Saturday, October 02, 2004


Here's a new tidbit

By THOMAS LIPSCOMB Special to the Sun

A faded 35-year-old operations order recovered from the Naval Historical Center in Washington bears directly on the ongoing dispute between Senator Kerry and the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth about who wrote the key after-action report that ended Mr. Kerry’s service in Vietnam.The report appears in the official Navy records and is posted on Mr. Kerry’s campaign Web site.
It details Mr. Kerry’s participation in a naval operation on the Bay Hap River on March 13, 1969, in such glowing terms that Mr. Kerry was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for pulling Special Forces officer James Rassman out of the water while under heavy enemy fire. This third Purple Heart award allowed Kerry to cut short his tour in Vietnam after only four months.
The report in question described a mission of five Swift boats ambushed on their way to the sea by a mine explosion that seriously damaged one boat while simultaneously the Swift boats received “heavy A/W [automatic weapons] and S/A [small arms] [fire] from both banks. Fire continued for about 5,000 meters,” a little over three miles. The admiral who commanded the Swift boats in Vietnam, Roy Hoffman, finds that detail alone absurd. Admiral Hoffman points out “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.”
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 veritable gauntlet of almost 3 miles 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 Swift boats managed to escape and even more miraculously retrieve the sinking PCF-3 without getting a single bullet hole in any vessel or crewmember.
“It is miraculous all right, because it never happened,” recalls Larry Thurlow, who commanded the mission.“PCF-3 hit a mine, all of my boats directed supressing 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 crewmembers. 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. All I called for was damage control to be brought to us so we could keep the PCF-3 afloat.”
After he returned to the United States the following month, Mr. Thurlow was surprised to find that he had received a Bronze Star himself because of his activities described in the after action report.
When Mr. Thurlow first saw the report last July he didn’t recognize the mission it contained. The Kerry campaign pointed to Mr.Thurlow’s own citation referring to his being “under constant enemy small arms fire” as well when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth first contested Mr. Kerry’s account in August.
As the commander of the mission, normally Mr. Thurlow would have filed the disputed after-action report. But he denies writing it. And the “MARKET TIME Spot Report” supports his denial. It was written by someone designated “TE” An operations order re-sent two months earlier, on January 3, by Admiral Hoffman, set the format for the designation.The operations order procedures, originated by the operational commander of the Coastal 11 An Thoi unit Mr. Kerry served with, Commander Adrian Lonsdale, were the basis for the terms of designation used in this kind of report subsequently. Upon seeing the report Mr. Lonsdale recognized it and recalled the procedures it required as being followed in his command.
“TE” for example refers to a “task element,” which is defined by the numbers to the right that shows the command structure over the task element in action. “194” is Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, commander of U.S. naval forces in Vietnam; “5” is Admiral Roy Hoffman’s Swift boat command; “4” is Commander Adrian Lonsdale’s command; the last “4” is Captain George Elliot’s Swift boat base at An Thoi, where the boats on this mission were based. And the final “/1” indicates someone other than the commander of the mission. If the report had been submitted by the mission commander, in this case Larry 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”
According to a Navy communications expert, Troy Jenkins, who has examined the message traffic, the report in question was sent from the USCGC Spencer, Commander 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, Mr. Droz then had to return to the USS Washtenaw County, an LST stationed about 25 nautical miles away,for medevac, leaving only Mr. Kerry aboard the Spencer at the time the message was sent at 11:20 that night.
Could Mr. Droz have somehow written the report? Mr. Lonsdale said he thinks that 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 Viet Nam since November. Droz just arrived at An Thoi in February.”
Larry Thurlow adds, “I never liked the paperwork anyway. I was happy to have Kerry write them up.”
And there is another factor. Mr. Thurlow ordered Mr. Droz to take care of the wounded after the action on the Bay Hap. Mr. Droz had ferried them 40 miles out to the Spencer and now had to take them 25 miles back to the LST. Moving wounded on and off a 327-foot- long Coast Guard cutter from a 50-foot Swift boat on the open sea was not something Mr. Droz was likely to leave unsupervised long enough to dash off a report. Mr. Kerry had no duties other than reporting to the sick bay, where according to his doctor recently 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 the operations order of January 3, 1969. Neither the Kerry campaign nor its Swift Boat Veteran critics contest the validity of the after-action report by “TE”
Kerry spokesmen have repeatedly insisted that Mr. 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 Mr. 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 downriver, leaving James Rassman overboard and the other three boats to deal with the ambush and the sinking PCF 3. All 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.

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