Now the right had seized upon the Vietnam War, too -- specifically the role, in uniform and out, of Sen. John Kerry. And to Means, it seemed just as wrong.
Means, a 55-year-old investigator for several Bakersfield law firms, was particularly annoyed by the words of one retired admiral. Roy F. "Latch" Hoffman, one of the co-founders of the pro-George W. Bush group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, had publicly criticized Kerry, a former Swift boat commander, for having brought back stories about alleged war crimes by U.S. forces -- often carried out, Kerry said in 1971, "with the full awareness of officers at all levels."
Seemed to him, Means said, his own Swift boat crew had come close to committing a war crime themselves one day. A senior officer, hitching a ride up the coast aboard their Swift boat, had ordered the crew to fire on a small group of unarmed Vietnamese fishermen working their nets in unrestricted waters, Means said. The boat's commanding officer had refused to comply.
Was that the way the boat's commander remembered the incident too, all these years later? Means had to know.
So he got on the Internet and hunted down Thomas W.L. "Tad" McCall, the retired Navy captain who'd commanded Means' boat, PCF 88, as a newly minted ensign. Means called him.
Not only did McCall remember the day in question, and that confrontation off the coast of South Vietnam, he remembered the name of the officer who had given the command to shoot: "Latch" Hoffman himself, then a Navy captain in charge of the entire Swift boat task force in Vietnam.
The next morning Means told me the whole story. Then I called McCall myself.
McCall, now 60, remembers March 14, 1969, because it was his 25th birthday. He'd only been running a Swift boat for a few weeks, having arrived in Vietnam in January 1969, the same month as Means.
(thanks to reader k)