Over the the past three decades, John Kerry has used a story of being ordered to illegally enter Cambodia during his Vietnam service as proof of war crimes and to argue against U.S. foreign policy, but a new book by Naval colleagues of the Massachusetts senator charges the account is false.
On the floor of the U.S. Senate, March 27, 1986, for example, Kerry attacked President Reagan’s actions in Central America, charging they were leading the United States into another Vietnam. He claimed he could recognize the adminstration’s errors because he had firsthand knowledge that the Nixon administration lied about American incursions into Cambodia.
In a Boston Herald story, Kerry is quoted as saying, “I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real.”
But in “Unfit for Command,” scheduled for release Aug. 15, John O’Neill, who took over Kerry’s swift-boat command, and co-author Jerome Corsi say there are two problems with Kerry’s claim.
One is simply that Nixon had not taken office yet.
The second, they say, is that during Christmas 1968, “he was more than fifty miles away from Cambodia. Kerry was never ordered into Cambodia by anyone and would have been court-martialed had he gone there.”
At the time, Kerry was stationed at Coastal Division 13 in Cat Lo, which had a patrol areas extending to Sa Dec, about 55 miles from the Cambodian border.
All of the surviving officers in Kerry’s chain of command deny he was ever ordered to Cambodia: Joe Streuhli, commander of Costal Division 13; George Elliott, commander of Coastal Division 11; Adrian Lonsdale, captain USCG and commander Coastal Surveillance Center at An Thoi; Rear Adm. Roy Hoffmann, commander of Coastal Surveillance Force Vietnam, CTF 115; and Rear Adm. Art Price, commander of River Patrol Force, CTF 116.
Also at least three of the five crewmen on Kerry’s PCF 44 boat — Bill Zaldonis, Steven Hatch, and Steve Gardner — deny that they or their boat were ever in Cambodia. The remaining two crewmen declined to be interviewed for the book.
The authors say the Cambodia incursion story is not included in Douglas Brinkley’s “Tour of Duty.” Instead, Kerry told of a mortar attack on Christmas Eve 1968 “near the Cambodia border” in Sa Dec.