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Saturday, August 21, 2004

ChiTrib's William B. Rood adds context, but no revelations, about Kerry's Silver Star

This isn't a fisking.

The single best development for Sen. John F. Kerry during the past two weeks is the just-published first-person account from former Swift Boat skipper William B. Rood of the action on February 28, 1969, that resulted in Kerry's Silver Star.

William B. Rood as he looks todayMr. Rood's memoir, entitled "Anti-Kerry vets not there that day," deserves a respectful and careful reading from anyone interested in the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy.  It provides context and some credible opinions that are unquestionably favorable to Sen. Kerry.

But neither it, nor the companion news article by Rood's Chicago Tribune colleague Tim Jones, directly contradicts the SwiftVets' principle allegations of fact.

To the contrary, for those who've paid close attention to what the SwiftVets have actually alleged, Mr. Rood's new memoir actually supports their main contentions regarding Kerry's fitness for the Silver Star, because they show that Kerry was not charging alone, through overwhelming enemy fire, into a dense concentration of the enemy when he hopped off PCF-94 that day.

That's not the way Mr. Rood's memoir will be spun by relieved Kerry supporters.  But journey with me now, gentle readers, and decide for yourselves as we together examine, closely and with due respect, the details of Mr. Rood's memoir.

Mr. Rood's bona fides and motives

Mr. Rood, now a metropolitan desk editor for the Tribune, has the bona fides to offer both facts and opinions on these events:

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.

Mr. Rood carefully offers neither hearsay nor speculation about any of the rest of John Kerry's combat record.  Nor, apparently, does he intend to in the future:  "My intent is to tell the story here and to never again talk publicly about it."  Correspondent Jones reports that "Rood declined requests from a Tribune reporter to be interviewed for this article."  As for his motivations in speaking out now, Mr. Rood writes:

[I]n 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.

I'm inclined to accept that statement at face value, based on what is not in Mr. Rood's account, and on what Mr. Rood has not done over the past several months.  There's no endorsement of John Kerry for President; no glowing tribute to his overall combat record; no defense of, or even comment upon, Kerry's antiwar activism.  He doesn't corroborate Kerry's "Christmas in Cambodia" fairy tale, nor any of the other "in or near Cambodia" claims.  He provides a snapshot of Kerry in a camouflage bush hat, but does not comment on its source.  Indeed, it's not at all clear that Mr. Rood even likes John Kerry.  Yet clearly he is a knowledgeable and articulate man, a veteran and former officer who could well have stood onstage with Sen. Kerry at the recent Democratic National Convention to sing his praises, had he so chosen.

Mr. Rood's memoir comprises two principle substantive assertions, the first involving matters of judgment and opinion on military tactics, and the second involving matters of recollected facts.

Mr. Rood's opinions defending
the military tactics used that day

As to the first assertion, Mr. Rood is clearly irked by the SwiftVets' criticism of the military tactics employed that day:

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.

Mr. Rood notes that young Kerry "had tactical command of that particular operation," and he credits Kerry with "talk[ing] to Droz and me beforehand about not responding the way the boats usually did to an ambush."  But he does not award Kerry sole or even primary credit for devising the new tactic:

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.

I've yet to have read John O'Neill's Unfit for Command, so I can't speak to the details of the differing opinions he or others, including Adm. Hoffmann, may have offered on this change in military tactics.  From Mr. Rood's quotes, I gather that they express different, and critical opinions; and if so, one can understand why Mr. Rood might have taken offense on behalf of, and now spoken out to defend, himself, Lt. Droz, and Lt. Kerry with respect to the tactics they employed that day.  It may be that their criticisms, fairly read, only apply to the second ambush, in which Kerry no longer had a boatload of troops to offload onto the shore to pursue the second ambushers (who were presumably fewer in number than those involved in the first attack).

Personally, I lack the military experience and training to second-guess either set of opinions.  And while it may be true that some of the SwiftVets have criticized young Kerry's tactical judgments, that strikes me as a very minor and almost trivial part of the larger controversies that the SwiftVets have raised about Sen. Kerry's current fitness to assume the office of Commander in Chief.

Mr. Rood's factual recollections regarding
Kerry's personal combat performance

As to the second set of assertions, Mr. Rood's first-hand recollection of the facts of the day's combats are generally consistent with what Sen. Kerry has claimed, and with what both his supporters and critics have claimed.  I've already quoted above Mr. Rood's recollection as to the first of two ambushes in describing how the tactics employed by the Swift Boats that day differed from their usual ones.  As to the second ambush, Mr. Rood recalls:

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.

In his companion article, Tribune correspondent Jones reports:

Asked for his response to Rood's account, O'Neill argued that the former swift boat skipper's version of events is not substantially different from what appeared in his book. The account of the Feb. 28 attack draws heavily on reporting from The Boston Globe, O'Neill said.

And indeed, O'Neill has never claimed to have any first-hand knowledge of the events that day.  Rather, as I understand them, his and the SwiftVets' critiques have relied on the facts reported by other veterans who were present that day, including Sen. Kerry's own recollections as reported in various places, including not only newspaper accounts, but also Douglas Brinkley's authorized biography Tour of Duty and Michael Kranish et al.'s John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography by the Boston Globe Reporters Who Know Him Best.

Notwithstanding contrary portrayals by Sen. Kerry's supporters and the popular press, O'Neill and the SwiftVets have stressed repeatedly that their criticisms of Kerry, and their skepticism of his fitness for the Silver Star, do not depend on whether Kerry shot the fleeing VC soldier from the front or the back, or whether his rocket launcher was loaded or not, or whether he was a teenager or full-grown, or whether he was in a loin-cloth or a full set of combat body armor.

John F. Kerry and William B. Rood after the action on 28 Feb 69, from a photo provided by Mr. Rood to the Chicago TribuneThus, the only substantive facts that Mr. Rood's memoir adds are his assertions that "were [also other attackers] who fled" and that there "was also firing from the tree line well behind the spider holes and at one point, from the opposite riverbank as well."  Mr. Rood's memoir adds little in the way of details about time and distance intervals, numbers, volume and type of fire, and so forth; indeed, Mr. Rood's account is actually less detailed than that already reported by other witnesses, and discussed by the SwiftVets in their published evaluations of young Kerry's conduct.

But overall, Mr. Rood's version is generally consistent with the factual claims previously asserted both by Kerry supporters and Kerry critics.  It's a tale told — credibly enough — from yet another witness and yet another perspective, and I do not suggest that it be disregarded.  But it's not new or revolutionary.

More to the point, it does not address the SwiftVets' main contention, which is that the Navy brass (including Captain George Elliott) who recommended young Kerry for his Silver Star were then under the impression — since dispelled by Kerry's own repeated telling of the story, plus that of other witnesses now including William B. Rood — that Kerry's valor was in charging ashore through overwhelming fire into a dense concentration of the enemy.


Near the conclusion of his memoir, Mr. Rood writes:

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.

Surely everyone interested in this controversy can agree with Mr. Rood's cautionary note.  To his considerable credit, Mr. Rood himself doesn't claim to be the "final authority" on any of these matters.  He acknowledges that Sen. Kerry's critics in the SwiftVets and elsewhere don't mean to impugn others.  Certainly to the extent, if any, that their criticisms may have been taken, reasonably enough, to include within their ambit Mr. Rood and others who served bravely that day, Mr. Rood has spoken carefully and eloquently and persuasively to refute those criticisms.

But my impressions from Mr. Rood's memoir are not unlike those I had in 1992 when I cross-examined John O'Neill under oath as an expert witness called by my opponents to support their claim for attorneys' fees in a huge securities fraud case.  O'Neill was a damned impressive witness, and with every word, every opinion, he told the truth as he saw it.  But there was much in that truth that actually supported my client's position, when the spin and hoopla was stripped away.  In my first-hand encounter with John O'Neill, there was indeed a "final authority" — the jury that ended up using O'Neill's testimony as justification for that portion of their verdict in which they found that a "reasonable attorneys' fee" for my opponents' efforts was "zero." 

In the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy, of course, the final "verdict," whether authoritative or not, will come at the voting booths in November.  And unless spin ultimately prevails over substance, I remain unconvinced that Sen. Kerry will be rescued there by Mr. Rood's memoir.


Update:  The ChiTrib helpfully has published an annotated scan of the after-action report to which Mr. Jones' article refers, here.  To more accurately summarize the SwiftVets' own allegations, I've also deleted the word "alone" from my phrase near the end of my original post that originally read "charging ashore alone, through overwhelming fire, into a dense concentration of the enemy"; the mistake was mine, and Kerry's Silver Star citation clearly refers to him "personally [leading] a landing party ashore" rather than being alone.

Update:  McQ of QandO has a military service background that I emphatically lack, and weighs in on the question of whether the tactics employed by the Swift Boats that day were or weren't prudent.  After reading Mr. Rood's memoir, McQ still is inclined to the latter view.  McQ also argues that

[w]hen you read the citation, the impression I get is it's 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.

McQ's argument about Kerry's status as OITC is the best I've heard yet.  My fairly confident inference, however — from Captain George Elliott's emphasis on Kerry's on-shore pursuit activities in Elliott's second affidavit — is that when he approved Kerry's Silver Star nomination, Elliott was under the misimpression that Kerry's onshore pursuit was the same part of the multi-part engagement in which Kerry had displayed "personal courage" by "attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire."  Captain Elliott has said in so many words that he would not have recommended Kerry for the Silver Star had he had available to him back in 1969 the versions of events that were related in 2004 by Sen. Kerry's biographers like Kranish et al. from Sen. Kerry's own telling of the tale.  Mr. Rood's memoir adds little if anything to the account of Kerry's onshore pursuit that the Kranish book contained; it's therefore hard to imagine how Mr. Rood's memoir could undercut Captain Elliott's revised opinion, and indeed, it seems that Mr. Rood's memoir would, if anything, only further support Captain Elliott's reasons for changing his original view from 1969.  The separate "way to go" approval message at the time from Hoffmann may indeed have been praise for the entire operation, including Kerry's role as its OITC; but it's unclear to me what role, if any, Hoffman had in the nomination or approval of Kerry for his Silver Star, much less the selection of the language used in the Silver Star citation.

Meanwhile, Captain Ed posts with further analysis of Mr. Rood's memoir, and points up what seem to be troubling inconsistencies.

Posted by Beldar at 03:34 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to ChiTrib's William B. Rood adds context, but no revelations, about Kerry's Silver Star and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Formerly Silent Vet-Journalist Supports Kerry from Outside The Beltway ™

Tracked on Aug 21, 2004 6:44:46 PM

» Call It What You Will from LeatherPenguin

Tracked on Aug 22, 2004 12:26:39 AM

» More Problems for the Swift Boat Vets from QandO

Tracked on Aug 22, 2004 6:33:01 AM

» Kerry/Vietnam update IX: Chicago Trib, new ad, Washington Post, and a disappointed cheerleader from No Illusions

Tracked on Aug 22, 2004 6:40:00 AM

» Fact Checking Rood from The Pink Flamingo Bar Grill

Tracked on Aug 22, 2004 8:12:19 PM

» The Rood of the Problem from Ed Driscoll.com

Tracked on Aug 22, 2004 8:56:28 PM

» USA Today Slants from Discriminations.us

Tracked on Aug 23, 2004 11:39:50 PM

» Swift Boat Veterans for Lying from blog.mintruth.com

Tracked on Aug 24, 2004 1:22:11 PM


(1) Dave Schuler made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 6:11:21 PM | Permalink

Thank you. Excellent analysis.

(2) jim made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 6:15:06 PM | Permalink

Conspicuously missing is any mention of Kerry's acknowledged ordering of his gunner, and the gunner acknowledging having fired, 50 plus-or-minus-rounds of .50 caliber at 20-30 yard point-blank range at the emerging RPG-carrier, who then simply disappeared from view behind the hootch. How many rounds directly at AT the VC and how many TOWARD the VC through the hootch are still unclear. If his gunner was any good at all, there wouldn't have been much left at that distance.

I do not recall any previous mention anywhere of the kill being observed by a second crewmember, or even of the dead body being observed after the kill before Kerry (and now possibly a second) returned to the vessel.

(3) d made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 6:37:38 PM | Permalink

Isn't it possible the VC was carrying an empty rocket launcher and going behind the hootch to get a loaded rocket launcher? Could not then Kerry bring back the loaded rocket launcher?

(4) Al made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 6:48:47 PM | Permalink

The two questions about this Silver Star are:

1) How did it get a 'Combat V' on it? (That isn't normally possible IIRC)

2) Why was it issued by Lehman in 1986?

(5) Tano made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 7:18:36 PM | Permalink

Your analysis is thoughtful and deliberate. But I sense that you are dead-set against reaching the obvious conclusion. Lt. Kerry acted bravely and honorably in that incident, and clearly was deserving of the award he recieved. The specific charges of the Swifties, and the characterizations of Kerry that their supporters are peddling - that he was reckless, that he abandoned his ship, that devised this strategy to up his medals total, that he murdered an innocent teenager etc. etc. are all discredited.
Oddly enough, it is Repbulican moralists who constantly tell us that instances of lying and deceit are indelible and revealing marks of a flawed character. By that standard, applied to this incident and even more so to the unravelling Bronze star charges, I cannot see how anyone can grant any credibility to the Swifties anymore.

(6) Jesurgislac made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 7:23:45 PM | Permalink

because they show that Kerry was not charging alone, through overwhelming enemy fire, into a dense concentration of the enemy when he hopped off PCF-94 that day

That's not what the citation for Kerry's Silver Star says, though.

"After proceeding approximately eight hundred yards, the boats were again taken under fire from a heavily foliated area and B-40 rocket exploded close aboard PCF 94: with utter disregard for his own safety and the enemy rockets, he again ordered a charge on the enemy, beached his boat only ten feet from the VC rocket position, and personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy. Upon sweeping the area an immediate search uncovered an enemy rest and supply area which was destroyed. The extra ordinary daring and personal courage of Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY in attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire were responsible for the highly successful mission."

The citation says that Kerry "personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy". Nowhere at all does it say "Kerry was charging alone, through overwhelming enemy fire". That may have been the impression you took from it - but I don't think it's fair to blame your impression of what the "Navy brass" meant when it's plainly not what they said.

Kerry got his Silver Star for courage and leadership, not for a "solitary charge". That's what the citation says: that's what Rood says: if you still believe what the Swift Boat Vets say, that's no one's problem but your own.

(7) Tom made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 7:25:48 PM | Permalink

Great analysis.

But critics of the Swifties claim their credibility is suspect because none of them were on Kerry's boat. Shouldn't Mr. Rood be held to the same standard? He wasn't on Kerry's boat either.

(8) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 7:49:29 PM | Permalink

Jesurgislac, thanks for visiting! Hardly anyone from Mr. Drum's site ever clicks through on those rare occasions when I post there.

To repeat my reply to your similar comment there:

Jesurgislac, "numerically superior force in the face of intense fire" is what the citation says, but it's not what Sen. Kerry charged ashore into — by his own and by Mr. Rood's admissions. Yet if you read Captain Elliott's affidavits, that's what he thought Kerry had done when he approved Kerry's Silver Star recommendation.

The "numerically superior force" and "intense fire" may have been an accurate description of the first ambush, when Kerry stayed on the boat but put ashore a whole buncha troops to chase the ambushers (as per Mr. Rood's, and many other witnesses', accounts). But that's not Silver Star material, that's just facing what every other Swift Boat crewman that day also did.

Tano, you overstate the case that the SwiftVets are trying to make. None of them claim that Kerry "murdered an innocent teenager," for example — although there may be some of Sen. Kerry's critics who have engaged in such hyperbole. To decide whether the charges the SwiftVets have made actually have been "discredited," it helps to focus on what the SwiftVets have actually said.

(9) jim made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 8:13:25 PM | Permalink


On the V device, go here for an explanation (or lack thereof):

and this item from earlier in the week by the Washington Times is no longer at this URL.

Tarnished silver?

Washington Times
by Jennifer Harper
August 19, 2004

Uneven military service records have proved toxic to John Kerry's campaign for president, prompting him to post his full military record on his Web site (www.johnkerry.com) for critics to peruse.

But one sharp-eyed Washington Times reader — a former B-52 pilot and U.S. Air Force colonel — isn't buying Mr. Kerry's pre-emptive strike.

"I looked at that Web site and the first thing I looked at was Kerry's Silver Star citation. Guess what? It is for an action that took place in 1969, but it is signed by Secretary of the Navy John Lehman. Strangely, Lehman was secretary of the Navy from 1981 to 1987," he noted.

"How could Kerry have received a citation from an official that would not be in office for 12 years? This was NOT just a case of providing a new copy of a citation for the office to replace one that was lost (destroyed/thrown over a wall). This effort by Lehman & Kerry actually changed Kerry's official Navy record, sometime in the 80s," he continued.

"What other portions of his record did Kerry have Lehman sanitize or spiffy up? Evidently, Kerry did not think his original Silver Star made him look 'heroic' enough, so he provided 'suggested' words for a new certificate. This certainly calls Kerry's entire Navy record into question."


(10) Deb made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 8:27:11 PM | Permalink

I was waiting for you to mention that scan. The date is incorrect for the action Mr. Rood is trying to explain. That bit about the handwriting - false. This is not an official report.

(11) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 9:27:54 PM | Permalink

Blogger Steven W. of Precise Truth (great name!) has emailed me with a link to his analysis of Mr. Rood's allegations that I'm happy to repost here.

Deb, I don't purport to explain or vouch for the scan, and I lack the military experience to put it into any sort of context or analyze it, but merely posted the link to try to help out those who might. Steven W.'s post that I've linked above ends with some comments on the scan, though, into which I'm equally ill-equipped to dig deeper.

(12) jim made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 9:29:08 PM | Permalink

Not the finest source, but the information is good and is part of the established record.


Rood is corrected years ago by Tommy Bellodeau, Kerry's own gunner, who laid claim to shooting the VC and whose action Kerry took credit for.

And even though Kerry spoke at Bellodeau's funeral, he has done nothing to incorporate his crewmate's role in subsequent accounts of the encounter with the enemy fighter.

(13) RandMan made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 9:54:43 PM | Permalink

Well done Beldar. Interesting times we live in, yes?

While the debate wages on about alledged medal inflation, the SBVFT have launched their second TV ad using Sen. Kerry's taped voice from his Senate Foreign Relations committee statements along with 3 veterans (2 of the 3 were POWs) thoughts about it. Of course, his anti war postition and statements is the BIG problem I, the SBVFT,other vets, and other voters have with Sen. Kerry with respect to Vietnam. IMO, he betrayed his comrades and nation. We should not reward that behavior by having this man in any office, let alone be President. But, hey, that's just me.

This ad isn't he said-he said contorversy, it's Kerry said-veterans react. The words and voice are Kerry's, the opinions of the three vets are their own.

The ad is devasting, but then I'm biased against Kerry. But even so, its my opinion that most of the undecided voters that see or learn of this ad will react negatively to Sen. Kerry.

(14) DANEgerus made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 10:58:25 PM | Permalink


May I throw the first rock?

The editor of the Chicago Tribune comes out for JFKerry(D) in a carefully staged diversion from the truth. Certainly the Chicago Tribune has 'declared' for JFKerry(D) and the clear intent of his statement was to focus on one tiny aspect of the range of allegations made by the SwiftBoat Vets with his testimonial. Is it biased? Is it definitive?

Certainly that testimonial attempts to mislead both by ignoring the number of events JFKerry(D) lied about, exposed so far, as well as dismissing that wide range of allegations remaining with this one disputed issue.

So no surprise it's on the front pages nationwide?

(15) Oswald Sobrino made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 11:16:46 PM | Permalink

As you note, it is understandable why Rood finally spoke up. When you read pp. 80-86 of "Unfit for Command," Kerry's preplanned tactic is judged "stupid" and unworthy of a Silver Star. That obviously incensed Rood who is proud of the praise the tactic received for its boldness from superior officers, and proud of the Bronze Star he himself received. So there is a strong difference of opinion on tactics as you point out. But that is really not the issue as you note.

The core issue is that the O'Neill book charges that the actual events do not match what is described in the citation. There were two ambushes or battles. The citation states that in the second encounter Kerry "led a landing party ashore" which attacked "a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire" (pp. 81-82).

O'Neill counters by citing as eyewitnesses, primarily, Michael Medeiros, a Kerry crewman, and Doug Reese, a U.S. Army advisor apparently directing South Vietnamese troops on board one of the boats accompanying Kerry's boat (p. 82).

Thus, I don't see how Rood can say that O'Neill is relying on people who were not there. It is possible Rood is just reacting to TV interviews with O'Neill that may not be as complete as the book's account of the incident. It's hard to have a productive discussion or debate if it appears that Rood is not fully addressing all that is in the book.

In the end, Rood basically tells us that Kerry went ashore with others and killed one VC. That is what the O'Neill book basically says also. So O'Neill's comment in the Chicago Tribune is correct: Rood's account basically matches that in the O'Neill book.

In my view, what Rood really disagrees with is the characterization of the tactic used as stupid or reckless. But the central issue is not that. The central issue is whether the citation is accurate in describing Kerry's actions ashore. O'Neill names at least two eyewitnesses who say it is not. Rood's article substantially agrees with what O'Neill's eyewitnesses say. As a result, I conclude that your analysis of the article is correct.

I predict that this Chicago Tribune piece will be strongly and decisively rebuffed by O'Neill as failing to contradict the central claim made in the book about the Silver Star episode, namely, that Kerry's killing of a fleeing VC was exaggerated into something larger and more significant. I judge this Kerry effort at rebuttal as a failure. But of course, the liberal media will not bother to make the comparisons made on this website. The ads will keep rolling and so will the Kerry spin. And the voters will decide.

(16) Nels Nelson made the following comment | Aug 22, 2004 5:07:19 AM | Permalink

Notwithstanding contrary portrayals by Sen. Kerry's supporters and the popular press, O'Neill and the SwiftVets have stressed repeatedly that their criticisms of Kerry, and their skepticism of his fitness for the Silver Star, do not depend on whether Kerry shot the fleeing VC soldier from the front or the back, or whether his rocket launcher was loaded or not, or whether he was a teenager or full-grown, or whether he was in a loin-cloth or a full set of combat body armor.

This recent Drudge post, entitled "Kerry Killed Fleeing Teen," consists of quotes from O'Neill and Unfit for Command that would suggest otherwise. I count six usages of "loincloth," nine total appearances of "teenage" and "young," two instances of suggesting the rocket launcher might not have been loaded, and eight statements that the Viet Cong was "fleeing" or "shot in the back."

I haven't read the book either, and the Cambodia inconsistencies appear to have merit as a story, but O'Neill in my mind doesn't earn much credibility by traveling the low road as above.

(17) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 22, 2004 5:45:19 AM | Permalink

Check out this WaPo piece on the 13 March '69 action.

They have Alston as the gunner:

Wa Po about 13 May scroll down


What do John Kerry and John Lehman have in common? They believe the government needs to improve the accuracy of its paper work. And in 1986, together, they did just that with a few pages of medal commendation.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?
Form 180. Release ALL the records.

(18) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 22, 2004 5:50:24 AM | Permalink

Also go here for more critique. Intermixed with WaPo critique:

Hello CQ


I don't believe a man with a character like John Kerry's could be a war criminal. I believe he lied to the Senate in 1971.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?
Form 180. Release ALL the records.

(19) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 22, 2004 6:35:44 AM | Permalink

BTW Kerry's camp has already admitted that if Kerry and Alston were on the same boat it would have been for about a week at the end of Kerry's tour i.e. no earlier than the middle of the first week in April.

WaPo is not keeping up.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?
Form 180. Release ALL the records.

(20) ed made the following comment | Aug 22, 2004 10:46:47 AM | Permalink


1. "no earlier than the middle of the first week in April."

Actually Kerry had already left Vietnam by March 17th, 1969. So April is out.

2. Rood has a serious case of self-interest in this scenario. If Kerry's medal was not appropriate then the same question could be raised about Rood's. After all. Just what exactly did Rood do that merited a medal?

In his version of events Rood admitted that troops the PCF's were carrying did most or all of the fighting. When the PCF's beached it would, from Unfit for Command, have been impossible for the PCF's to have supported those troops. The machineguns would either have had to fired through the friendly troops or were out of their available firing arcs. Additionally the dual .50 machineguns, mounted behind the main cabin, couldn't depress far enough to hit anything on the beach. So all Rood did was beach the boat and sit on his ass.

That's worth a medal?

Another point is the subsequent action with the lone VC. In that description Rood basically did nothing as well. A M-60 machinegunner initially wounded the VC and Kerry, plus others, chased him down and killed him. Rood did nothing whatsoever.

So what exactly did ROOD do that merited a medal? It's this exact question that I think Rood was trying to head off, and failed miserably.

3. Hey if shooting a single wounded fleeing VC constituted the full and absolute requirements for a silver star, then there's hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans that deserve at least a silver star for their conduct.

Frankly. Shooting a single VC, regardless of fleeing or wounded status, is NOT appropriate for a silver star.

4. So there were ground forces loaded onto the boats that actually did the vast majority of the fighting. So what medals did they get? Any?

(21) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 22, 2004 11:13:38 AM | Permalink

ed, Mr. Rood's not running for President, and his own actions haven't been, and needn't be, under anything like the same kind of scrutiny that Sen. Kerry has invited for himself. The Kerry camp made the same point about Mr. Thurlow's decorations from the Bay Hap River action — but it turns out that when the spotlight is shined on Mr. Thurlow, he did quite a bit more than is reflected in his medal citation, and quite a bit more than Sen. Kerry did by anyone's account. Personally, I'm extremely reluctant to argue that Mr. Rood's own decoration is a basis for doubting his credibility — which, given the substance of his memoir, I see no reason to challenge anyway.

I've read in the comments to a post on QandO that the soldier who commanded the troops that went ashore after the first ambush received an Army Commendation Medal, somewhere below the Bronze Star in the pantheon of such honors. I don't know about any of the other soldiers.

(22) Pat Curley made the following comment | Aug 22, 2004 11:46:45 AM | Permalink

What I find interesting about the Rood piece is that it blows apart another Kerry-inspired myth--that the decision to beach the boat was a snap decision. From Tour of Duty, page 290:

"... Kerry made a snap decision to beach his boat at the exact spot where the ambush was coming from."

But of course Rood says that it was planned out in advance.

You know, Tour of Duty may end up being the most damaging book in political history. Three of Kerry's former commanders (Hoffman, Elliot and Lonsdale) cite it as the reason they've switched from supporting Kerry as they have in the past.

(23) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 22, 2004 2:38:08 PM | Permalink


I must have been confused by a stateside retirn date.

Your point means that Alston could not have been under Kerry's command for more than three or four days.

I knew Kerry had retracted most of Alston's overlap with Kerry. I was not aware that we were down to three or four days.

BTW I have been getting a lot of good discussion here if you haven't been there already. Beldar and the Cap'n are my go to places for discussiions of the evidence.


Hello CQ


What is the War Hero Afraid of?
Form 180. Release ALL the records.

(24) John Butorac made the following comment | Aug 22, 2004 2:49:37 PM | Permalink

Excellent analysis of Rood's column. One thing that puzzles me though. I understand that Keyy's Silver Start citation was awarded with the Combat V (for "valor"). But I have read several (that seem knowledgable) bloggers that state the the Combat V is never awarded with the Silver Star as it would be redundant and unnecessary. This could be a simple clerrical error or it could be something that puts the veracity of his Silver Star in question. Does anyone have the real scoop on the Combat V with the Silver Star?

(25) Patrick R. Sullivan made the following comment | Aug 22, 2004 2:55:20 PM | Permalink

Keep in mind that there are two different citations for the Silver Star. The one signed by Elmo Zumwalt tells a much different story than the one signed later by John Lehman. Just another unexplained oddity about Kerry's military records.

(26) topcat made the following comment | Aug 22, 2004 3:31:22 PM | Permalink

Like Tom Harkin, I am a Viet Nam Era vet. I started basic training in the Air Force in April of 1975 when the NVA were virtually inside the Saigon city limits. The helocopters were pushed off the decks before I finished training. I have no firsthand knowledge of the war, but I did serve with many men who were finishing up their 4 year enlistments who had been in country, and I know a little about the mindset of the military bureaucracy of the time.
This was undoubtedly at the lowest ebb the American military has ever been; morale, commitment and even the integrity of the best people had been pounded to the breaking point. I saw men promoted that would not be allowed to run a security guard gatehouse today. I saw illiterates signing six figure contract authorizations, etc. I bring this up because I think it reflects on all the flapping and jibbering going on about who wrote and who approved medals for "heroic" actions in this era. The war was a public relations nightmere and any action that could be advertised as progress, success, or valor had a tailwind that would have been very hard to buck by anyone trying to inject credibility into the picture. That's why none of the chain of command objected to Kerry's grandstanding at the time, and why Kerry's opponents are on the defensive for not proofreading their own medal citations before they complain about his.
If you remember Sgt Barnds from "Platoon" who said, "You boys are trying to escape from reality, well, I am reality.-- This is the way its supposed to be and over here is the way it is." Everybody compromised under the circumstances, but I do believe Kerry gamed the system better than most.

(27) DeNik made the following comment | Aug 22, 2004 6:39:08 PM | Permalink

Mr. Rood's account of the day appears to be a better recollection than Kerry's. I've read Kerry's Boston Globe biography. The account contained implies that Kerry's silver star was awarded to him for shooting a wounded "teenager in a loincloth." This biography also implies, unlike Rood's story, that beaching the boats was Kerry's idea alone; a conversation limited to his boat. The sources section of the book states that there were also 70 South Vietnamese soldiers with them. Kerry has clearly embellished this tale to make it sound as if he were a different kind of hero than he was. I believe the Swiftboat Vets are responding directly to Kerry's versions.
It is important to note that the biography does point out that Kerry's first purple heart was questioned by Lieutenant Commander Grant Hibbard. It is stated that "people were in the office saying,
'I don't think we got any fire,' and there is this guy holding a little piece of shrapnel in his palm."
Kerry's persistence in asking for it caused Hibbard to give up, "do whatever you want." Hibbard claims he did not write it up, "he got it, I don't know how."

(28) wonthunt made the following comment | Aug 23, 2004 12:02:49 AM | Permalink

Isn't Rood's Bronze Star a terrible problem for Kerry's critics? Since Rood and Kerry were in the same unit that day, it suggests Kerry deserved at least a Bronze as well. If you accept Rood's award as legit the only question is whether Kerry should have gotten more than a Bronze - the Silver Star.

Consider what Kerry did - he was officer in charge of a mission that, in the face of 2 ambushes, resulted in 10 VC killed with apparently no allied casualties - "extremely successful" and a "shining example," as Hoffman wrote in his after action message. Rood's Bronze Star citation calls it a "heroic achievement" - and Rood didn't even run down a VC with a loaded rocket launcher.

Rood backs up Brinkley's assertion that beaching the boats was basically Kerry's idea - "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 such an ambush. We agreed..."

Clearly Kerry's medal was for courage and leadership - he's never claimed that he personally ran after a larger contingent of VC. On the contrary, Hoffman's effusive after action message says the tactics used on this mission "may be the most efficacious method of dealing with small numbers of ambushers." It's obvious that Kerry's medal was a reward for a novel tactic and an "extremely successful" raid - plus his own personal courage in running down the guy with the rocket launcher.

And for that you think Kerry should have gotten - what, nothing? Or maybe "just" a Bronze Star, like Bill Rood? Is that what all this is about? Please.

(29) ed made the following comment | Aug 23, 2004 9:33:14 AM | Permalink


"And for that you think Kerry should have gotten - what, nothing? Or maybe "just" a Bronze Star, like Bill Rood? Is that what all this is about? Please."

I don't think either of them should have gotten medals for ridiculous escapade. First off it was the ground troops who did the majority of the fighting.

Second beaching the boat reduced the firepower of the PCF by at least 2/3rds. The aft machinegunner couldn't bear on the targets. The turret gunner couldn't depress the gun far enough. So all that's left is the forward machinegunner, who is now blocked by the dismounted soldiers. This tactic basically turned a mobile weapons platform into an unarmored weaponless target.

Third shooting a single wounded VC is not heroic. It simply does not rise to the level of gallantry required for a silver star. If the minimum requirement for a silver star is simply shooting a VC then there's a couple hundred thousand veterans who should be receiving their award notices.

That's my opinion. Hey if you think any of this is really heroic then ask yourself this. Why did *Kerry* think it wasn't heroic enough? Because he sure did get his citation changed didn't he?

(30) Brad Arndt made the following comment | Sep 15, 2004 6:46:01 PM | Permalink

GIVE UP THIS SWIFT BOAT B.S.It doesnt matter what either of these dumb asses did 30 years ago. Talk about whats been done for this country and whats going to be done in the next 4 years.Im a vet ,(joined at the ripe old age of 17 ) and served from 1964 through 1967 .THE PAST IS A MEMORY NOT A WAY OF LIFE.Talk about the real issues facing this country. PS Im Also a REPUBLICAN VOTER.

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