By Matt Hurley for the TIB Network:Right upfront I'll admit some cognitive dissonance and trepidation about Unfit for Command. I'm not one to question anyone's service to their country and I don't believe it should be an issue in this or any campaign for President of the United States. That said, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT) have the right to their say on the matter of John Kerry's service record since he made his four month tour in Vietnam the central focus of his campaign.
There have been a number of stories that John Kerry has told for years that he has now been forced to recant. Chief among them is the "Christmas in Cambodia" story which is covered in detail in the book. As Kerry told the story, he spent Christmas Eve 1968 in Cambodia even though President Nixon denied that any troops were in Cambodia at the time. One problem with that is that Nixon didn't take office until January of 1969. Another problem is that no one will corroborate his story. SBVT member Stephen Gardner spent more time on Kerry's boat than anybody, including the time in question, and he says that they were operating out of a base that was 50 miles away from the Cambodia border. The Kerry campaign recently retracted the story saying that Kerry was "close" to the border and not actually in Cambodia at the time prescribed but rather he was in Cambodia at another time altogether. This is, according to Kerry's own Senate testimony in 1986, a memory which was "seared - seared" into his memory.
Two other stories have popped up recently as well that don't appear to hold water. One is the story of John Kerry's "Magic Hat" which was supposedly given to him on a secret mission where his swift boat delivered a CIA team into Cambodia. Such missions did take place, but usually involved a helicopter insertion. No Swift Boat Commander has stepped forward to say that they carried out such a mission. Swift boats are noisy and therefore not the ideal asset for such a mission. However, a smaller and quieter craft was used for these types of missions, but John Kerry never served on one. As another writer put it, the CIA had plenty of money and assets available to them, they would never select a guy who just got to Vietnam for such a crucial mission.
The other story just surfaced and involves John Kerry's Vietnam pet, "VC the Wonderdog" which John Kerry claimed he had with him on his swift boat in his candidate questionairre for the Humane Society. No one has stepped forward with a recollection of this pet either. The dog's name is curious too: why would you name your beloved pet after the enemy that is trying to kill you?
The Swiftees have built up a lot of credibility thus far. However, there are a couple of issues that I have with the book. I think that the Swiftees would have been better served by getting an objective outside writer for the book who was not a member of the SBVT. The number of cheapshots taken throughout the book are something of a turnoff, but were expected.
And there is one story that I have trouble with altogether. Here is an exerpt from page 58 about the "Sampan Incident" in which a Vietnamese child was killed:
Despite Kerry's written report, rumors of the incident circulated for years. The vivid memory of the small bloody sampan haunts Silver Star winner Bill Franke, a veteran of many battles. A boat officer of Coastal Division 11 (and one of the real heroes of the incident portrayed in Kerry's "no man left behind" video), Jack Chenowith has recently written that "[t]he only atrocity I ever knew of or heard about was Kerry killing the small child in the junk." ["Junk" was a nickname for a sampan. - MATT]My problem with the way this story is presented is that there is no clear definitive version of what actually happened. In one version of the story, it appears that the gunner, Swiftee Steve Gardner, opened up without an order from Kerry to do so because John Kerry took too long to come out of the pilot house to give the order (page 56). Gardner claims that Kerry failed to pick up the sampan on radar. If Gardner's version of the story is correct, he is the one actually responsible for the incident because he acted without orders. This story will prove hard to verify at any rate because the official report, which Kerry filed, did not include the detail of the killed child.
In Tour of Duty, Kerry, according to one of his own accounts, appears to have lost control of his boat after crazily ordering that "warning shots" be fired at a small sampan with heavy .50 caliber weapons, instead of the numerous small-caliber weapons on board. According to the biography written by the Boston Globe reporters, Kerry simply butchers a small sampan in a free-fire zone because they would have been dangerous to approach.
If you're watching the scoreboard, the Swiftees come out ahead. My recommendation is to get the book and read it with a healthy dose of skepticism. The one thing to remember is that the only thing that can prove the Swiftees wrong is for John Kerry to open up his full military record, which he has demonstrated an unwillingness to do.
While I'm not sure it will have a lasting effect on the race for Commander-in-Chief, Unfit for Command is a pretty good read.