Hugh Hewitt - Principal Contributor
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Kurtz Chronicles continue
The horror...the horror...
[Hugh Hewitt] 8/19/04
Last week, John
Kerry recanted the detailed and emotional story of his Christmas
Eve, 1968, illegal
mission into Cambodia that he has been telling for 30 years, most
notably in a movie review of Apocalypse Now that he
wrote for the Boston Herald on Oct. 14, 1979, in a
the floor of the Senate on March 27,1986, and in an AP story from
Faced with mounting evidence that this brazen fabrication was
crumbling, Kerry spokesmen acknowledged that Kerry wasn't in
Cambodia on Christmas Eve, 1968, but hung tough on Kerry's having
been across the border on several occasions in early 1969. Here
is the statement released by the Kerry campaign midweek:
During John Kerry's service in Vietnam, many times he was on
or near the Cambodian border and on one occasion crossed into
Cambodia at the request of members of a special operations group
operating out of Ha Tien.
On Dec. 24, 1968, Lieutenant John Kerry and his crew were on
patrol in the watery borders between Vietnam and Cambodia deep
in enemy territory. In the early afternoon, Kerry's boat, PCF-44,
was at Sa Dec and then headed north to the Cambodian border.
There, Kerry and his crew along with two other boats were ambushed,
taking fire from both sides of the river, and after the firefight
were fired upon again. Later that evening during their night
patrol they came under friendly fire.
It is an acknowledged fact that Swift Boat crews regularly operated
along the Cambodian border from Ha Tien on the Gulf of Thailand
to the rivers of the Mekong south and west of Saigon. Boats often
received fire from enemy taking sanctuary across the border.
Kerry's was not the only United States riverboat to respond and
inadvertently or responsibly cross the border. In fact, it was
this reality that lead President Nixon to later invade Cambodia
itself in 1970.
The odd part
of this statement is the "inadvertently" adverb.
Kerry's never stressed any accidental crossings of the Vietnam-Cambodia
border. He's always been on secret though illegal missions, including
one that he
spoke of in June 2003 to Washington Post reporter
Laura Blumenfeld in which he produced his magic hat:
A close associate hints: There's a secret compartment in Kerry's
briefcase. He carries the black attache everywhere. Asked about
it on several occasions, Kerry brushed it aside. Finally, trapped
in an interview, he exhaled and clicked open his case.
"Who told you?" he demanded as he reached inside. "My
friends don't know about this."
The hat was a little mildewy. The green camouflage was fading,
the seams fraying.
"My good luck hat," Kerry said, happy to see it. "Given
to me by a CIA guy as we went in for a special mission in
Kerry put on the hat, pulling the brim over his forehead. His
blue button-down shirt and tie clashed with the camouflage. He
pointed his finger and raised his thumb, creating an imaginary
gun. He looked silly, yet suddenly his campaign message was clear:
Citizen-soldier. Linking patriotism to public service. It wasn't
complex after all; it was Kerry.
smiled and aimed his finger: "Pow."
Hard to square
this telling with "inadvertent," and
Kerry's favorite historian isn't using the "inadvertent" defense
either, and unlike the campaign statement, he's not pegging Kerry's
crossings at one. Douglas Brinkley, whose reputation may end
up taking a beating over what he included and chose to omit in
his bio of Kerry, backs up the Kerry line that he ran secret
missions into Cambodia. This is what Brinkley told Britain's
He said: "Kerry went into Cambodian waters three or four
times in January and February 1969 on clandestine missions. He
had a run dropping off U.S. Navy Seals, Green Berets and CIA
guys." The missions were not armed attacks on Cambodia,
said Mr. Brinkley, who did not include the clandestine missions
in his wartime biography of Mr. Kerry, "Tour of Duty."
was a ferry master, a drop-off guy, but it was dangerous as
carries a hat he was given by one CIA operative.
In a part of his journals which I didn't use he writes about
discussions with CIA guys he was dropping off."
the problem: There is absolutely no evidence yet produced for
the idea that
John Kerry made three or four missions
into Cambodian waters ferrying SEALs, Green Berets or CIA guys – or
even one mission. None. In any ordinary campaign cycle in which
Candidate A had been discovered to have been lying about a central
episode in his life's narrative – the Christmas-Eve-in-Cambodia
adventure which Kerry said had been "seared, seared" into
his consciousness – the burden of proof would immediately
move onto Candidate A's shoulders to document his other claims.
media is beginning
to notice Kerry's problems with his cross-border
tales of daring-do, no reporter has yet asked – or
allowed to get close enough to ask – for details on
the magic-hat mission or the three others Brinkley alludes to.
So I began a search of the vast archive of Vietnam War related
materials for any sign of swiftboat missions to Cambodia in January
and February of 1969. I was inspired to do this by, of all people,
lefty blogger Atrios, who made the lamest post in history when
the story of Kerry's Kurtz Chronicles began to fall apart. Atrios
snipped a few references to cross-border incursions by various
U.S. forces in the years prior to Kerry's deployment, as though
the evidence of some cross-border incursions by some U.S. forces
was proof of John Kerry's exploits. (This passes for logic on
the left, I guess.)
Brinkley's assertions are being
touted as proof by Peter Principle
blogger Kevin Drum, who quickly forgave Kerry his wild exaggerations
of 30 years and latched on to the hope that Kerry did make his
magic-hat mission, but Brinkley's credibility in this matter
is already compromised and his sources are not publicly available
I did not
want to end up missing obvious corroborating sources for Kerry's
and Brinkley's account, and I figured
Atrios was just incompetent – there had to be some independent
cover for Kerry's story, right? He wouldn't just make up cross-border
exploits full of SEALs, Green Berets and hatless CIA-men without
some pretty good smoke to cover his exaggerations – like
easily available evidence of many such missions being undertaken
by other swiftboats in early 1969, would he? That would be way
too weird to have been missed even by a supine press crowd.
Still, the Stolen
Valor syndrome is pretty widespread,
and a lot of people have exaggerated their war time exploits,
so there is certainly a motive for Kerry to have done so, and
now we know he already did so with regard to his Christmas Eve
narrative. So, what does a few hours of research tell me about
swiftboats and the "ferrying" of SEALs, Green Berets
and CIA-men (hatless) into Cambodia? Only that there is nothing
there to be found.
Now, we know
that absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence, and so
know that the absence of any easily found account
of swiftboats ferrying SEALs, Green Berets and CIA-men into Cambodia
in January and February, 1969, doesn't mean that such missions
didn't happen. But not one swiftboat veteran has yet stepped
forward to say that he was on such a mission – except John
Kerry. Here's what John Kerry told the AP in 1992:
"We were told, 'Just go up there and do your patrol.' Everybody
was over there (in Cambodia). Nobody thought twice about it," Kerry
said. One of the missions, which Kerry, at the time, was ordered
not to discuss, involved taking CIA operatives into Cambodia
to search for enemy enclaves. "I can remember wondering,
'If you're going to go, what happens to you,'" Kerry
"Everybody was over there" seems
to imply that all the swiftboats were crossing the border,
right? Well, do your
own search and send me your results, but here's what I found.
missions were underway in early 1969, led by the "Studies
and Observations Group." Here is the best short history
of SOG's operations in Cambodia, which were code-named "Salem
Salem House Operations
with the Prairie Fire operations were the SOG's missions
Cambodia. These operations, originally named "Daniel
Boone," were later redesignated "Salem House." These
missions provided intelligence on North Vietnamese and Viet
Cong bases located in Cambodia. Another objective of the
operations was to determine the level of Cambodian Government
support for the NVA and Viet Cong.
The Salem House operations had a number of restrictions that
affected their activities in Cambodia. Many of the restrictions
were modified or withdrawn and new restrictions imposed; the
pattern of change in the restrictions presents an interesting
picture of the war's development in Cambodia. In May 1967, the
Salem House missions were subject to the following restrictions:
- Only reconnaissance
teams were to be committed into Cambodia and the teams could
not exceed an overall strength of 12
men, to include not more than three U.S. advisers.
were not to engage in combat except to avoid capture.
did have permission to have contact with civilians.
more than three reconnaissance teams could be committed
on operations in Cambodia at any one time.
- The teams
could conduct no more than 10 missions in any 30-day period.
By October 1967, SOG's teams had permission to infiltrate the
entire Cambodian border area to a depth of 20 kilometers. However,
their helicopters were only permitted 10 kilometers inside Cambodia.
In December, the DOD, with the Department of State's concurrence,
approved the use of Forward Air Controllers (FACs) to support
SOG operations. The FACs had authorization to make two flights
in support of each Salem House mission.
In October 1968, SOG teams received permission to emplace self-destructing
land mines in Cambodia. The following December, the depth of
penetration into northern Cambodia was extended to 30 kilometers;
however, the 20-kilometer limit remained in effect for central
and southern Cambodia.
The final adjustment in Salem House operations made in 1970
during the incursion into Cambodia permitted reconnaissance teams
to operate 200 meters west of the Mekong River (an average distance
of 185 kilometers west of the South Vietnamese border). However,
the SOG reconnaissance teams never ventured that far west, due
to the lift and range limitations of their UH-1F helicopters.
Thus, from the initiation of SOG's Cambodian operations in 1967
until 1970, there was a progressive expansion of the zones of
operation and OPS-35 patrols within Cambodia. The enlargement
of the areas of operation and the increasing number of Salem
House missions, gives an indication of how seriously the Johnson
and Nixon administrations viewed the NVA's use of Cambodian base
areas. It was also indicative of the U.S. military's growing
awareness of the role of the Central Office for South Vietnam
(COSVN) and its deleterious effect on the war in South Vietnam.
From 1967 through April 1972, OPS-35 conducted 1,398 reconnaissance
missions, 38 platoon-sized patrols, and 12 multi-platoon operations
in Cambodia. During the same period, it captured 24 prisoners
of war. 16
This account, a pretty comprehensive one, does not seem to provide
for the possibility swiftboat transportation, indicating instead
that helicopters were used for insertions of special forces,
and that these flights were tightly controlled. (A couple of
pictures of helicopter bases connected with these operations
can be seen here.) First-person accounts of participation in
these cross-border operations are full of details about helicopter
rescues, but are silent on swiftboat details.
My inability to locate any account of swiftboat support for
covert missions across the Cambodian border doesn't preclude
such support having occurred, of course, but it raises many questions
given the ease with which it is possible to verify helicopter
support for these then-secret and now widely discussed missions.
Add to those questions the answers I got from John
questions on this particular subject when I interviewed him Friday.
O'Neill denied ever having been sent into Cambodia when he commanded
a swiftboat, and asserted that no swiftboat commander other than
John Kerry has ever claimed to participate in such missions.
Last week, Drudge reported that Douglas Brinkley was preparing
a New Yorker story on Kerry's exploits. Tom McGuire of JustOneMinute
doubts whether such an article will appear. I hope he's wrong
because now my curiosity is fully engaged: On what is Brinkley
Kerry really do these Kurtz-like runs into the heart of darkness,
he just record such things in his journals
as stored treasures against the day that he'd authorize a biography
to use them? Or did he hatch this stuff post Apocalypse
Now viewing? Is the magic hat real, or just about the single
most damning piece of evidence since the glove-that-did-not-fit-which-led-to-must-acquit?
down-side to the Bush campaign at this point in pushing the
because Kerry's pratfall on Christmas-Eve-in-Cambodia-in-1968
provides blanket immunity to anyone asking tough questions about
the rest of the story. Kevin Drum has warned all of us interested
in the Kurtz Chronicles that we are displaying "deep unseriousness" about
the election by participating in this "smear," and
warns darkly that "[i]t will be remembered." Heh. As
though anyone can look bad after Kerry's "seared, seared" oration.
The really, really interesting question will follow only if
Kerry is exposed has having embroidered this part of his narrative
as well. If that's the case, one can only imagine the summersaults
ahead among the lefty bloggers.
And that's where the John Kerry's Kurtz Chronicles stand as
of Aug. 15, 2004, at 2:00 p.m. PST. Readers with any observations
that will either add to the argument that Kerry couldn't have
undertaken these missions or which would support his having done
so are invited to send
them to me. I will make them available
to the newspapers via this website, though at this point I doubt
they would cover an extensive photo shoot of Kerry proving he
couldn't have been across the Cambodian border. On the other
hand, corroborating evidence is sure to get picked up. CRO
Principal Contributor Hugh Hewitt is an author, television
and syndicated talk-show host of the Salem Radio Network's Hugh
Hewitt Show, heard in over 40 markets around the country.
He blogs regularly at HughHewitt.com and he frequently contributes opinion pieces to the Weekly
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