KERRY’S BRONZE STAR….Michael Dobbs has a long story in the Washington Post today about the events surrounding John Kerry’s Bronze star. This was the incident in which Kerry pulled Green Beret Jim Rassmann out of the water after his boat was hit by an explosion.

Laura Rozen has the right take on this: it’s just absurd for Dobbs to treat both sides as equally credible in his story. But I was interested in something else. Although it takes Dobbs nearly two thousand words to get to it, when he finally tells the story of what happened on the Bay Hap River that day there are practically no facts that are contested. In fact, when you strip his story down to its essentials, here’s all that’s left:

  • Five boats were traveling downriver when one of them, PCF-3, was hit by a mine. At about the same time, Kerry’s boat was hit by an explosion of some kind and Rassmann was knocked overboard. Nobody noticed immediately that he was missing.

  • Next: Kerry apparently moved toward the riverbank to put his troops ashore. The SwiftVets’ John O’Neill doesn’t disagree, but claims this indicates that Kerry “fled the scene.” Needless to say, this is just a lawyer’s debating trick. There’s no factual disagreement here.

  • Kerry turned around to help PCF-3, but at the same time someone noticed Rassmann bobbing in the water. Kerry went to help Rassmann and pulled him out of the water. Again, no disagreement.

  • Finally, we come to the sole point of disagreement: were the boats under fire? Kerry and his crewmates say yes, O’Neill and the SwiftVets say no. However, the only evidence available supports Kerry: an after-action report mentions “heavy a/w [automatic weapons] and s/a [small arms] from both banks” and “three 30 cal bullet holes” in Larry Thurlow’s boat, and the Bronze Star citations for Kerry and Thurlow both mention enemy fire.

    The only contrary evidence the SwiftVets have produced is an odd theory that the after-action report mentioning enemy fire is meaningless because it was written by Kerry himself and initialed KJW. But as Dobbs notes, Kerry’s initials are JFK and there are other reports at the Naval Historical Center initialed KJW that obviously aren’t Kerry’s. What’s more, the official witness for Thurlow’s Bronze Star wasn’t Kerry, it was a member of Thurlow’s own crew.

In a four-thousand word article, that’s it. The question of enemy fire is the only point of factual disagreement, and every single piece of available evidence backs up Kerry and Rassmann’s claim that they were under fire. There is literally not a single piece of contrary evidence except for the suddenly restored memories of the SwiftVets group.

Why does Dobbs hide this simple fact in a huge mass of detail? Hard to say. On the other hand, at least the story includes a nice graphic of the whole incident, so it’s not a complete waste.

UPDATE: More evidence to support Kerry is buried in this AP story:

Kerry also picked up support from Wayne D. Langhofer, who told The Washington Post he was manning a machine gun in a boat behind Kerry’s and saw firing from both banks of a river as Kerry dived in to rescue Special Forces soldier James Rassmann, the basis for Kerry’s Bronze Star.

I can’t find the Washington Post story this refers to, but I’ll link to it as soon as it’s up.

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