Valor vs. Vicious Vicissitudinary Verisimilitude, Part III
We left off with Admiral Zumwalt avering that Lt. John F. Kerry was never in Cambodia, much less on christmas of 1968. But then, would he admit knowing today about a secret mission from 36 years ago?
From 1968 to 1971, the allies exploited the Communists' staggering battlefield losses during the Tet attacks by pushing the enemy's large main force units out to the border areas, extending the government's presence into Viet Cong strongholds, and consolidating control over population centers.
The Navy in particular spearheaded a drive in the Mekong Delta to isolate and destroy the weakened Communist forces. The SEALORDS (Southeast Asia Lake, Ocean, River, and Delta Strategy) program was a determined effort by U.S. Navy, South Vietnamese Navy, and allied ground forces to cut enemy supply lines from Cambodia and disrupt operations at his base areas deep in the delta. It was developed by Vice Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., appointed COMNAVFORV in September 1968.
When Admiral Zumwalt launched SEALORDS in October 1968 with the blessing of the new COMUSMACV, General Creighton Abrams, allied naval forces in South Vietnam were at peak strength. The U.S. Navy's Coastal Surveillance Force operated 81 Swift boats, 24 Coast Guard WPBs, and 39 other vessels.
Task Force 115 PCFs [Swift boats - ed.] mounted lightning raids into enemy-held coastal waterways and took over patrol responsibility for the delta's larger rivers. This freed the PBRs for operations along the previously uncontested smaller rivers and canals. These intrusions into former Viet Cong bastions were possible only with the on-call support of naval aircraft and the heavily armed riverine assault craft.
In the first phase of the SEALORDS campaign allied forces established patrol "barriers," often using electronic sensor devices, along the waterways paralleling the Cambodian border.
And the question can now be raised - parallel on WHICH SIDE of the Cambodian border?
In early November 1968, PBRs and riverine assault craft opened two canals between the Gulf of Siam at Rach Gia and the Bassac River at Long Xuyen. South Vietnamese paramilitary ground troops helped naval patrol units secure the transportation routes in this operational area, soon named Search Turn. Later in the month, Swift boats, PBRs, riverine assault craft, and Vietnamese naval vessels penetrated the Giang Thanh-Vinh Te canal system and established patrols along the waterway from Ha Tien on the gulf to Chau Doc on the upper Bassac. As a symbol of the Vietnamese contribution to the combined effort, the allied command changed the name of this operation from Foul Deck to Tran Hung Dao I.
Then in December U.S. naval forces pushed up the Vam Co Dong and Vam Co Tay Rivers west of Saigon, against heavy enemy opposition, to cut infiltration routes from the "Parrot's Beak" area of Cambodia. The Giant Slingshot operation, so named for the configuration of the two rivers, severely hampered Communist resupply in the region near the capital and in the Plain of Reeds.
From the following, we know that there was something going on in Cambodia at the time Kerry says he was there:
On 29 December 1968, then PFC Robert F. Scherdin, assistant team leader, was assigned to a 10-man reconnaissance patrol that had been inserted into Cambodia in the tri-border region where South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia meet. The rugged mountains in this region were covered in forested areas dotted with clearings and groves of bamboo. This sector was heavily populated with NVA, as well as being heavily defended and hotly contested because of its strategic location that contained the southern-most portions of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. At 1450 hours, as the rear element with PFC Scherdin in command, moved forward toward the team leader's position, it came under heavy automatic weapons fire from a concealed enemy position. Later US intelligence confirmed that the team had been hit by a large NVA pursuit force. The location of the firefight was less then 1 mile east of the Cambodian/Lao border, approximately 3 miles west of the Cambodian/South Vietnamese border and 17 miles west of Dak To, South Vietnam.
For every insertion like this one that was detected and stopped, dozens of others safely slipped past NVA lines to strike a wide range of targets and collect vital information.
It is not unreasonable to suppose that Kerry and crew were in Cambodia like he claims in support of just such a secret mission. Just to round it out, knowing as we do so far that this region was extremely dangerous and held by strong VC/NVA forces, let's look at the results of Operation Giant Slingshot:
Completing the first phase of the SEALORDS program, in January 1969 PBRs, assault support patrol boats (ASPB), and other river craft established patrol sectors along canals westward from the Vam Co Tay to the Mekong River in Operation Barrier Reef. Thus, by early 1969 a patrolled waterway interdiction barrier extended almost uninterrupted from Tay Ninh northwest of Saigon to the Gulf of Siam. The successive border interdiction barriers delayed and disrupted the enemy's resupply and troop replacement from Cambodia. The raiding operations hit vulnerable base areas and the Sea Float deployment put allied forces deep into what had been a Viet Cong sanctuary.
Now that I have presented my evidence, let's see just how well the charges hold up:
The story of Christmas 1968 has one final chapter. The Cambodia incursion story is not included in Tour of Duty. Instead, Kerry replaces the story with a report about a mortar attack that occurred on Christmas Eve 1968 "near the Cambodia border" in a town called Sa Dec, some fifty-five miles from the Cambodian border. Somehow, Kerry’s secret illegal mission to Cambodia, which he recounted on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1986, is now a firefight at Sa Dec and a Christmas day spent back at the base writing entries in his journal.
When refueling his PCF near Dong Tam, Kerry and his crew were told that the Bob Hope USO show was at the Dong Tam base. So Kerry decided to leave his station on the river and go searching for the Bob Hope Christmas show. Unable to find the show, he risked boat and crew by unknowingly blundering into one of the most dangerous canals in Vietnam, a canal that to those who knew the area was notorious for Viet Cong ambushes. Given the easy navigation by radar and map of the rivers involved — not much more difficult than driving a car — Kerry had just performed a feat of reverse navigation worthy of Wrong Way Corrigan.
There is, of course, no record that Kerry ever informed anyone of what he did, where he was, or where he was going—all required by regulations for the safety of the boat and crew. The truth is that Kerry made up his secret mission into Cambodia. He did, however, record the Bob Hope adventure in his journal so he could be sure to share it in Tour of Duty.
It should be easy enough to check up on the whereabouts of Bob Hope's troupe in December of 1968, but I can't seem to find much with specific date information. "Operation Holly" can be located at Chu Lai and Long Binh, but no dates. There are a few mentions of Dong Tam, but no specific date. I find more on his whereabouts in Thailand and Korea, so if any of you grunts out there have info, please add it to the comments so I can update this post.
There should also be some kind of a record of Kerry and crew being in Dong Tam on that date. Unless there is evidence to prove both factoids, then this accusation is as big a lie, if not bigger, than the one Kerry is accused by these folks of telling.
There also just MIGHT be another explanation:
Lt. Gen. Moore also made the following important observation in his book regarding not revealing the use of Cambodia by the enemy forces:
"Not long after this, [the battle of the Ia Drang Valley] orders came down to all the 1st Cavalry Division brigade and battalion commanders that we were never to speculate or suggest to any reporter that the North Vietnamese were using Cambodia as a sanctuary or that they were passing through Cambodia on their way to South Vietnam. This refusal to admit what we knew was true, and what even the newest reporter knew was true, struck all of us as dishonest and hypocritical.
There is yet another reason why these operations would have been declared secret:
Even with Sihanouk’s tacit approval for hot pursuit, combat operations in Cambodia were also governed by a concern that public exposure of these activities would bring international protest and strengthen the anti-war movement in the United States.
It has been said of many things that only someone who shared your experience can truly understand it. This will especially apply to the Vietnam experience. I pass the conn to someone who shares the Vietnam experience with John Kerry, Senator Bob Kerrey.
By Bob Kerrey, Vietnam Veteran and Medal of Honor Winner
The former Navy personnel who are attempting to discredit Sen. John Kerry's record of service in Vietnam are doing so to argue that he is unqualified to be commander in chief. Most appear to be angry with him on account of his opposition to the Vietnam War, not his service in it. They have done a better job of damaging the reputation of the U.S. Navy than they have of damaging John Kerry. Moreover, they ignore what I consider to be the most important qualities any commander in chief must possess.
Citizens may disagree with every other position he has taken in this campaign, or they may dislike the legislation he enacted during his nearly two decades of service in the U.S. Senate. But they should have no doubt about his capacity to perform the duties of commander in chief.
For the record, I do not include the fact that Kerry commanded a Swift boat among the main reasons that he will be a good commander in chief. I don't even include the fact that he chose to serve in the military and to go to Vietnam. I am impressed by his service and by the loyalty of the band of brothers who served under his command. And as a Vietnam veteran myself, I do hope that one of our own will make it all the way to the White House before I die. If elected in November, John Kerry will make an exceptionally good commander in chief. Evidence backs up my claim in each of these three areas.
But at the top of my list of reasons for believing Kerry can and will do this most difficult of jobs is that he has the requisite sympathy for the men and women who give up many of their rights as citizens in order to defend ours. My confidence also comes from knowing that he knows what it's like to have served under leaders who lacked the moral clarity or the political backbone to sustain an effort from beginning to end. He also understands from personal experience and practice that strong and determined diplomacy can enable the United States to avoid having to send our sons and daughters into harm's way in the first place.
Almost every person in uniform will tell you that the best war is the one we deter because our enemies know we have the capability and will to strike back with relentless and deadly force. It is also the one we prevent because we used our diplomatic and economic muscle to reduce threats before they grew into the real thing.
Kerry demonstrated time and again the sympathy I speak of by fighting for veterans' health and educational benefits. Can his opponents cite one instance in which he failed to put his political career on the line for those who have already served?
Long before it became cool to do so, Kerry was arguing that we must take care of our veterans if we are going to be able to enlist the volunteers we need in our military. In the post-Selective Service era, in which fewer and fewer members of Congress or their children have worn the uniform, Kerry's actions on behalf of veterans speak for themselves.
Nothing teaches you how to be a good leader better than having the opportunity to follow. In the military and out, Kerry has had this experience. He knows from personal experience how dependent you are on the person in charge and how essential it is for that person to speak clearly, forcefully and with moral conviction. He knows how terrible it is to follow someone who is lost -- morally and politically as well as geographically. He knows how vital it is that we sustain whatever it is we begin, and that we support our troops all the way to the end.
He also knows that the troops count on their leader to be a visionary capable of planning for each and every possibility. No soldier, sailor, airman or Marine wants to follow someone who substitutes rosy scenarios for hard-headed calculation of risk. No one wants to follow someone who believes political jargon is more important than detailed planning and execution.
Again, John Kerry has a tremendous amount of experience working with Republican and Democratic presidents to negotiate and prepare for the peaceful world most of us prefer. In Southeast and Southwest Asia, in the Middle East and in Latin America, Kerry has been involved in some of the most difficult and successful of our bipartisan foreign policy efforts. No one will have to remind him as president that partisan politics should be kept at the water's edge to respect and honor those who continue to serve us.
Tellingly, the attacks on Kerry's war record have been orchestrated in large part by the same Texas publicity firm involved with notorious television advertisements meant to derail the last veteran of the Vietnam War who ran for president, John McCain. Kerry's service in Vietnam was extensively documented by the U.S. Navy, especially in connection with his awards, and has been reviewed numerous times by historians and news organizations.
I was going to end this by calling on President Bush to join McCain in calling for the cessation of this misguided effort to discredit Kerry's service in Vietnam. But fair is fair. There are just as many misguided ads running against President Bush today by these "527" organizations. Unless our campaign finance laws are changed again, U.S. voters are just going to have to figure this one out on their own.
One thing I can't be sure I can defend is the naming of Richard Nixon by John Kerry as the President who was denying that US forces were in Cambodia in December of 1968. He was, at this time, President-Elect; he did later deny the presence of US forces in Cambodia; he did pull some fast ones concerning the war; and he had made comments about Vietnam in November of 1968. I suggest that since Nixon probably had already left office at the time Kerry is quoted about being in Cambodia, speaking of Nixon as 'president' would have been natural. But this evidence is circumstantial - I can neither confirm nor deny. But it does open the door for him to be charged with lying. We'll have to see what develops on that.
As long as we're on the topic of lying, let's see what Ol' Tricky Dick was up to in 1968:
August 8, 1968 - Richard M. Nixon is chosen as the Republican presidential candidate and promises "an honorable end to the war in Vietnam." As a candidate, Nixon had only to point to the domestic unrest and violence along with the war in Vietnam to argue that it was a time for change. His largely media-based campaign emphasized how the country had deteriorated since 1965 while Nixon spoke of "peace with honor" and "law and order." He had little, if any, difficulty in winning the Republican nomination.
Nixon's position and statements on Vietnam were studiously ambiguous. He promised new leadership that "will end the war and win the peace." He asserted that the "war must be ended. It must be ended honorably." Although he referred to a plan, Nixon, as Page and Brody argue, "refused to explain how he would end the war on the grounds that an explanation might interfere with the efforts of the Johnson administration to achieve a settlement or would weaken his own bargaining position if he became President" (Benjamin Page and Richard Brody, "Policy Voting and the Electoral Process: The Vietnam War Issue," American Political Science Review,1972 (66), p. 987).
Privately, however, Nixon was acting more assertively on the Vietnam issue. He was determined to maintain credibility, preserve Thieu, and defeat the Communists. Over the course of the campaign, Nixon grew increasingly concerned about President Johnson's negotiations with the North Vietnamese. Word was "out" that LBJ would be proposing a bombing halt of North Vietnam provided the South Vietnamese were permitted to participate in the ongoing peace talks in Paris.
To blunt the possibility of a late campaign "Peace Offensive" by the Democrats, Nixon developed a "back channel" to persuade President Thieu of South Vietnam not to cooperate with President Johnson. The line of communication went from Nixon to John Mitchell (who would be named Attorney General) to Anna Chenault, a strong Nixon support who was close to a number of South Vietnamese officials, including President Thieu. Nixon's message was subtly delivered but unambiguous. Thieu should refuse to join the peace talks in 1968 because the South Vietnamese would be treated better by a Nixon rather than a Humphrey Administration. Thieu ultimately followed Nixon's suggestion and did not participate in the peace talks during the fall of 1968 (see, Steven Ambrose, Nixon: Triumph of a Politician, pp. 206-218).
[Does this not sound like the October Surprise of 1980? What is this about Republicans?? Are they so power-mad that they will subvert a sitting president for political advantage??? Like I have to ask???? - ed.]
The closing weeks of the campaign saw Nixon's lead in the polls narrow. On September 30th, Hubert Humphrey delivered a speech from Salt Lake City, broadcast nationally, in which he broke from the Johnson Administration and argued that a unilateral halt in the bombing would be an acceptable risk for peace. Humphrey was also helped by Johnson who, on October 31st, called a full bombing halt of North Vietnam. The momentum gained by Humphrey in the closing weeks of the campaign was not sufficient to win. Nixon won a razor-thin popular vote victory with 43.42% to 42.72% for Humphrey and 13.53% for Wallace.
Nixon was magnanimous in victory. Facing the press the day after the election, he recalled a sign held by a girl in Ohio and noted that his great objective would be to "bring us together." His inaugural address spoke of "black and white together, as one nation, not two." He urged Americans to "lower our voices," to "listen to 'the better angels of our nature'" and to "build a great cathedral of the spirit." Noting that the "greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker," Nixon explained that "the peace we seek to win is not victory over any other people, but the peace that comes 'with healing in its wings.'"
During the election campaign Nixon had made vague promises to end the war. Once in power, he and his foreign policy advisor Henry Kissinger downplayed bilateral negotiations and turned to great power diplomacy. They conceptualized a strategy of Detente, which involved harmonizing relations with the Soviets through trade and an arms-limitation agreement while encouraging Moscow to abandon Hanoi. Normalizing relations with China would create a "China card" that could be played against the Soviets if they demurred. They hoped that this linkage of diplomacy could produce "peace with honor" in Vietnam and allow a face-saving U.S. departure.
The Soviets, however, recognized the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG) formed by the NLF in June 1969.
It's funny sometimes how a good thing - normalizing relations between countries - is done for bad reasons.
Another odd thing - Nixon was seeking to maintain what gains had been achieved in Vietnam, which was similar to what the German and Japanese factions, those who sought peace through back channels before being defeated, wanted. It isn't much different, either, from what George Warmonger Bu$h wants now - 'Peace With Honor' and a good excuse to claim victory in Iraq.
But as the wrong-wingers like to remind us constantly, victory has its costs. I have the names of some MIAs who were in Cambodia, some of whom were there when Lt. John Kerry commanded his Swift boat on the Mekong River Delta:
Lee D. Scurlock, Jr., Staff Sergeant, reconnaissance patrol member, Command and Control, MACV-SOG.
Born 10 November 1943 in Restful Lake, Ohio. Entered service on 22 September 1961 at Restful Lake, Ohio. Missing in action since 21 December 1967, during extraction of team on Laotian-Cambodian boundary of the tri-border region 18 miles west of Vietnam, while climbing a rope ladder to a helicopter ('Gator 376') of the 119th Aviation Company; he climbed only three rungs on first attempt before losing grip, removed rucksack and radio, and slowly climbed ladder, appearing weak and possibly hurt as the door gunner and a Special Forces sergeant shouted encouragement; just before he reached their outstretched hands, he fell off the ladder fifty feet to the ground, landed on his neck and head, and rolled down hillside until a small tree stopped his movement. The helicopter came under automatic weapons fire and was forced from the area.
Charles Edward White, Sergeant First Class, reconnaissance patrol member, Command and Control North, MACV-SOG.
Born on 18 May 1933 in Union Town, Alabama. Entered service on 23 May 1950 at Columbus, Georgia. Missing in action since 29 January 1968, when he was being extracted by McGuire rig hoist by helicopter 16 miles inside Cambodia west of Kontum along with team members Nang and Khong; after being radioed by White that the trio was ready to be lifted out, the pilot increased his altitude to 200 feet, at which point White fell into the jungle. Later ground search on 31 January found path that falling body made through jungle canopy into thick bamboo, which was surmised as being enough foliage to have safely broken his fall, but no trace was ever found of him.
Robert Francis Scherdin, Private First Class, reconnaissance patrol member, Command and Control North, MACV-SOG.
Born 14 February 1947 in Somerville, New Jersey. Entered service on 15 August 1967 at Newark, New Jersey. Missing in action since 29 December 1968, when part of the rear element of a reconnaissance team that was split during a skirmish 4 miles inside Cambodia west of Dak To; Montagnard soldier Nguang in same element saw him fall on his right side and tried to help him stand up, but Scherdin only groaned and would not get up; Nguang was then wounded himself and realized he had been left by the other three Vietnamese of the rear element, whereupon he left Scherdin and was extracted along with the
remainder of the team.
Harold William Kroske, Jr., First Lieutenant, reconnaissance patrol leader, Command and Control South, MACV-SOG.
Born 30 July 1947 in Trenton, New Jersey. Entered service on 29 June 1966 at Mercer, New Jersey. Missing in action since 11 February 1969, when patrol was engaged 12 miles inside Cambodia west of Bu Dop and he killed several hostile troops along a trail; he then motioned the point man, Diep Chan Sang, to come with him; there was a sudden burst of gunfire, Kroske dropped his weapon, grabbed his stomach, and fell; Spec. 4th Class Bryan 0. Stockdale tried to approach him, received no response when he called out his name from twenty feet away, whereupon the patrol was forced to withdraw because
of heavy automatic weapons fire.
Glenn Ernest Tubbs, Staff Sergeant, reconnaissance patrol member, Command and Control South, MACV-SOG.
Born 24 January 1940 in Sulphur Springs, Texas. Entered service on 21 June 1959 at Olton, Texas. Missing since 13 January 1970, when his reconnaissance team was crossing the Se San River close to the Cambodian border 12 miles northwest of Duc Co; Tubbs was the last member of the team to cross; near the center of the channel he was swept from the rope by the swift current, tried to swim against the current, and was last seen when he went under for the sixth time while being carried over some deep rapids about fifty feet downstream from the rope. Team members chased after him, two by swimming back across the stream, but he had disappeared.
John Arthur Boronski, Staff Sergeant, reconnaissance patrol member, Command and Control Central, MACV-SOG.
Born 24 July 1944 in Northampton, Massachusetts. Entered service on 22 June 1964 at Springfield, Massachusetts. Missing in action since 24 March 1970, when UH-IH helicopter lifted him and other team members from landing zone in the tri-border area 14 miles inside Cambodia; aircraft racked by explosions during ascent, continued forward aflame for 200 yards, and disappeared into the jungle, where it crashed.
Gary Alan Harned, Sergeant, reconnaissance patrol member, Command and Control Central, MACV-SOG.
Born 7 July 1950 in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Entered service on 10 September 1968 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Missing in action since 24 March 1970, when UH-1H helicopter lifted him and other team members from landing zone in the tri-border area 14 miles inside Cambodia; aircraft racked by explosions during ascent, continued forward aflame for 200 yards, and disappeared into the jungle, where it crashed.
Jerry Lynn Pool, First Lieutenant, reconnaissance patrol leader, Command and Control Central, MACV-SOG.
Born on 2 April 1944 in Sinton, Texas. Entered service on 11 April 1964 at Austin, Texas. Missing in action since 24 March 1970, when UH-1H helicopter lifted him and other team members from landing zone in the tri-border area 14 miles inside Cambodia; aircraft racked by explosions during ascent, continued forward aflame for 200 yards, and disappeared into the jungle, where it crashed.
USARV USPW/CI detainee files and MIA Board Proceedings of Fifth Special Forces Group and MACV-SOG
From: MEDAL OF HONOR, One Mans Journey from Poverty and Prejudice: MSgt. Roy P. Benavidez USA SF (Ret.) with John R. Craig
Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Military men in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were called upon to fly and fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.
For details on Salem House missions see: Hearings Before the Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senate, Ninety-Third Congress: Bombing Cambodia; July 16, 23, 25, 26, 30 and August 7, 8, 9, 1973, pages 231-255.
Lieutenant Colonel Turkoly-Joczik (U.S. Army Retired), author of More on Cambodian actions is now assistant professor of history at Johnson and Wales University, Charleston, South Carolina. Most recently, he served in the Middle East as a Civilian Observer for the Camp David Accords. He is a veteran of the Korean War and served as a Special Forces battalion commander in Vietnam’s Delta (IV CTZ). LTC Turkoly-Joczik holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in International Politics from the University of Wales, United Kingdom. He is an Arab linguist and a Command and General Staff College graduate. Readers may contact him via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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