August 2004 Archives

On April 29, 1975, U.S. Marines and Air Force helicopters flew back and forth for eighteen hours between Saigon and off-shore carriers, evacuating more than 1,000 Americans and 7,000 South Vietnamese. The neighbor who lives across the street from me was one of those 7,000--he was a 12-year-old boy at the time. The next day, looters ransacked the U.S. embassy. North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon and renamed it Ho Chi Minh City. More than 58,000 American soldiers had died in the war. A quarter of a million South Vietnamese soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians had died, along with nearly a million North Vietnamese.

Today there is a U.S. consulate in Ho Chi Minh City; it has a website.

What was accomplished by the war in Viet Nam? We pulled out and Saigon fell, and the world didn't come to an end. The dreaded dominos theory was just paranoia, as it turns out. Had we pulled out before the 58,000 died, the world would be no worse off.

During the Viet Nam war protesting was considered anti-American. Bumper stickers said America: love it or leave it. Protestors were accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. It can't be denied that the Viet Nam war protestors have been vindicated in the long run. But having been vindicated by the loss of the war puts war protestors in the winner's circle from hell. It's easy for the war's supporters to claim that the protestors wanted America to lose, and are unpatriotic, even traitorous. War protestors are neither unpatriotic nor traitorous, but it is, nevertheless, the accusation that will be made by the outraged supporters of the war that was lost.

I've been following the Swift Boat story, although I haven't read either "Tour of Duty" (I bought it, I just haven't read it yet) or the book by O'Neill and Corsi (haven't bought it--don't intend to.) I've read what has appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times, along with quite a few editorials from other papers.

A couple of the stories that have appeared, especially this story in the WaPo today, have tried to dispassionately describe the disputed events, in an attempt to discern the "truth". Maybe because these articles are written without a trace of drama, they've been extremely effective in bringing the incidents alive in my imagination.

A couple of passages in particular have made me realize what the danger and confusion and fear of those days on the Mekong Delta must have been like. According to the WaPo:

The role of the Swift boats changed dramatically toward the end of 1968, when Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., commander of U.S. naval forces in South Vietnam, decided to use them to block Vietcong supply routes through the Mekong Delta. Hundreds of young men such as Kerry, with little combat experience, suddenly found themselves face to face with the enemy.

Taking a 50-foot aluminum boat up a river or canal was replete with danger, ranging from ambushes to booby traps to mines. Kerry and his comrades would experience all these risks on March 13, 1969. The purpose of the mission was twofold: to insert pro-government forces upriver in a group of Vietcong-controlled villages; and more generally to show the flag, keeping the waterways free for commerce.

In some ways, it was a day like any other. The previous day, Kerry had taken part in a Swift boat expedition that had come under fire, and several windows of Kerry's boat were blown out. A friend, Lt. j.g. William B. Rood, almost lost an eye in the ambush.
The expedition began to go wrong soon after they inserted the Nung troops into a deserted village off the Dong Cung Canal. As the mercenaries searched from house to house, Rassmann recalled, one reached for a cloth bag at the base of a coconut tree and was blown to pieces. It was a booby trap. Kerry, who arrived on the scene soon after, helped wrap the body in a poncho and drag it back to the boat, diving into a ditch when he thought he was under fire.
When the first explosion occurred, Rassmann was seated next to the pilothouse on the starboard, or right, side of Kerry's boat, munching a chocolate chip cookie that he recalls having "ripped off from someone's Care package." He saw the 3 boat lift out of the water. Almost simultaneously, Kerry's forward gunner, Tommy Belodeau, began screaming for a replacement for his machine gun, which had jammed. Rassmann grabbed an M-16 and worked his way sideways along the deck, which was only seven inches wide in places.

At this point, Kerry crew members say their boat was hit by a second explosion. Although Kerry's injury report speaks of a mine that "detonated close aboard PCF-94," helmsman Del Sandusky believes it was more likely a rocket or rocket-propelled grenade, as a mine would have inflicted more damage. Whatever it was, the explosion rammed Kerry into the wall of his pilothouse, injuring his right forearm.

The second explosion "blew me right off the boat," Rassmann recalled. Frightened that he might be struck by the propellers of one of the boats, he dived to the bottom of the river, where he dumped his weapons and rucksack. When he surfaced, he said, bullets were "snapping overhead," as well as hitting the water around him.
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.

Reading these accounts brings home the fact that all of the men in these swift boats were in the same boat figuratively if not literally. Considering what these men went through together, the fact that they are now bitter enemies seems yet another sad indictment of the war--one of many such indictments.

When Kerry testified before the senate in 1971, he wasn't testifying to atrocities he had witnessed; he was quoting testimony that had been given in Detroit as part of a separate investigation. That Kerry never witnessed any atrocities himself speaks for the character of the men on the swift boats--not just those in Kerry's boat, but those in the other boats involved in the incidents that are now under such dispute. Kerry's testimony did not implicate them: it exonerated them. They all served honorably, and now they are at each other's throats.

Now, as a result of this story in the Chicago Tribune, these men who have attacked Kerry have been shown to be lying. Moveover, as a result of this story in the New York Times, they have been shown to be pawns of the slimiest of sleazeballs, Karl Rove. What a sad, sad way to dishonor their own service, when in fact they could have stood in the glow of honor along with Kerry's own boatmates.

Living well within the commute envelope of Washington DC, Mike has grown up with some friends from very wealthy and well-connected families. Last night he was invited to a barbeque at the home of a friend whose father owns an insurance company. The friend's father was entertaining some friends of his own, including the president of one of the largest insurance companies, which will remain nameless to protect me from any possible lawsuit from any possibly thin-skinned and humorless insurance poohbah--yes that sounds paranoid; so what?

Mike played poker with this group, and while they smoked cigars and joked about Kerry, Mike sat quietly and counted his chips. He says the president of the large and very famous insurance company did mutter that it might make more sense to vote for Kerry, really, but nevertheless he would vote for Bush.

This comment, together with my having some time ago heard a right wingnut/gunlover admit he was going to vote for "the demotard" because Bush had failed to nuke Afghanistan and whatnot, makes me wonder if these small moments are harbingers of a coming Kerry landslide.

Mike left his friend's house $105 richer, for which he received hearty congratulations from yours truly. He says the insurance moguls played terrible poker, but then I suppose they weren't worried at all about dropping some pocket change. Besides which, Mike had an unfair advantage: he was sober.

We've had this connection since Saturday morning, and we lost connection Sunday evening, Monday evening, and again tonight. The connection comes back up again after a while, but it's a pain in the neck.

We had Covad DSL for at least 5 years, and it only went down once. We called customer service on that occasion and they said they were working on it, and it came back up again after a couple of hours.

I've thought for a while now that Covad was geared to business customers while Verizon is going after the home computer market. Covad's customers demand better service and are willing to pay more.

Right now I'm feeling disgruntled, and am questioning whether saving $35/month is worth it. Yeah, because the Verizon connection is faster. I just hope they get their act together soon.

Puppy's first friend

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Mike took Saint over to his college roommate's house last week. His roomie also got a puppy this summer-- an English Bulldog. So here are Saint Anthony the Abbot and General Stonewall Jackson, doing what puppies do best.

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