The Swift Vets have done the damage they set out to do. By hurling unsubstantiated charges against John Kerry and accusing him of somehow obtaining medals for his Vietnam service that he did not deserve, this Republican-financed band of anti-Kerry veterans succeeded in making their questions about Kerry a media issue, and that accomplishment probably has affected how some voters view Kerry. The so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth accomplished their get-Kerry mission even though the group could not prove many of its key accusations and the official record generally confirmed Kerry’s account. (See my scoop on how Navy records undermined one of the Swift Vets’ main allegations.) After losing skirmish after skirmish on the details–while perhaps winning the battle by shifting public opinion–the Swift Vets quickly changed course to attack Kerry for the antiwar activism he engaged in after returning from Vietnam, and that is their current focus.
But the group is still taking its shots at Kerry’s combat record. Yesterday, John O’Neill, the Swift Vets leader who coauthored its primary indictment of Kerry, Unfit for Command, pointed to what conservatives have touted as a recently discovered document to substantiate one of the Swift Vets’ original accusations: that Kerry has misled the public about the combat incident that occurred on February 28, 1969 and that earned Kerry his Silver Star. Claiming vindication, O’Neill crowed to the New York Post that the document shows Kerry “was pursuing a wounded man and not charging alone into superior numbers and intense fire,” as his Silver Star citation claims. The Post headlined its article, written by Deborah Orin, as “New Kerry Medal Flap.”
The problem for O’Neill and the Post is, this document–an after-action report written by Kerry–is not a new find. Kerry aides have been handing it out to reporters for several years. A Boston Globe columnist wrote about it in 2000. (The Kerry campaign says that this report was inadvertently left out of the war records posted on the campaign’s website.) And there is another problem for O’Neill: this particular record also happens to undermine O’Neill’s account of the Silver Star incident–as does another Navy record that came out recently but has been largely overlooked.
In the book promoted by the Swift Vets, Unfit for Command, O’Neill and coauthor Jerome Corsi (who was sidelined by the Swift Vets after news reports disclosed he had made anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim comments), zeroed in on the Silver Star incident in their effort to brand Kerry a phony. Kerry’s citation for that medal notes that on that day Lt. Kerry, captain of Patrol Craft Fast 94, was in tactical command of a three Swift boats on the Dong Cung River. When all three boats came under “intense automatic weapons and small arms fire from an entrenched enemy force less than fifty feet away,” according to the citation, Kerry “unhesitatingly” ordered the boats to charge the enemy and fired back. “This daring and courageous tactic surprised the enemy and succeeded in routing a score of enemy soldiers,” the citation says. It then notes that Kerry’s Swift boat and the Swift boat piloted by Lt. William Rood Jr. went up river to suppress enemy fire and again encountered enemy fire, with a B-40 rocket-launched grenade hitting Kerry’s boat. Kerry again ordered a charge and beached his boat. Kerry then went ashore “in pursuit of the enemy,” and the landing party he led uncovered an “enemy rest and supply area” that they destroyed. While ashore, Kerry chased down a Viet Cong who was armed with a rocket launcher, and he killed the man. The citation does not mention that part of the counterattack, but it refers to the “extraordinary daring and personal courage” displayed by Kerry “in attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire.”