Thursday, August 05, 2004

Swift Boat Liars

Over at Kos, DCBlues has a fascinating post, assumming he's correct that it was Larry Thurlow that was on Inside Politics today (can anyone confirm? I caught a bit of it, but never caught the name. Will check when transcript comes out).

In any case, assuming it was Thurlow, he was arguing that in a mission where Kerry got a bronze star, the one where according he saved his pal Rassmann, as described by him at the DNC, that they didn't actually take any fire.

As DCBlues discovers, Thurlow himself also received a bronze star for the very same mission.'s the transcript:

THURLOW: Yes, I do. My thought is that since no mine was detected on the other side of the river, no blast was seen, no noise heard, there's two things that are inconsistent with my memory.

Our boats immediately put automatic weapons fire on to the left bank just in case there was an ambush in conjunction with the mine. It soon became apparent there was no ambush.

The rescue efforts began on the 3-boat (ph). And at this time, the second boat in line, mine being the third boat on the left bank, began to do this.

Now, two members in this boat, keep in mind, are in the river at that time. They're picked up. The boat that picks them up starts toward Lieutenant Rassmann at this time, that's the 23-boat (ph). But before they get there, John does return and pick him up. But I distinctly remember we were under no fire from either bank.

Here's the account from Brinkley:

Almost casually, the Swifts formed up and headed out from the village. The five boats had gone about half a mile when the blast came. Right where they had been hit on an earlier mission, a mine exploded directly beneath Lieutenant James Rassman's PCF-3 near Kerry's port side. Rassman's Swift lifted about two feet up out of the water, engulfed in mud and spray, then settled, rocking so hard from side to side that the boat started zigzagging from the banks to the middle of the river. Everybody on board PCF-3 was wounded. "At the same moment, we came under a hail of small-arms fire from both banks," Kerry recorded in his journal. "I turned the boat into the fire on the left with the intention of trying to get the troops ashore on the outskirts of the ambush, but Sandusky, who was driving the boat and who had his eyes glued on the crippled 3 boat, pointed out to me how badly hit they had been. We veered back toward her then and tried to provide cover from the engaged side. Suddenly another explosion went off right beside us, and the concussion threw me violently against the bulkhead on the door, and I smashed my arm. At the same instant, Jim Rassman was blown overboard, although nobody knew it. But we continued sidling up to the 3, and as we came closer I could see that her twin-.50 mount over the pilothouse had been completely blown out of its stand and had landed on the gunner. No one was moving on the stern. [PCF-3 crewman] Ken Tryner, on his first real river expedition, was kneeling dazed in the doorway with a small trickle of blood down his face, aimlessly firing his M-79."

Thurlow had maneuvered his PCF-53 over by this time, and he hopped aboard PCF-3 to offer assistance. The boat was a shambles, but they were still shooting too hard to assess the damage. "Someone on the fantail must have noticed Jim swimming in back of us, ducking against the fire that was trying to pick him off because I suddenly heard the yell of 'man overboard' and looked back to see the bullets splashing in the water beside him," Kerry reported. "We turned around with the engines screaming against each other -- one full astern, the other full forward -- and then charged the several hundred yards back into the ambush where Jim was trying to find some cover. Everyone on board must have been firing without pause to keep the sniper heads down."
Kerry, thanking God the scramble nets were over the bow, struggled to get Rassman on board. "It must have looked like a comedy," he recalled. "Jim was exhausted from swimming and my right arm hurt and I couldn't pull very hard with it. Everyone else was firing a machine gun or something, except for Sandusky, who was maneuvering the boat, trying not to run over Jim but also trying to get near him as quickly as possible. Christ knows how, but somehow we got him on board and I didn't get the bullet in the head that I expected, and we managed to clear the ambush zone and move down near the 3 boat that was still crawling [on] a snail-like zigzag through the river."

Thurlow was struggling to get PCF-3's wounded gunner out of his hole and onto the deck when the damaged Swift ran aground hard on a shoal on the right side of the river, sending Thurlow somersaulting into the water. At the same moment, the five Swifts came under fire from the right side again, and Kerry remembered thinking that was it -- they were going to get completely cut off and annihilated in a crossfire. Spontaneously, however, every boat there stood its ground and filled the entire right bank of the river with .50-caliber, M-79, M-16 and any other firepower they had, while one of the Swifts moved in and retrieved Thurlow, who had picked himself up out of the mud. PCF-94 then moved in and attached a line to the damaged boat's stern to try to tow PCF-3 out, but the tether snapped. Kerry put another line on, and this one held. "We managed to get her clear of the kill zone," he exulted. Finally, the tumult subsided. "The wounded were transferred to another of the Swifts, which set off at full speed with a cover boat to take them out to the LST to be medevaced."


Kerry and the other wounded men received medical attention aboard a Coast Guard cutter, which was the closest ship capable of treating them. Along with a third Purple Heart for the injury to his right arm, Kerry was also awarded a Bronze Star for his bravery, as was Larry Thurlow.

By any standard, John Kerry had become a bona fide war hero. When the commander of Coastal Division 11, Charles F. Horne, recommended him for the Bronze Star on March 23, 1969, he pointed out that the 25-year-old lieutenant had previously earned two Purple Hearts (on December 2, 1968, and February 20, 1969) and the Silver Star (on March 6, 1969). Kerry became, along with Larry Thurlow, one of the most decorated officers in the "brown water navy." Yet he had also become a more uncommitted soldier than ever in the wake of the combat experiences for which he had earned a chestful of shiny medals and the horrific memories that came with them.