Here’s a letter I received today from Terry Sater, a Vietnam Vet who served with the Mobile Riverine Force in the Mekong Delta during 1968 and 1969. He writes that “I’m not part of a 527. I voted for McGovern, Perot and Bush. I didn’t volunteer for Nam. I didn’t want to go. I am not a hero. I served with heroes. Kerry has dishonored all of us.”
Sater said he sent the letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but doesn’t expect it will run. It it is reprinted here in its entirety:
People don’t get it. They point out how “suspicious” it is that the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” are “only now” coming out with their charges, as though they should have formed their organization to refute John Kerry when he was a twenty-six year old nobody. Kerry has made his service in Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign. He has only himself to blame that his service has been questioned. Michael Moore and Whoopie Goldberg spew their venom. The “MoveOn.org” website carries the motto “Democracy in Action”. The Swift Boat Veterans are supposed to shut up.
I served twelve months with the Mobile Riverine Force, in the Mekong Delta, during 1968 and 1969, manning automatic weapons on an Armored Troop Carrier. During the first three months of 1969, I operated in and around the little village of Ha Tien, at times, with Kerry’s Coastal Division 11 Swift Boats. If one of the men I served with was running for President, I would be extremely proud. If there was any way I could support him for President, I would. The bonds that are formed in combat are special. They are strong. For the men that served in Kerry’s unit to state that he is unfit for command cannot and should not be brushed off as “partisan politics.” It is not a “Republican vs. Democrat”, or “conservative vs. liberal” issue. They aren’t doing it for money. It is personal. The Swift Boat Vets are men who came to know John Kerry in the crucible of war and saw things in John Kerry that are so disturbing, that they cannot sit quietly. They also saw and heard one of their own come back from Vietnam and trash the legacy of everyone who served honorably. John Kerry’s lies of atrocities are largely responsible for the terrible reputation Vietnam veterans have lived with for their entire lives. He testified that we were murdering, raping and torturing, with the consent and direction of the entire chain of command. Now, John Kerry is angry that these 254 men dare to question him.
I haven’t read “Unfit for Command”, yet. I have read John Kerry’s “Tour of Duty.” He reminds me of a popular cartoon in Vietnam, the “Saigon Warrior”. The “Saigon Warrior” cartoon figure had his helmet pushed down over his shaded eyes, ammunition belts crossing his puffed out chest, a sword in one hand and his M-16 in the other. He was a caricature.
If you served in Vietnam, you don’t have to read “Unfit for Command” to question Kerry’s record. His own book; “Tour of Duty” will do that. I will only point out a few things in his book that stood out, to me.
A photo caption in Kerry’s book states; “A Swift boat convoy heading up the Bo De River.” If Kerry had spent more than four months in Vietnam, he may have known the picture was actually a column of “PBR’s” (Patrol Boat, River), not his swift boats.
The book often refers to his four month stint on the Swifts as Kerry’s “second tour”, since he had spent time on “the guided-missile frigate U.S.S. Gridley, aboard which he visited Vietnam for the first time in March 1968.” He states in his book; “Every day that the Gridley patrolled the Gulf of Tonkin an enemy attack was remotely possible.” The Gridley steamed in the Gulf of Tonkin, also known as “Yankee Station.” I served on the U.S.S. Enterprise, in the Gulf of Tonkin. No self-respecting sailor who served “in-country” would have considered a tour at “Yankee Station” as a tour of duty in Vietnam, unless you were a Navy pilot.
A lot has been made of John Kerry volunteering for combat. On page 104 of his book, it reads; “John Kerry would be training in San Diego for what he thought would be purely coastal patrolling of Operation Market Time, whose objective was to establish a barrier along the coast of Vietnam to interdict the infiltration of insurgent supplies by sea.”
On pages 171 and 172, Kerry describes the base for Coastal Division 11, at An Thoi. First, he described the beauty of An Thoi, which was a small village on Phu Quoc Island, good distance off the coast of Vietnam. “But to the U.S. servicemen who fought in the area and had some awareness of such ghastly guerrilla tactics as booby traps, underwater mines, and sniper nests, all An Thoi signified was danger.” While I must admit the possibility that my boat crew may have been painfully ignorant and subjected ourselves to mindless risk, we viewed our occasional trips to An Thoi as the closest thing we could find to “R&R”. We swam in the crystal clear waters near the village of An Thoi. We fished with percussion grenades and watched as the villagers swam out to scoop up the stunned fish. We drank and played on the beach, with the dogs that roamed the island, at night.
On page 176, he describes his Swift Boat; “Horne neglected to mention that that hull might not be able to stop a BB at a thousand yards.” Even his strongest supports must admit he has a tendency to exaggerate.
On the same page he states; “For those boats stationed near the Mekong Delta, a fine source of entertainment presented itself: making hell-for-leather dashes up the Viet Cong infested rivers through “free fire zones”, with guns blazing, mostly for kicks and to have something dramatic to write home about.” Think about it. You are in “Viet Cong infested rivers.” Would you risk low ammo to fire at nothing, “for kicks”? My boat was an armored troop carrier. We carried four .30cal machine guns, two .50cal machine guns, two 20mm cannons and a “Mark 19″ grenade launcher. We kept our guns clean. We plugged the ends of the barrels with grease, so that moisture didn’t get into the barrel. We kept plenty of ammunition on hand. We did not want to put ourselves at risk by running out of ammunition. We were not allowed to fire freely. During one operation, the last boat in our column was taking sniper fire. The boat captain requested permission to fire back. His request was denied. We could not fire at will, for fun and entertainment.
On page 179, there is a reference to an incident that occurred on October 14th. Page 181 begins with; “Only a few weeks later, Kerry, on a PCF-44 patrol, observed four troop battalions from the Ninth Infantry Division at Dong Tam and five Mobile Riverine Force squadrons staging an assault for the benefit of Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird. “To facilitate putting on a good show, an area was picked out for the landing where the chance of guerilla contact was minimal.” Kerry sneered. “Nothing was to mess up the show for the secretary of defense.” I was with River Assault Squadron 13 during this time period. Melvin Laird was the secretary of defense from January 22, 1969 to January 29, 1973. At the high point, there were only four squadrons of the Mobile Riverine Force. The four squadrons were split into two larger groups; “Group Alpha” and “Group Bravo”, in early summer, of 1968, spread out over different parts of the Mekong Delta. All four squadrons were never pulled together to put on a show for Melvin Laird.
Kerry renewed his decades old smearing of Viet Nam veterans, on page 211, describing Cobra gunship pilots; “Yet Kerry found himself troubled by the realization that some of these wild boys could kill innocent people from a distance and not be bothered by it. He was no pacifist – far from it- and understood that “accidental atrocities” were a part of war. But it disturbed him that even a few trigger happy American yahoos considered killing Vietnamese civilians a sport.”
Page 218 relates that Kerry wrote in his notebook, from Sa Dec; “”Merry Christmas from the most inland market time unit.” He meant to be clever and point out to his superiors the incongruity on a river canal not far from the Cambodian border northwest of Saigon.” In truth, Sa Dec isn’t near the Cambodian border. Look at a map. Second, hundreds of various types of Navy craft were all over the Mekong Delta, many in much worse places than Kerry. The “Saigon Warrior” would like everyone to think that he was the lone “Rambo”, sitting in VC territory, all alone.
I hope that the whole truth comes out. I believe it will if people read “Tour of Duty”, “Unfit for Command,” and Kerry signs the “180″ form which will allow the Navy to release all of his records, not just the ones he has selected.
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