In a eulogy entered into the Congressional Record six years ago, John Kerry gave a conflicting version of the now-famous incident during the Vietnam War in which he rescued Special Forces officer Jim Rassman.
Kerry reunited with Jim Rassman in Iowa.
Rassman’s dramatic on-stage reunion with Kerry 34 years later, just before the crucial Iowa caucuses in January, is regarded by some political analysts as the campaign’s catalyst to victory and the eventual Democratic presidential nomination.
Rassman, a former Green Beret, wrote recently in a Wall Street Journal editorial posted on the Kerry campaign website that he was blown off of Kerry’s swiftboat, PCF-94, by a mine blast on March 13, 1969.
But in a eulogy for crew member Thomas Belodeau, which Kerry entered into the Congressional Record in 1998 [pdf file], the senator said Rassman fell overboard when the swiftboat made an abrupt turn on the Bay Hap River, not as a result of the mine blast.
There was the time we were carrying special
forces up a river and a mine exploded
under our boat sending it 2 feet into the air.
We were receiving incoming rocket and
small arms fire and Tommy was returning
fire with his M–60 machine gun when it literally
broke apart in his hands.
He was left holding the pieces unable to fire back while
one of the Green Berets [Rassman]
walked along the edge of the boat to get Tommy another M–60.
As he was doing so, the boat made a high
speed turn to starboard and the Green Beret kept going — straight into the river.
That apparent conflict in Kerry’s own retelling of events adds to already existing confusion over whether Rassman was on Kerry’s boat or on another of the five boats on that mission. For example, Douglas Brinkley, author of Kerry’s authorized war biography “Tour of Duty,” wrote in an article published by American History magazine that Rassman was on another boat, PCF-3, when he was blown overboard by a mine. But Rassman and the Kerry campaign say the Special Forces officer was on Kerry’s boat.
‘All news to me’
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the 254 former officers and enlisted men who contend Kerry is unfit to be commander in chief, has offered numerous eyewitness affidavits to tell a story that differs radically from Kerry’s various accounts. But the 1998 eulogy version actually agrees with the swiftboat group’s description of how Rassman went into the water.
Larry Thurlow appeared in a television ad by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Lt. (j.g.) Larry Thurlow, who commanded PCF-51 on that mission, told WorldNetDaily he’s certain Rassman was not blown from Kerry’s boat by a mine.
“I will guarantee you that didn’t happen,” he said, noting the eulogy was “all news to me.”
The eulogy was unearthed from the Congressional Record in a report by the weblog BeldarBlog.
The Kerry campaign’s veterans affairs section, headed by John Hurley, did not respond to WND’s request for comment.
Thurlow said while Kerry’s 1998 eulogy may help resolve one contentious aspect of the story, it presents other problems.
In addition to denying the mine blast, Thurlow claims Kerry’s boat was near the right side of the river, which means the bow would have plowed into the bank if it indeed had made a “high speed turn to starboard,” or the right.
Thurlow, and other eyewitnesses in the swiftboat group, also contend there was no enemy fire. Further, Thurlow believes it’s unlikely Rassman would have been sent to retrieve another M-60, because each boat normally had only one of those heavy weapons, which was fired from a set position on the bow.
“That’s a great eulogy for a shipmate,” Thurlow said, “and I’m sure that made [Belodeau's] family proud, but … this is where, to me, John is always getting himself in trouble. He loves to tell a good story, and he loves to be in the center of it.”
Thurlow appears in the first television ad launched by the swiftboat vets group, saying “When the chips were down, you could not count on John Kerry.”
Jerome Corsi, co-author with former swiftboat commander John O’Neill of “Unfit for Command: Swiftboat Veterans Speak out Against John Kerry,” says he and his colleagues noticed the inconsistenices in Kerry’s stories as they compiled the best-selling book, set to top the New York Times list.
The question of which boat Rassman was on has not been resolved by the Kerry campaign, he said, but the eulogy is the first evidence of an admission that it was the acceleration of Kerry’s boat that caused Rassman to fall off.
“If you put any two John Kerry versions together, you end up with three stories,” Corsi told WND.
Thurlow acknowledged, however, that one of his crew members, retired Chief Petty Officer Robert E. Lambert, of Eagle Point, Ore., recently has come forward to back Kerry’s and Rassman’s assertion they were under enemy fire.
Lambert’s account supports the Navy record, but Thurlow and others contend that record is based on Kerry’s false after-action report.
Lambert, Thurlow and Kerry all were awarded Bronze Stars for their efforts during that incident. Kerry received a third Purple Heart, allowing him to leave Vietnam, but the swiftboat vets’ group claims one wound was self-inflicted, from an event earlier that day, and another was only a minor contusion.
“I thought we were under fire, I believed we were under fire,” Lambert told the Associated Press.
Thurlow called Lambert a “fantastic sailor” and doesn’t doubt his sincerity.
“He does have a different remembrance,” Thurlow said. “I’m not questioning his memory, but my memory is not of any [enemy] fire.”
Dead in the water
Thurlow, along with swiftboat skippers Jack Chenowith and Richard Pees and gunner Van Odell, say the March 13 incident was touched off when the five boats approached a fishing weir across the river, a series of poles to which nets attach.
The boats were moving in an inverted spear formation, Thurlow said, with Kerry’s boat on the right, running parallel to Pees’ PCF-3. Each one had a boat following closely behind, and Thurlow brought up the rear, in the middle.
Kerry’s boat moved around the weir on the right while Pees went to the left when suddenly a mine detonated beneath Pees’ boat, sending it several feet into the air and knocking some crew members overboard, according to Odell.
With one of its diesel engines disabled, the badly damaged PCF-3 began to weave wildly as the other engine remained stuck at 500 RPM.
Thurlow said his gunner sent a hail of bullets across the shoreline then stopped when it became apparent there was no enemy fire.
All of the remaining boats, except Kerry’s, closed in on PCF-3 to rescue its crew members, contend Thurlow, Chenoweth, Pees and Odell.
Kerry’s boat fled, they say, and by the time it returned, the rescue operation already was under way. Kerry plucked Rassman out of the water, they assert, just before Chenowith was about to reach him.
Kerry has stated his boat was the only one to stay back and rescue Rassman, and Rassman has insisted he was the only one in the water.
But Kerry’s campaign has had to concede that PCF-3, at the very least, could not have left the scene because it was dead in the water from the mine blast.