I just read John Kerry's Silver Star citation and almost fell out of my chair. Having served at one time as an "awards and decorations officer", which is an additional duty assignment for staff officers, I know full well how these citations can be colored and worded to change an "aw shit" into a "attaboy." That is what happened with Kerry's situation. He probably would have been disciplined for endangering his boat and crew, but instead, because of his political connections, they gave him what is known as a "coverup award." One of the oldest tricks in the military book is that if you have a "favorite son" or coat-tail hangar and he screws up, rewrite the reports and give him an award before he gets court-martialed. That appears to be what happened here.
According to the citation, Kerry got the Silver Star for attacking into an ambush and beaching his boat in front of enemy gunners (which was stupid if you're in an aluminum boat). Further, if you are on land, the tactic in case you are ambushed is immediately attacking INTO the ambush with all the firepower you can muster. That's because we had no fast boat or truck to leave the area with. But if you were a truck driver, you didn't stop and dismount and attack the ambushers, you shoved the pedal down and cleared the kill zone as fast as you could--which was the tactic ordered of riverine patrol craft at the time. We Marine grunts practiced counterattacking ambushers constantly and it normally worked well. As soon as we were ambushed, we would turn, open fire, and run, screaming and yelling, into the ambushers as fast as we could get out of the kill zone. Charlie would normally quickly cease fire and run away.
One particular ambush that stands out in my mind is the night of October 15th, 1965. My squad was on a night patrol near the village of An Trach, south of Da Nang. We crossed a stream and began to enter the edge of the ville when we encountered a booby-trapped gate. We stopped to disarm it, but before we finished we began receiving a massive amount of automatic weapons fire from our left flank. The VC had set up on the other side of a small sugar cane patch and were waiting for the booby trap to detonate to initiate the ambush. But they evidently got impatient and opened fire early. We turned left, began "shooting and shouting" and running through the six foot high sugar cane. The problem was that there were several punji stakes in the high grass, and I managed to find one with my right leg. The VC bugged out before we could catch up with them, and I was the only casualty that night. I later received my Purple Heart at NSA Da Nang from General Lew Walt (NSA was Naval Support Activity--the hospital later portrayed in the TV series "China Beach"). This wasn't a "Kerry Scratch," as I almost lost my leg due to infection. The point is that we attacked into the ambush as a standard procedure, and only because that was the only way to break out of it if you are on foot. In a boat or vehicle, it's "get the hell out of Dodge." Kerry didn't do that.
As a Marine "grunt" in Vietnam with the 9th Marine Regiment in I Corps in 1965-66, I remember at least a dozen incidents where we (my squad or platoon) was ambushed. Some at night, some in the day. Some in the bush, some on the road or trails. Most with automatic weapons fire, often accompanied with explosives, grenades or punji pits. But it was a normal course of business then, so getting involved in a firefight earned us no awards unless someone saved a life or did something spectacular. ("Spectacular" in the Marines was like saving the life of a Senator's daughter from a fire breathing dragon, after fighting your way through twenty ninjas, using nothing by a K-Bar combat knife, with a dozen regimental grade officers witnessing the event. This might get you the Bronze Star. For a Silver Star, it would have to be the President's daughter).
Looking at Kerry's citation it appears we grunts were short-changed by Zumwalt and his staffers. If we went back into unit diarys and radio logs, perhaps we could now start issuing those long-deserved Silver Stars to all the Marines and Soldiers and Sailors who have successfully fought in an ambush! Think of the cottage industry that would boost the American economy: Silver Star factories in every state, pumping out the medals like tin toys.
My unit was awarded the Presidential Unit citation, which I include here for comparison to Kerry's citation, which follows:
For extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty in action against the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces in the Republic of Vietnam from 8 March 1965 to 15 September 1967. Throughout this period, the Third Marine Division (Reinforced), operating in the five northernmost provinces of the Republic of Vietnam, successfully executed its three-fold mission of occupying and defending key terrain, seeking out and destroying the enemy, and conducting an intensive pacification program. Operating in an area bordered by over 200 miles of South China Sea coastline, the mountainous Laotian border and the Demilitarized Zone, the Third Marine Division (Reinforced) successfully executed eighty major combat operations, carrying the battle to the enemy, destroying many of his forces, and capturing thousands of tons of weapons and material. In addition to these major operations, more than 125,000 offensive counterguerrilla actions, ranging from squad patrols and ambushes to company sized search and destroy operations, were conducted in both the coastal rice lands and the mountainous jungle inland. These bitterly contested actions routed the enemy from his wall-entrenched positions, denied him access to his source of food, restricted his freedom of movement, and removed his influence from the heavily populated areas. In numerous operations, the Third Marine Division (Reinforced) demonstrated the great efficacy of combined operations with units of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. In July 1966, the Third Marine Division (Reinforced) moved to the north to counter major elements of the North Vietnamese Army moving across the Demilitarized Zone into the Province of Quang Tri; its units fought a series of savage battles against the enemy, repeatedly distinguishing themselves and, time and again, forcing the enemy to retreat across the Demilitarized Zone. Imbued with an unrelenting combat spirit and initiative and undeterred by heavy hostile artillery and mortar fire, extremely difficult terrain, incessant heat and monsoon rains, the Third Marine Division (Reinforced), employing courageous ground, heliborne and amphibious assaults, complemented by intense and accurate air, artillery and naval gunfire support, inflicted great losses on the enemy and denied him the political and military victory he sought to achieve at any cost. The outstanding courage, resourcefulness and aggressive fighting spirit of the officers and men of the Third Marine Division (Reinforced) in battle after battle against a well-equipped and well-trained enemy, often numerically superior in strength, and the great humanitarianism constantly shown to the peoples of the Republic of Vietnam, reflected great credit upon the Marine Corps and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
NOW read Kerry's citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving with Coastal Division ELEVEN engaged in armed conflict with Viet Cong insurgents in An Xuyen Provence, Republic of Vietnam on 28 February, 1969. Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY was serving as Officer in Charge of Patrol Craft Fast 94 and Officer in Tactical Command of a three boat mission. As the force approached the target area on the narrow Dong Chung River, all units came under intense automatic weapons and small arms fire from an entrenched enemy force less that fifty-feet away. Unhesitatingly Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY ordered his boat to attack as all units opened fire and beached directly in front of the enemy ambushers this daring and courageous tactic surprised the enemy and succeeded in routing a score of enemy soldiers. The PCF gunners captured many enemy weapons in the battle that followed. On a request from U.S. Army advisors ashore, Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY ordered PCF's 94 and 23 further up river to suppress enemy sniper fire. After proceeding approximately eight hundred yards, the boats were again taken under fire from a heavily foliated area and B-40 rocket exploded close aboard PCF 94: with utter disregard for his own safety and the enemy rockets, he again ordered a charge on the enemy, beached his boat only ten feet from the VC rocket position, and personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy. Upon sweeping the area an immediate search uncovered an enemy rest and supply area which was destroyed. The extra ordinary daring and personal courage of Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY in attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire were responsible for the highly successful mission. His actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
So my question is what did Kerry do that was above and beyond what all of us Marine grunts did as an everyday course of business? Or our Army infantrymen for that matter?
Now let's write up this same action as it may have appeared in a charge sheet of "charges and specifications" for court martial if someone at the time decided to prosecute Kerry for endangering his boat and crew:
For haphazardly endangering a US Naval vessel and crew while in action while serving with Coastal Division ELEVEN. While engaged in armed conflict with Viet Cong insurgents in An Xuyen Provence, Republic of Vietnam on 28 February, 1969, Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY was serving as Officer in Charge of Patrol Craft Fast 94 and Officer in Tactical Command of a three boat mission. As the force approached the target area on the narrow Dong Chung River, all units came under intense automatic weapons and small arms fire from an entrenched enemy force less that fifty-feet away. Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY, instead of following standard operating procedures by withdrawing from the area as quickly as possible, instead ordered his boat to attack as all units opened fire. Further, he beached his vessel directly in front of the enemy ambushers, endangering both his boat and his crew. The PCF was ordered ashore evidently to look for souvenirs, and "captured many enemy weapons." On a request from U.S. Army advisors ashore, Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY ordered PCF's 94 and 23 further up river to suppress enemy sniper fire. After proceeding approximately eight hundred yards, the boats were again taken under fire from a heavily foliated area and B-40 rocket exploded close aboard PCF 94: with utter disregard for his own safety and the safety of his crew, he again ordered a charge on the enemy, beached his boat only ten feet from the VC rocket position, and personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy, leaving his command without an officer in charge. Upon sweeping the area an immediate search uncovered an enemy rest and supply area which further endangered his crew since Kerry did not have intelligence on the strength of the insurgent forces in the area, therefore providing the enemy with an opportunity to attack his small party if they were discovered, then capturing his boat which was manned by only a few crewmen. The extra ordinary stupidity and personal dereliction of duty of Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY in attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire could have been responsible for the loss of his vessel and crew, showing total incompetence and improper use of authority.
Both of the above scenarios are of the same incident, but one was written up as a CYA and the other was as a fictional "charges and specifications" sheet.
I've heard all this stuff by radio talk show hosts (none of which ever served in the military or in combat) about "we won't knock Kerry's medals as he earned them." Well, here's one old disabled Vietnam vet who doesn't mind exposing Kerry for what he really is--a political animal who will say or do anything to further his own personal political agenda, including slapping Vietnam vets around in 1971 and now trying to be "one of the guys."
Wrong answer, Kerry!
Now, where do we order our Silver Stars. I figure I'm due a dozen or so...
Craig Roberts, LTC, USAR, (Ret.)
Lance Corporal, 0311, USMC, Republic of Vietnam, 1965-66
H/2/9 and M/2/9, 3rd MarDiv