John Kerry Military Service Controversy - Allegations and Evidence - Cambodia Mission

Cambodia Mission

One chapter of SBVT's Unfit for Command questions Kerry's repeated statement that he was in Cambodia during Christmas, 1968.

For example, on March 27, 1986, in arguing against United States aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, Kerry made a speech to the Senate that, among other things, touched on the Vietnam war:

border: none; padding: 4px 10px;">Mr. President, how quickly do we forget? How quickly do we forget? No one wanted to widen the war in Vietnam, We heard that, Let me remind you of what we said during that period of time.

Finally, President Nixon, 1970. "In cooperation with the armed forces of South Vietnam, attacks are being launched this week to clear out major enemy sanctuaries on the Cambodian-Vietnam border."

Mr. President, 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, that says to me, before we send another generation into harm's way we have a responsibility in the U.S. Senate to go the last step, to make the best effort possible in order to avoid that kind of conflict. Mr. President, good intentions are not enough to keep us out of harm's way.

According to the Boston Globe biography of Kerry, he later recalled that after the Christmas Eve incident, he "began to develop a deep mistrust of U.S. government pronouncements…."

In a 1979 article in the Boston Herald, Kerry wrote of being shot at five miles over the Cambodian border on Christmas Eve 1968, stating,

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.

At the time, President Lyndon Johnson had denied overt military incursions across the Cambodian border, while covert MACV-SOG Special reconnaissance operations were active and ongoing. Richard Nixon was actually president-elect in December 1968, and he had not yet issued his own denial.

Kerry did not claim to have been sent on a covert mission to Cambodia on Christmas Eve, 1968. Rather, he believed at the time he had crossed the border while on a patrol near the border, during which the boats were ambushed and later came under friendly fire from South Vietnamese soldiers.

No official documentation of any accidental or other incursion by either of Kerry's boats has been discovered. In addition, none of Kerry's crewmates have confirmed ever being sent to Cambodia. One of Kerry's crewmen, SBVT member Steven Gardner, asserted that it was physically impossible to cross the Cambodian border, as it was blocked and patrolled by PBRs (a type of patrol boat); however, Kerry's boat was evidently patrolling with PBRs during the mission in question. Some crewmembers have, moreover, stated that they may at some point have entered Cambodia without knowing it. James Wasser, who was on PCF-44 on that December mission, while saying that he believed they were "very, very close" to Cambodia, did not recall actually crossing over; he also stated that it was very hard to tell their exact position in the border area. Kerry's own journal entry on this, written the night of the mission, does not specifically say they entered Cambodia. However, it does state that PCF-44 was somewhere "toward Cambodia" to provide cover for two smaller patrol boats, and in sarcasm, that he considered messaging Christmas greetings to his commanders "from the most inland Market Time unit" and that a court martial for the incident "would make sense" In addition, George Elliott noted in Kerry's fitness report that he had been in an ambush during the 24 hour Christmas truce, which began on Christmas Eve.

Michael Meehan, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign, responded to SBVT's charges with a statement that Kerry was referring to a period when Nixon had been president-elect and before he was inaugurated. Meehan went on to state that Kerry had been "deep in enemy waters" between Vietnam and Cambodia and that his boat came under fire at the Cambodian border. Meehan also said that Kerry did covertly cross over into Cambodia to drop off special operations forces on a later occasion, but that there was no paperwork for such missions and he could not supply dates.

Based on examination of Kerry's journals and logbook, historian Douglas Brinkley placed the covert missions soon after Christmas. In an interview with the London Daily Telegraph, Brinkley stated that Kerry had gone into Cambodian waters three or four times in January and February 1969 on clandestine missions, dropping off U.S. Seals, Green Berets, and CIA operatives. Brinkley added:

He was a ferry master, a drop-off guy, but it was dangerous as hell. Kerry carries a hat he was given by one CIA operative. In a part of his journals which I didn't use he writes about discussions with CIA guys he was dropping off.

In an interview with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press," Kerry corrected his 1979 statement about being "five miles across the border" on Christmas Eve, but reiterated that he was on a patrol at the border at that date and had been sent on a covert mission at a later date.

In the book, O'Neill argued that a Swift boat commander would have been "seriously disciplined or court-martialed" for crossing the Cambodian border. Critics point out the inconsistency between this description and O'Neill's own claims documented in a conversation with President Nixon in 1971:

O'Neill: I was in Cambodia, sir. I worked along the border on the water.

Nixon : In a Swift boat?
O'Neill: Yes, sir.

Read more about this topic:  John Kerry Military Service Controversy, Allegations and Evidence

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