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August 25, 2004

Kerry's Bronze Star--Why Didn't the Other Three Rescuers Get Them?

I've already discussed the fraudulence of Kerry's Third Purple Heart in great detail. It is clear just from documents at the Kerry Campaign website and from a Washington Post article-- you don't need to listen to the Swiftvets if you think they're all biased and Kerry's people are not.

We can apply the same approach to the Bronze Star Kerry received for that same day's action. In essence, the undisputed facts seem to be that a man fell overboard from Kerry's boat, and after initially continuing along the river, Kerry turned his boat around to rejoin four other American boats and Kerry personally pulled the man overboard into his boat. Two men who had gone overboard from the boat that hit a mine (and were at least slightly injured) and one man who had gotten knocked off it later while trying to rescue the boat were picked up out of the water by other boats. The big dispute is over whether the Americans were subject to gunfire after the mine explosion, as Kerry, his crew, and the official medal citation say, or not, as all but one person on the other four boats says. It is undisputed that nobody in any of the five boats or of the four men overboard was hit by a bullet.

Suppose we accept Kerry's story that he was under fire while pulling Mr. Rassmun out of the water. I can't see how Kerry ought to have gotten a Bronze Star even then. Any gunfire there may have been was not too dangerous, since nobody was hit, including the men floundering in the water. And though four men were pulled out of the water, including two who were at least slightly wounded, only one rescuer got a medal-- Kerry.

Some medals are awarded just for serving in a particular war or campaign. You get those just for showing up and doing your duty like almost everybody else. Other medals, such as the Bronze Star, are for heroism, for doing something beyond the call of duty.

How do we know what is simple duty and what is beyond the call of duty? A good measure is whether you would be disgraced by *not* doing the action in question. If you don't jump on a grenade to save your buddies, you don't get court-martialled. If you don't charge a machine-gun nest single-handed, you don't have to hang your head in shame. Thus, we give medals for that kind of thing.

How about turning your boat back during a firefight to rejoin other boats in your flotilla and pick up a man overboard? Suppose Kerry had just said,

"Well, there's a lot of shooting back there, and I think it is reasonable to just head back to base and let those other hotheads deal with it. We'll just have to give Rassman up for lost-- it would endanger my boat to go back and pick him up."

I think Kerry would have been in big trouble if he'd taken that course. The other Swift boats would have returned with not a single man wounded from enemy gunfire, and if they'd taken the safe option of not rescuing men overboard, presumably that would have meant four Americans dead or captured, instead of every man coming safely back to base.

No, simple duty required Kerry to rescue Rassman. Even if there was enemy fire, what Kerry did was not heroic; it was just the ordinary stuff of military combat. Quite simply, you're expected not to run away just because there's shooting. You're expected to carry on, and shoot back, and pick up comrades who have fallen out of your boat.

Here's more elaboration on the story. A mine exploded and damaged one of five Swift boats. It seems another mine exploded and knocked Kerry's arm against his boat, inflicting what the doctor wrote later were minor contusions and throwing Mr. Rassman overboard. The citation then gets to what Kerry got the medal for (full citation http://www.rasmusen.org/x/images/kerry3.jpg">here.):

... In addition, all units began receiving small arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks. When Lieutenant (jg) Kerry discovered he had a man overboard, he returned upriver to assist. The man in the water was receiving sniper fire from both banks. Lieutenant (jg) Kerry directed his gunners to provide suppressing fire, while from an exposed position on the bow, his arm bleeding and in pain and with disregard for his personal safety, he pulled the man aboard. Lieutenant (jg) Kerry then directed his boat to return and assist the other damaged Inshore Patrol Craft. His crew attached a line and towed the damaged boat to safety....

A Washington Post(R) article says,

While Kerry was rescuing Rassmann, the other Swift boats had gone to the assistance of Pees and the 3 boat. Thurlow, in particular, distinguished himself by leaping onto the 3 boat and administering first aid, according to his Bronze Star citation. At one point, he, too, was knocked overboard when the boat hit a sandbar, but he was rescued by crewmates.

The Kerry and anti-Kerry camps differ sharply on whether the flotilla came under enemy fire after the explosion that crippled the 3 boat. Everybody aboard Kerry's boat, including Rassmann, says there was fire from both riverbanks, and the official after-action report speaks of all boats receiving "heavy a/w [automatic weapons] and s/a [small arms] from both banks." The Bronze Star citations for Kerry and Thurlow also speak of prolonged enemy fire.

A report on "battle damage" to Thurlow's boat mentions "three 30 cal bullet holes about super structure." According to Thurlow, at least one of the bullet holes was the result of action the previous day, when he ran into another Vietcong ambush.

Apparently, four Americans were thrown into the water that day: Rassman, Thurlow, and two sailors from the 3-boat. All were picked up. Only one person, Kerry, got a medal for picking someone up. Why? (Thurlow, though, did get a Bronze Star for jumping into the driverless 3-boat and trying to get it under control before being thrown into the water himself after a big bump.) CNN Transcript says


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.

WOODRUFF: Jim Rassmann, what about that? You hear Mr. Thurlow saying there was no enemy fire at that point.

RASSMANN: Mr. Thurlow is being disingenuous. I don't know what his motivation is, but I was receiving fire in the water every time I came up for air. I don't recall anybody being in the area around us until I came up maybe five or six times for air and Kerry came back to pick me up out of the water.

WOODRUFF: Disingenuous. He says you are being disingenuous in not recalling what happened.

THURLOW: Let me ask Mr. Rassmann this question: I also ended up in the water that day during the rescue efforts on the 3-boat (ph). And my boat, the 51-boat (ph), came up, picked me up, business as usual. I got back on board, went about the business at hand.

I received no fire. But the thing I would like to ask is, we have five boats now, John's returning, and four boats basically dead in the water, working on the 3-boat (ph). If we were receiving fire off the bank, how come not one single boat received one bullet hole, nobody was hit, no sign of any rounds hitting the water while I was in it?

WOODRUFF: What about that, Jim Rassmann, quickly?

RASSMANN: There were definitely rounds hitting the water around me. If Mr. Thurlow feels that what his story is purported to be was the case, he had ample opportunity 35 years ago to deal with it. He never did, nor did anyone else. John Kerry did not tell this story. I told this story when I put him in for a Silver Star for coming back to rescue me. The Navy saw fit to reduce it to a Bronze Star for valor.

That's OK with me. But If Mr. Furlow had a problem with that, he should have dealt with it long, long ago. To bring it up now, I think, is very disingenuous. I think that this is partisan motivation on his part and for the part of his whole organization.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Thurlow, why didn't you bring this up earlier?

THURLOW: For one thing, I did not know that John had been put in for a Bronze Star, a Silver Star or, for that matter, a Purple Heart on that day. I did not see the after-action report, which, in fact, was written by John. And as the years went by, John was not running for the highest office in the free world.

(See my Kerry in Vietnam archives for more posts)

Posted by erasmuse at August 25, 2004 12:51 AM

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