was not the boat that turned and beached. That is not the impression left by the campaign's treatment of the event although it is how it is treated in the Silver Star citation. It was the boat PCF-43 commanded by Donald Droz with the Regional Forces (known as "Ruff Puffs" for "Regional Forces/Popular Forces" ... a sort of militia) that beached. The Ruff Puffs cleared the ambush. That's how the book tells the story as well.

It was a secondary ambush in which Kerry beached the boat. Where the Swiftees dispute Kerry's account is that he alone chased this VC down. He was part of a group which chased him down.

Per the Chicago Trib article:

The book's authors, John O'Neill and Jerome Corsi, wrote that Kerry's attack on the Viet Cong ambush displayed "stupidity, not courage."

This is an important point. It is also the main point of contention. But its also a matter of opinion. Was the beaching of the boat stupid? Well if the main assets of your command are its mobility and firepower, then yes, beaching your boat is stupid. If you read what one of Kerry's crewmembers manning the .50s on the boat says you can understand why. Because of the beaching, he couldn't depress his weapons enough to bring them to bear. He was out of the fight. That's dangerous to the safety of the boat and the crew.

Secondly, and probably just as important, Kerry was a Swift boat commander, not an infantryman. He left his post to chase this VC down. Now, if you read some of the statements from the vets he's surrounded himself with and "Tour of Duty", you get the impression that if he hadn't done that, they were "dead men".

Well that's only because his craft was beached and he couldn't bring his weapons to bear. Had he maintained position in the river and been able to bring his .50s to bear, the VC was a dead man, right there. But its also not true for another reason. As Rood himself points out, there were Ruff Puffs on the shore clearing the area. They were also after this VC.

Here's how Rood remembers the event:

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.

So again, not to belabor the point, but to ensure its clear ... we have 2 Swift boats beached and the 2 commanders ashore, which essentially leaves their boats "leaderless" and unable to support against any further VC action while they're running around on shore like John Wayne. You've reduced their combined firepower from a couple of twin .50 cal machine guns and a couple of M-60 machine guns to 4 guys running around with M-16s. Not a smart tactical move. In fact a rather stupid tactical move.

So I definitely agree with part of what O'Neill said .... it was stupid. I wouldn't agree, however, that it wasn't courageous. Stupid and courageous are not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, in this case and in my opinion, the stupid outweighs the courageous. The "courageous act" could very easily have gotten his boat destroyed and his crew killed. They were very lucky they survived the incident because Kerry's action essentially took his crew and boat out of the fight and left his command in very sorry tactical shape.

But again .... that's an opinion based on 28 years of operations experience in the military.

The other part of the SBVT opinion is that Kerry's action with the VC didn't rise to the level of that for which a Silver Star is awarded.

l'd agree if that's all the Silver Star awarded was about. But it wasn't. When you read the citation, the impression I get is its being awarded for the whole operation. It appears to me that the award is being given to the OITC (Officer In Tactical Command) of the operation (Kerry) for the results of the operation, a part of which was this pursuit of the wounded (or not wounded) VC. Hoffmann's praise was for the operation's total results, not the killing of the single VC. So I'd have to side with Kerry and Rood on this one.

Although I think it was operationally stupid to beach swift boats because of the degredation of their tactical mobility and firepower and the risk to the crews, and I further think it was stupid to see OICs of swift boats on shore playing infantry and leaving their beached boats leaderless, the results were a 'success' as concerns the mission.

If I had been pinning Kerry's Silver Star on that day, I'd have congratulated him on his courage and success and told him if he ever repeated the incident I'd have him court-martialed for disregarding Standard Operating Procedure, endangering his command, and leaving his command while under fire (all which come close to dereliction of duty). But success ameliorated the stupidity of the actions Kerry took that day. Funny how that works.

One other point brought out in Rood's article which makes a point I and others have been stressing about the claims that Kerry has made about "clandestine insertions in Cambodia". I couldn't have made it better than if I'd have written it myself:

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.

Get the point folks? You don't do "clandestine" insertions with 'noisy 50-foot aluminum boats, each driven by two huge 12-cylinder diesels'. You do clandestine insertions with stealthy craft which will go in undetected, not announce themselves a mile ahead of their arrival.

I still await the revised Cambodia stories with anticipation.

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Comments

You make the point that Kerry's behavior in beaching his boat and pursuing a lone and possibly wounded VC and, from Kerry's account, dispatching the VC can be construed as "courageous" while pointing out the courage and stupidity are not mutually exclusive. I do not think Kerry's actions, even taken as the account reads are courageous or outstanding. They are simply what is expected. This is reading the account in a light FAVORABLE to Kerry. One point --- has there been ANY confirmation that Kerry actually killed a VC other than Kerry's account? Everything I have read, which hasn't been exhaustive by any means, seems to be without eyewitnesses. Was there a body? I say this because it is axiomatic in evaluating Kerry's service that he took NO risks that were not carefully evaluated and were not shifted strongly in Kerry's favor. My suspicion is that the VC was dying and that Kerry was aware of this critical condition and took action based on little or no risk to his person. THAT is what is consistent with Kerry's behavior.

For the above reason I disagree with the "stupid" part of your observation. Kerry did nothing "stupid" during his service that is related to his personal survival. In fact it is a texbook case -- Kerry's personal surgical strike on Vietnam and his extraction 4 months later at very little risk to himself. Not stupid at all.

Posted by: JingoJim at August 22, 2004 10:46 AM

What has always troubled me about this event (apart from Kerry's shameless and incessant boasting about it)is the disproportionate nature of the awards, and their distribution. There were six men in Kerry's boat, including Kerry, and the result was a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and three Navy Commendation Medals. On the other hand, it appears from Unfit for Command that no one else was awarded anything except Army Lt. Doug Reese, who received an Army Commendation Medal. Reese and his Ruff-puffs, according to O'Neill, were the first ashore (as was their boat), and accounted for a number of VC KIA. I made over 120 patrols in PBR's from 9/68-9/69, and I can say unequivocally that an action like this would not have resulted in a Silver Star for anyone. This kind of thing, while dangerous and demanding of a courageous response, was very nearly routine. On the other hand, I have long felt that Adm. Zumwalt, having brought the Swifts up into the rivers in late 1968 for the first time, was pleased to be generous with the awards, as others have noted, to increase morale. Kerry was a clever and ambitious opportunist, and he saw the main chance and took it.

Posted by: PBRMan at August 22, 2004 11:08 AM

JingoJim: Courage is in the eye of the beholder I guess, but while I think confronting an armed enemy is, in fact courageous, you don't feel able to give Kerry the benefit of the doubt in this one. Fine ... such is life.

What I described as 'stupid' is the tactical danger he put his boat and crew in while he pulled off his "let's chase the VC" stunt. To me that posed much more of a threat to his boat than the lone VC with a B-40 rocket. He essentially left his boat leaderless and defenseless. What if there'd been 3 more guys in the weeds with B-40s?

Destroyed Swift boat ... that's what.

My point was this, while his individual act was brave, its stupidity far outweighe the bravery. He abrogated his responsibility to his command with his act. It was very poorly thought out action which could have had horrific consequences. He was lucky, it didn't, so he gets off with an award instead of a court-martial.

But that doesn't mean that since what he did was stupid that there wasn't personal bravery involved in his action.

Look, I'm not going to do the same thing on this side of the argument that those on the other are prone to do ... discount everything Kerry did as "bad" simply because I don't want Kerry as president. It makes me no better than the ABB crowd.

Posted by: McQ at August 22, 2004 11:10 AM

PBRman: Sometimes being in the right place at the right time has benefits.

What many commanders have done in many wars is use commendation as "impact awards". That is, he wants the award to make an impact on the unit, to stress this is the sort of results he wants, to reward those who were successful. Obviously there's the possibility that the desire to give those "impact awards" may see some, upon review, believe they just didn't rise to the level of that award. I think that's the case for many who view this now.

But then, it had a purpose, which is why it was pushed through so hurridly and awarded by Zumwaldt himself.

Look, it seems rather silly to dispute whether its deserved or not when his chain of command obviously thought it was at the time. Whether it rises to the level we expect for a Silver Star is debatable, but the bottom line is, it was awarded, not by John Kerry, but by his chain of command. And all indications are the reason was to "impact" the command, get them riled up, get them on board with the program of taking the rivers away from the VC.

That, however, doesn't mean the decisions made on a tactical level were sound or good. And that certainly impacts on fitness for command. That is the area I'm interested in, and based on this incident, I'd rate that as a negative.

Posted by: McQ at August 22, 2004 11:21 AM

I believe the bulk of the Swiftvets case has been demonstrated on the first and third purple hearts (see today's Washington Post for Rammsonn's confirmation of the later) and Christmas in Cambodia.

However, I'm willing to give Kerry a break on the Silver Star. I don't think killing a VC merits it, but his tactic of turning into an ambush was innovative and audacious and yielded good results. The dividing line between audacious and foolish depends on the factors only a commander on the scene can assess, and the results. McAurtur at Inchon and Custer at Little Bighorn are opposite examples.

Rood makes it clear that the tactic was preplanned to use if the circumstances were appropriate and the results that day back up its use. Apparently, Kerry didn't use it again in his few days remaining in country, but that day he was smart or lucky. You can't really knock it either way.

Posted by: Albert Schwartz at August 22, 2004 11:56 AM

There is no question that Rood carefully delineates what he will talk about, and cautiously chooses his words. He speaks of heavy fire, and from both sides. And that is the only significant distinction I see. I can give him that. He most certainly accuses no SBVFT of lying, and attributes all discrepancies to 35 years' passage. I don't think it changes much of snything.

And I don't think it would be wise for Kerry to make too much use of Rood. It seems to me he is putting out every signal that he will blow up all over Kerry, possibly about leadership, other events/wounds, if he feels he's being used as poster boy for JFK II.

BTW, WTH happened to Dave Alston? Has he been abducted by aliens?

Posted by: Jumbo at August 22, 2004 12:14 PM

I don't think I disagree with McQ at all on the purpose of the award. I recall in a MacArthur biography the tale of how, in France in 1917 with his Rainbow Division, he buttonholed a surprised colonel and outlined some extraordinarily hazardous mission that he wanted the man to launch immediately. The guy hadn't even had a chance to respond when MacArthur said, "there--I can see you're going to do it. Here, let me give you this," whereupon he reached in his pocket and pulled out a medal of some kind and pinned it on the guy's chest. But I'd be awfully surprised if the guy trumpeted the tale one hundredth as much as Kerry has trumpeted his. More to the point, if the colonel had returned home and given a hugely glorified account of whatever happened next, utterly ignoring the presence of others who contributed (how many people knew about the other two boats, or about Lt. Reese, until the SwiftVets came forward), I think he could have expected to hear from his comrades about it, and rightly so.

Posted by: PBRMan at August 22, 2004 12:14 PM

Jumbo: David Alston is wherever "historian" Douglas Brinkley is.

Posted by: PBRMan at August 22, 2004 12:17 PM

Albert Schwarz: "However, I'm willing to give Kerry a break on the Silver Star."

Agreed, if only for the statement of Rood, a decent man, who says there were two ambushes and lead flying.

Agree as well that Kerry PH 1 (Dec 2), and PH 3 and BSM (3/13) accounts are shot full of holes; as PCF-94 already was on 3/13 (they didn't strike a mine)...

From "OneHandClapping", http://donaldsensing.com/: "Tomorrow's (8/22) Washington Post confirms that the damage listed for Kerry's boat actually occurred the day before Kerry pulled Army Lt. Jim Rassman from the water on March 13, 1969. This fact mitigates against (well, pretty much disproves) Kerry's account that his boat struck a mine in the river."

Posted by: Jumbo at August 22, 2004 12:22 PM

PBRMan: "Jumbo: David Alston is wherever "historian" Douglas Brinkley is."

My God, has anybody ever seen the two of them together at the same time?! *cue ominous music*

Posted by: Jumbo at August 22, 2004 12:24 PM

Still to be dealt with satisfactorily is how Kerry magically got awarded his Silver Star replete with the redundant and rather inappropriate "V" device.

Posted by: dustoff at August 22, 2004 04:36 PM

"how Kerry magically got awarded his Silver Star replete with the redundant and rather inappropriate "V" device."

Maybe I'm laboring under a false assumption, but I had thought the "V" device was only for BSM, to distinguish from combat and non-combat award. I though that SS and above were for valorous conduct only, thus no "V" needed. So I son't think there is such a thing as a "V" for a SS. Was I worng?

Posted by: Jumbo at August 22, 2004 08:17 PM

Do we know the SS had a "V"? (I'm not even sure how that could happen.) Or was it just a confused story by someone who doesn't know the difference between a Silver and Bronze Star Medal, or a misstatement? Is there an original source for it?

Posted by: jaed at August 22, 2004 09:31 PM

I grew up 10 years after this, and have sat on mock juries for insurance cases and analyzing accident scenes. This leads me quickly to the point that they were under fire "from both banks" on a canal as wide as a four-lane highway. So they both (all) beach on the same side? leaving their guns facing away from half their attackers - or at least a portion of them? With nothing but rilfes to aim back, the VC wouldn't have one measley RPG, etc to shoot from the opposite bank into the back of the boats? Doesn't pass the smell test for that particular detail - for either ambush site. Smells like Rood goes hunting for deer the same way Kerry does - shotgun, camo, slithering on the ground to sneak up on the deer...

Posted by: PEBSTR at August 22, 2004 09:32 PM

While I have zero personal knowledge of Silver Stars and combat Vs, I posed the question to a friend whose Dad has a rather substantial collection of metal on his chest. Her response was, "I know it exists." I was a bit taken aback for a moment, then a bulb dawned overhead and I asked, "Why? Does you Dad have one?" She replied in the affirmative.

She's no Kerry fan. Quite the opposite.

So there's a suggestion that the V is a blind alley... unless they weren't awarded that way in the time span in question. (The one she refers to would have been a lot more recent, not sure of the details, maybe Iraq 1.)

Posted by: Dan S at August 23, 2004 01:07 AM

Do we know that Kerry actually killed the VC he was chasing? The accounts indicate that gunfire "was heard," Kerry appeared with an RPG, and said he'd killed the guy. The RPG might not have been functioning which could explain why the VC never fired it in the first place and he might have dropped it.

Anything to that?

Posted by: Lewis at August 24, 2004 11:23 PM

Excellent post and comments! I wish the press would talk to some soldiers like you guys, for background info.

A couple of questions:

1. Just how many Bronze and Silver Stars got awarded ? Were there any skippers who *didn't* get one every couple of months?

2. Rood received a Bronze Star for the same operation Kerry got a Silver Star. Doesn't this undermine his credibility as a witness against the charge that Kerry wrote up the operation falsely to get medals? Is it possible that each was the corroborating witness for the other?

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen at August 25, 2004 09:58 AM

Forget the Medals arguments! Look at John Kerry from this perspective.

What I want to know is how John Kerry will answer the POW's who are shown on the link below. (These are NOT Swift Boat people, but they were pilots who were shot down and captured).

Please join us in viewing and then passing on the upcoming documentary link to all Veterans and every decent American that you know.

The TOTAL TRUTH about Hanoi John Kerry as told by POW's who suffered the Hell that resulted from his lies.

Awesome Film Clips of Stolen Honor. The Truth about John Kerry.

Posted by: leaddog2 at August 27, 2004 01:37 AM

Yes, a body was seen. Kerry DID kill one VC that day. No mystery about that.

It was the 23 boat (Rood's) that beached first, not the 43 boat (Droz's).

Much is made, here and elsewhere, about the wisdom of beaching the boat(s) that day. In my view, it was the thing to do in those circumstances.

The .50cal on Kerry's boat was quite useful, but not for shooting the VC that was literally right next to the boat.

Doug Reese

Posted by: Doug Reese at September 10, 2004 05:28 AM