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WASHINGTON – Did Lt. John Kerry really take his gunboat up the river into Cambodia territory as he continues to insist despite growing contradictions in his stories?
In the most celebrated telling of this story before the U.S. Senate in 1986, Kerry said: “I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and have the president of the United States telling the American people that I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory which is seared – seared – in me.”
Critics have pointed out that on Christmas 1968, Lyndon Johnson was president, not Richard Nixon – the president who ordered American troops to invade Cambodia beginning in April 1970, a year after Kerry had left Vietnam. Secret U.S. bombings of Cambodia began in 1969 – shortly after Kerry left Vietnam — but there was no controversy about secret troop movements there.
In response, Kerry’s campaign explained that Kerry was mistaken about the timing only – and that he visited Cambodia more than once on secret missions before leaving Vietnam in March 1969. None of Kerry’s crew members, even those supporting his candidacy for the presidency, say they can remember any such excursions into Cambodia.
However, there is another problem with this story, Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin has found.
Kerry said his boat took fire from Khmer Rouge forces, the Communist army under the direction of Pol Pot.
The Khmer Rouge were unheard of in 1968 and 1969 and began their guerrilla campaigns to topple the Cambodia government in 1970, even then with only a handful of soldiers numbering perhaps 3,000, according to a variety of historians who have chronicled Pol Pot’s eventual genocidal reign.
It was not until 1975, following the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam, that Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army, consisting mainly of teen-age peasant guerrillas, marched into Phnom Penh April 17 and effectively seized control of Cambodia.
Once in power, Pol Pot began a radical experiment to create an agrarian utopia inspired by Mao Zedung’s cultural revolution, forcing millions of civilians out of the cities and into the jungles and fields. He renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea, systematically murdered those with educations and who spoke foreign languages, set up re-education camps and wrought what became known as the “Killing Fields,” in which more than 2 million were killed.
“I don’t know that anyone can actually say whether or not they were in Cambodia,” John Hurley, the national director of Veterans for Kerry said to Fox News when first confronted with contradictions about who was president in 1968. “[It is a] very watery area. It is – there’s no sign that says welcome to Cambodia. It is – it is obviously dusk and getting darker, and so they were in those waters.”
Yet, Kerry very specifically referred to taking fire from Khmer Rouge in at least one account of his Cambodia venture.
Kerry’s campaign has also said he was in Cambodia on a different mission with Navy Seals, but can provide no date for that mission.
“He was five miles into Cambodia, but what’s happened is these two stories have gotten confused,” said Hurley.
Kerry’s spokesman Michael Meehan was even more specific: “During John Kerry’s service in Vietnam, many times he was on or near the Cambodian border and one occasion crossed into Cambodia at the request of members of a special operations group operating out of Ha Tien. On Dec. 24, 1968, Lt. John Kerry and his crew were on patrol in the watery borders between Vietnam and Cambodia deep in enemy territory. In the early afternoon, Kerry’s boat, PCF-44, was at Sa Dec and then headed north to the Cambodian border. There, Kerry and his crew along with two other boats were ambushed, taking fire from both sides of the river, and after the firefight were fired upon again. Later that evening during their night patrol they came under friendly fire.”
Steve Gardner, a crewmate of Kerry on Christmas 1968, told the Globe of Kerry’s claim to be in or near Cambodia: “Never happened.”
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