Did John Kerry write the after-action report for the March 13, 1969, incident for which he was awarded the Bronze Star? Is that after-action report true or false? These are the two fundamental questions at the core of a dispute between two sets of Vietnam veterans who were there that day and who now tell dramatically differing stories. In an ironic twist, the anti-Vietnam War testimony Kerry himself delivered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971 is now casting at least some doubt on Kerry’s claims that he did not write the March 13, 1969, report, but that this report is accurate. In this testimony (see key excerpt below and click here for the entire official transcript), Kerry told the committee he recalled “often sending in the spot reports which we made after each mission,” and that he would later “often read about my own missions in the Stars and Stripes and the very mission we had been on had been doubled in figures and tripled in figures.” In Unfit for Command (published by HUMAN EVENTS sister company Regnery) authors John O’Neill and Jerome Corsi contend Kerry himself wrote the March 13, 1969, after-action report and cite eyewitnesses who contend the report is false. Shrapnel in the Buttocks Backed up by this after-action report, Kerry, the crew members of his Swift Boat (PCF 94), and Jim Rassmann, the Green Beret who fell off Kerry’s boat during the incident and was later fished out of the water by Kerry, all insist that three mines exploded near a group of five Swift Boats that were patrolling the Bay Hap River that day. One of these mines, they say, damaged Kerry’s boat and wounded Kerry with shrapnel in the buttocks, earning him a third Purple Heart and a trip home. In this account, the Swift Boats then came under massive enemy gunfire from both banks of the river. But excluding Kerry, the three other surviving Swift Boat captains present that day–Larry Thurlow, Jack Chenoweth and Dick Pees–say this version is false. They say only one mine exploded. They say it blew the PCF 3 boat into the air on the opposite side of the river from Kerry’s boat, severely damaging PCF 3, throwing two of its crewmen into the water, and injuring its captain, Pees. But, they say, this mine did not damage any of the other Swift Boats or wound their crewmembers. After this one mine exploded, they say, Kerry’s boat left the scene before later returning to pick up Rassmann. The crews of the remaining boats, they say, directed fire at the riverbanks for about 40 seconds before stopping because their fire was not being returned. These three Swift Boat captains contend there never was any hostile fire directed at them during the entire incident. On page 313 of his authorized Kerry biography, Tour of Duty, historian Douglas Brinkley directly quotes Kerry himself as claiming he received his buttocks wound that day not from hostile fire but from an accident that happened while he was trying to destroy some rice. “I got a piece of small grenade in my ass from one of the rice-bin explosions and then we started to move back to the boats, firing to our rear as we went,” said Kerry. Kerry’s friend Rassmann basically repeated this version of how Kerry received his buttocks wound in a report published last week by the Washington Post. “In an interview last week, Rassmann recalled that they climbed on top of the huge pile and dug a hole in the rice. On the count of three, they tossed their grenades into the hole and ran,” the Post reported. “Evidently, Kerry did not run fast enough. ‘He got some frags and pieces of rice in his rear end,’ Rassmann said with a laugh. ‘It was more embarrassing than painful.'” The casualty report for which Kerry received his Purple Heart that day, however, said Kerry was wounded in the buttocks by the mine he claims exploded near his boat in the river. It says: “LTJG KERRY SUFFERED SHAPNEL [SIC] WOUNDS IN HIS LEFT BUTTOCKS AND CONTUSIONS ON HIS RIGHT FOREARM WHEN A MINE DETONATED CLOSE ABOARD PCF 94.” Circumstantial Evidence Even the Post concludes that this casualty report is erroneous. Summarizing the dispute over who wrote the after-action report for this event, the Post says: “Thurlow and other anti-Kerry veterans have repeatedly alleged that Kerry was the author of an after-action report that described how his boat came under enemy fire. Kerry campaign researchers dispute that assertion, and there is no convincing documentary evidence to settle the argument.” What Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971, does not settle the issue, but it does provide circumstantial evidence that backs Thurlow’s claim that Kerry often maneuvered to write the after-action reports. “As the senior skipper in the flotilla, Thurlow might have been expected to write the after-action report for March 13,” the Post said, “but he said that Kerry routinely ‘duked the system’ to present his version of events.” Also Kerry’s 1971 testimony debunks the argument Kerry’s campaign is now making that Kerry’s claims are more credible than the other Swift Boat captains present on March 13, 1969 because Kerry’s claims comport with Navy records. Says the campaign: “It’s clear the this new group of ‘Swift Veterans for Bush’ isn’t interested in the truth–and they’re not telling the truth. Thirty years ago, official Navy reports documented John Kerry’s service in Vietnam and Navy commanders decorated him for his service. Thirty five years ago, this was the truth, and it’s still the truth today.” In his own testimony, however, Kerry charged that Navy records were routinely distorted
Sen. Stuart Symington: Mr. Kerry from your experience in Vietnam do you think it is possible for the President or Congress to get accurate and undistorted information through official military channels? . . . John Kerry: . . .I had direct experience with that, Senator, I had direct experience with that and I can recall often sending in the spot reports which we made after each mission, and including the GDA, gunfire damage assessments, in which we would say, maybe 15 sampans sunk or whatever it was. And I often read about my own missions in the Stars and Stripes and the very mission we had been on had been doubled in figures and tripled in figures. . . . I also think men in the military, sir, as do men in many other things, have a tendency to report what they want to report and see what they want to see. And this is a very serious thing because I know on several visits–Secretary [Mel] Laird came to Vietnam once and they staged an entire invasion for him. . . . I think that the intelligence which finally reaches the White House does have a serious problem with it in that I think you know full well, I know certainly from my experience, I served as aide to an admiral in my last days in the Navy before I was discharged, and I have seen exactly what the response is up the echelon, the chain of command, and how things get distorted and people say to the man above him what is needed to be said, to keep everybody happy, and so I don’t–I think the entire thing is distorted.