Tuesday, August 24, 2004


In retrospect, I wish we had never heard of SwiftBoaties. It was amusing to me to see those boneheaded amateurs bungle the Kerry campaign. The Democrats have always been so profoundly narcissistic and self-involved that they don't realize the harm and pain they inflict. Of course, I'm sure we could say the same thing about the Red states. Republicans make it so easy to turn our whole experience into a replaying of old Pink Floyd albums... You! Yes, you! How can you get any pudding if you don't eat your meat?

Perhaps it's a sign of a sort of maturing: we are acting more and more like Whigs and Torys in that old ancient 18th century English way. So what's next? Should we expect to find a Cromwell in our Christmas basket soon?

What spoils the fun for me is to see so many old agonies revisted. The Vietnam debacle was the most destructive entity in my youth. And I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone in feeling that way. Friends died, often for no good reason. Families destroyed. And we all wanted it to mean something. It didn't. President Johnson was there to preside over our exit from the 19th century ... the politics of a prior paradigm. Then there was Nixon. He was so easy to hate, wasn't he? And ever since then we have seen little else but a decline in the Pax Americanus. Ford was a bandaid sellout. Carter was a good man but weak. Or at least, he failed in that damned sand storm. Reagan was a flowering of hope for those of us who didn't see the inexorable, or didn't understand the forces of change that ended all of the old solutions. The death of Marxism and all the intellectual marginalization of the left. I mean... who actually reads Chomsky? It's like trying to learn about macro-molecular physics by reading Boyle. Give me a break!

After that, politics seemed to become a game show. Professional politicians that didn't see the need to be symbolic leaders. Little men such as Clinton who figured that it was good enough to at least not be Nixon.

It's not.

Mr. Kerry is dangerous because he has managed to come so close to the brass ring without being a "good" man. A political opportunist who represents the preceeding decades of moral relativism... a man who looks up to the politics of the past. He wants so badly to be another John Kennedy that he even trys to parrot John Kennedy's children. That John-John salute was so vulgar that it was obscene. Doesn't the man's handlers realize that they are rubbing a whole generation's nose in it? I suppose not.

Mr. Kerry has succeeded in opening up all those old wounds that most of my generation wanted to heal. Wanted to find quietus from the chasms that had opened between us. Dan is right. We can't "get over it". We can only find a way to live with it. My father never did "get over" Korea. But he was a life long China Marine, and proud of it.

Dan Gilmartin is and always will be my friend. He is a good and decent man. A veteran who served his country when he was called, a scholar, a teacher, an intellectual leader in a venue that has terribly few decent scholars. And I see him twisting and turning, determined to find an alternative to the current version of Republicanism. The epitome of the loyal opposition. We have agreed to disagree on so many things that I often have to revisit the underlying idea that you can love your country without loving George Bush. I'm not a real Republican Dan. I'm one of those Democrats who can't vote for another Clintonesque plunge into a reenactment of the last century's failure. I want Miller to run. How about a Draft Miller movement? You with me?

Dan... I can't find a way to even like John Kerry. He has bungled this election so badly that he has become a threat to the very system that created him. He says... look at my military record. Then his enemies do and his "record" becomes the Damoclesian sword that guts him. And the only defense he can post is to say... but my opponent is crappier than I am. Maybe so. Mr. Bush does not become "good" just because Kerry is so bad. He just becomes the lesser of two evils.

Dan... that sucks.

What really concerns me is not John Kerry's self-destruction. We can survive that. He just represents the cleansing of the body politic. Although it's a shame that he is making it so easy for Bush. W is getting a walk from this guy. It shouldn't be this easy to become President, but the Democrats are looking so incompetent that guys like me are afraid to even give them a chance to right any wrongs. What a herd of maroons.

What concerns me is the fact that this "strategy" of theirs is opening old wounds and reminding us of the sorrows of the 70s. Vietnam was an emotional watershed that is sacred and personal for most of us... and it just frys my ass to see the experience become the foundation of a political endgame for failure.

Where is this moody outburst of angst coming from? Well, I can hear the anger and frustration in my friend Dan Gilmartin's voice. He is a guy that I turn to for balance and clarity. It's easy to dismiss the liberal left because they so often are singing to their own choir. But then that's not different from conservatives refusing to hear anything but right wing screeds.

From Dan Gilmartin ---

Bob: I'm sorry to say this, but your blog rants are frankly way out of line on this issue ofKerry and the boats -- also, may I add, I actually HAVE been to boot camp, and actually served four years in the Navy -- I also was very fortunate to have missed what 2/3rds of my radioman graduation class got... a ticket to Nam, either being on River Boats or being in theCountry ... I know at least 20 guys who didn'tcome back from there. My brother, Gene, was a corpsman in Country and got hit 3 times, fortunately not critically. May I say that you've bought into something that doesn't stand the test of logic. Your process seems tied to the idea of manhood as a sine' qua non that anyone who opposed the Vietnam War is, by definition, a wimp/loser/un - patriotic.... etc,.etc. May I say that myself, a volunteer for both the military and Vietnam in 1965 and my brother, a volunteer for both in 1966, as well as many good buddies I sweated with and drank with in those days, would not buy into the simplistic idea of your stated position that Kerry is somehow a less courageous person than that fucking empty suit W Bush. Please -- you are pressing the bounds of fantasy. You're a smart guy -- you know where this shit is coming from. The Vets who are dissing Kerry are the guys who came home and never bought into the idea that the war was wrong. Therefore, for them, anyone who said the war was wrong was a traitor. Kerry prosletyzed for the Vietnam Vets Against the War. I also worked for that group in 1970 and 1971. The real problem for these guys isn't whether or not Kerry really did what he DID-- its invalidating ANYTHING he did -- because of his actions AFTER his service. I would fully understand if they came at Kerry for his statements AFTER the war. I myself would admit to terrible, and intemperate statements about Vietnam -- but that doesn't take away from my service or the service of my brother. I would point out what the Republicannasties are forgetting -- the CONTEXT. RichardFreakin Nixon ended the war over a 5-year period, in which 25,000 U.S. soldiers DIED. Sorry -- I'mNOT over it. Most of the Neo-Con Republicans are over it, because they never were IN IT. The below article by Lt. Brood says it all, in my humble opinion. ...Danno

FEB. 28, 1969: ON THE DONG CUNG RIVERJewel-Osco
`This is what I saw that day'By William B. RoodChicago TribunePublished August 22, 2004

There were three swift boats on the river that day in Vietnam more than 35 years ago--three officers and 15 crew members. Only two of those officers remain to talk about what happened on February 28, 1969.One is John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate who won a Silver Star for what happenedon that date. I am the other.For years, no one asked about those events. But now they are the focus of skirmishing in a presidential election with a group of swift boat veterans and others contending that Kerry didn't deserve the Silver Star for what he did on that day, or the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts he was awarded for other actions.Many of us wanted to put it all behind us--the rivers, the ambushes, the killing. Ever since that time, I have refused all requests for interviews about Kerry's service--even those from reporters at the Chicago Tribune, where I work.But Kerry's critics, armed with stories I know to be untrue, have charged that the accounts of what happened were overblown. The critics have taken pains to say they're not trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did, but their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us. It's gotten harder and harder for those of us who were there to listen to accounts we know to be untrue,especially when they come from people who were not there.Even though Kerry's own crew members have backed him, the attacks have continued, and in recent days Kerry has called me and others who were with him in those days, asking that we go public with our accounts.I can't pretend those calls had no effect on me,but that is not why I am writing this. What matters most to me is that this is hurting crewmen who are not public figures and who deserved to be honored for what they did. My intent is to tell the story here and to never again talk publicly about it.I was part of the operation that led to Kerry's Silver Star. I have no first hand knowledge of the events that resulted in his winning the Purple Hearts or the Bronze Star.But on Feb. 28, 1969, I was officer in charge of PCF-23, one of three swift boats--including Kerry's PCF-94 and Lt. j.g. Donald Droz's PCF-43--that carried Vietnamese regional and Popular Force troops and a Navy demolition team up the Dong Cung, a narrow tributary of the Bay Hap River, to conduct a sweep in the area.The approach of the noisy 50-foot aluminum boats, each driven by two huge 12-cylinder diesels and loaded down with six crew members, troops and gear, was no secret.Ambushes were a virtual certainty, and that day was no exception.Instructions from Kerry The difference was that Kerry, who had tactical command of that particular operation, had talkedto Droz and me beforehand about not responding the way the boats usually did to an ambush.We agreed that if we were not crippled by the initial volley and had a clear fix on the location of the ambush, we would turn directly into it, focusing the boats' twin .50-caliber machine guns on the attackers and beaching the boats. We told our crews about the plan.The Viet Cong in the area had come to expect that the heavily loaded boats would lumber on past an ambush, firing at the entrenched attackers,beaching upstream and putting troops ashore to sweep back down on the ambush site. Often, they were long gone by the time the troops got there.The first time we took fire--the usual rockets and automatic weapons--Kerry ordered a "turn 90"and the three boats roared in on the ambush. It worked. We routed the ambush, killing three of the attackers. The troops, led by an Army adviser, jumped off the boats and began a sweep,which killed another half dozen VC, wounded or captured others and found weapons, blast masks and other supplies used to stage ambushes.Meanwhile, Kerry ordered our boat to head upstream with his, leaving Droz's boat at the first site.It happened again, another ambush. And again,Kerry ordered the turn maneuver, and again it worked. As we headed for the riverbank, I remember seeing a loaded B-40 launcher pointed at the boats. It wasn't fired as two men jumped up from their spider holes.We called Droz's boat up to assist us, and Kerry, followed by one member of his crew, jumped ashore and chased a VC behind a hooch--a thatched hut--maybe 15 yards inland from the ambush site.Some who were there that day recall the man being wounded as he ran. Neither I nor Jerry Leeds, our boat's leading petty officer with whom I've checked my recollection of all these events,recalls that, which is no surprise. Recollections of those who go through experiences like that frequently differ.With our troops involved in the sweep of the first ambush site, Richard Lamberson, a member of my crew, and I also went ashore to search the area. I was checking out the inside of the hooch when I heard gunfire nearby.Not long after that, Kerry returned, reporting that he had killed the man he chased behind the hooch. He also had picked up a loaded B-40 rocket launcher, which we took back to our base in AnThoi after the operation.John O'Neill, author of a highly critical account of Kerry's Vietnam service, describes the man Kerry chased as a "teenager" in a "loincloth." I have no idea how old the gunner Kerry chased that day was, but both Leeds and I recall that he was a grown man, dressed in the kind of garb the VC usually wore.The man Kerry chased was not the "lone" attacker at that site, as O'Neill suggests. There were others who fled. There was also firing from the tree line well behind the spider holes and at one point, from the opposite riverbank as well. It was not the work of just one attacker.Our initial reports of the day's action caused an immediate response from our task force headquarters in Cam Ranh Bay.Congratulatory message Known over radio circuits by the call sign"Latch," then-Capt. and now retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffmann, the task force commander, fired off a message congratulating the three swift boats,saying at one point that the tactic of charging the ambushes was a "shining example of completely overwhelming the enemy" and that it "may be the most efficacious method of dealing with small numbers of ambushers."Hoffmann has become a leading critic of Kerry's and now says that what the boats did on that day demonstrated Kerry's inclination to be impulsive to a fault.Our decision to use that tactic under the right circumstances was not impulsive but was the result of discussions well before hand and a mutual agreement of all three boat officers.It was also well within the aggressive tradition that was embraced by the late Adm. Elmo Zumwalt,then commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam.Months before that day in February, a fellow boat officer, Michael Bernique, was summoned to Saigon to explain to top Navy commanders why he had made an unauthorized run up the Giang Thanh River,which runs along the Vietnam-Cambodia border.Bernique, who speaks French fluently, had been told by a source in Ha Tien at the mouth of the river that a VC tax collector was operating upstream.Ignoring the prohibition against it, Bernique and his crew went upstream and routed the VC,pursuing and killing several.Instead of facing disciplinary action as he had expected, Bernique was given the Silver Star, and Zumwalt ordered other swifts, which had largely patrolled coastal waters, into the rivers.The decision sent a clear message, underscored repeatedly by Hoffmann's congratulatory messages,that aggressive patrolling was expected and that well-timed, if unconventional, tactics likeBernique's were encouraged.What we did on Feb. 28, 1969, was well in line with the tone set by our top commanders.Zumwalt made that clear when he flew down to our base at An Thoi off the southern tip of Vietnam to pin the Silver Star on Kerry and assorted Bronze Stars and commendation medals on the rest of us.Error in citation My Bronze Star citation, signed by Zumwalt,praised the charge tactic we used that day,saying the VC were "caught completely off guard."There's at least one mistake in that citation. It incorrectly identifies the river where the main action occurred, a reminder that such documents were often done in haste and sometimes authored for their signers by staffers. It's a cautionary note for those trying to piece it all together.There's no final authority on something that happened so long ago--not the documents and not even the strained recollections of those of uswho were there.But I know that what some people are saying now is wrong. While they mean to hurt Kerry, what they're saying impugns others who are not in the public eye.Men like Larry Lee, who was on our bow with an M-60 machine gun as we charged the riverbank,Kenneth Martin, who was in the .50-caliber guntub atop our boat, and Benjamin Cueva, our engineman, who was at our aft gun mount suppressing the fire from the opposite bank.Wayne Langhoffer and the other crewmen on Droz's boat went through even worse on April 12, 1969,when they saw Droz killed in a brutal ambush that left PCF-43 an abandoned pile of wreckage on of the Duong Keo River. That was just a few months after the birth of his only child, Tracy.The survivors of all these events are scattered across the country now.Jerry Leeds lives in a tiny Kansas town where he built and sold a successful printing business. He owns a beautiful home with a lawn that sweeps to the edge of a small lake, which he also owns.Every year, flights of purple martins return to the stately birdhouses on the tall poles in his back yard.Cueva, recently retired, has raised three daughters and is beloved by his neighbors for all the years he spent keeping their cars running.Lee is a senior computer programmer in Kentucky,and Lamberson finished a second military career in the Army.With the debate over that long-ago day in February, they're all living that war another time.Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune


Dan, thanks. We'll live through this.