Veterans across the country are bristling over an e-mail sent out by Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, described in the media as the only true hero of the Vietnam War, seeking veterans to join him and the Vietnam Veterans of America in a parade November 10, celebrating the dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial.
It occurred to me that holding a parade on the Marine Corps birthday that is 'celebrating' anything other than the Marines, certainly could be seen as a slap in the face to the Corps which is very busy that day with birthday ceremonies.
We also must question just who celebrates a tombstone? The Vietnam memorial is a black granite tombstone bearing the names of more than 58,000 men and women who died fighting the communists in Vietnam. Don't take me wrong here, I have visited the Memorial many times to remember the dozens of friends, most from my unit in Vietnam, whose names are inscribed there.
But the only 'celebration' I remember in the past 25 years was actually a 'dedication' of the memorial when it was opened to the public. I also was there two years later, each time as a journalist, when the statue of the Three Servicemen was unveiled nearby.
But the statue was and still is seen as throwing a crumb to the many veterans who don't believe The Wall is an appropriate monument to those who successfully defeated the communist armies in Vietnam only to have their service sullied by communists in the American State Department and Congress.
All across the Northeast there are cemeteries where my family members and friends are buried. I go to them occasionally to ensure that the graves are well tended, and to take a moment to remember their lives. But I have never been to a parade that celebrates a cemetery or a tombstone, so the concept of holding one for the Vietnam Memorial seems a bit over the top to me.
This feeling is even more pronounced when I think that the Memorial, which was so divisive to the Vietnam veteran community when it was first proposed, has recently been defaced by anarchists opposing our successful military efforts in Iraq. Perhaps getting some VVAW folks to help clean up the mess would be more appropriate than sponsoring a parade.
But back to Kerry. Regular readers of this column know that at times I have been somewhat probing and incisive in my commentary, questioning his medals, his 'wounds' and his vicious attacks on Vietnam veterans when he was a founder of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, VVAW. Then there are the attacks on the military in general, and the dismissal of millions of civilian deaths in Southeast Asia at the hands of rampaging communists after allied troops were pulled out as insignificant.
As you might expect, I have received quite a bit of email from those posts claiming that not only am I wrong, but Kerry's peers from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are wrong too, and that Kerry really is the only living, true hero of the Vietnam War.
So, even though this is a column, and more to the point MY column, and I don't have to publish anyone's point of view but my own, I have decided that since I am a journalist who prides himself on thoroughness and objectivity, I will share some of the other opinions with you.
First on the Silver Star medal Kerry wears. His citation says his Swift Boat was involved in a supporting operation, and that he spied a fleeing Viet Cong on the shore about 10 feet from his boat. Some people say the boat's bow gunner had unleashed a burst of fire from his machine guns at the enemy combatant, but that the VC was not immediately killed.
So Kerry beached his boat, leaped ashore, pursued the wounded Viet Cong behind a thatched dwelling and shot him dead.
I have said that it appears that if there really was a firefight at the time, Kerry left his post while under fire, an action that should have resulted in a court martial. Or, conversely, if there was no shooting at the time, the conditions for a medal were not met. Reports from the scene also have indicated that two infantry units had already swept the area of nearly all enemy and that the lone wounded VC was youthful and inexperienced.
But I have been assured by his close associates that Kerry did indeed do the unthinkable that day, wresting a machine gun from the hands of a lower ranked, enlisted crewman who was frozen into inaction, and with the machine gun in one hand, a .45 caliber pistol in the other, and a K-Bar fighting knife in his teeth, stormed ashore like a one-man assault battalion! There the marauding Viet Cong melted before his onslaught like rancid butter before a hot knife, needing only to see the steely look in his eyes and the stone cold expression on his face to realize they had met their match.
Then there is the disputed Bronze Star where Kerry plucked a hapless Army soldier from the water after he had fallen off a Swift Boat during a high speed maneuver. Many said Kerry wasn't under fire and his actions were routine, but Kerry's supporters say otherwise.
They say the riverbeds were virtual anthills of concealed enemy positions and that firing did occur, during which the accompanying Swift Boats all fled to safer positions while only Kerry stayed to fight. (I have to admit that there was somewhat of a flap when Kerry later said he "came back" to a position from which he previously said he never left, but obviously it was simply a misstatement due to the heat of combat, er, Senate debate.)
The word from his supporters is that Kerry's Swift Boat ran a gantlet of fire from both banks, more than a mile on each side, a deadly encounter for anyone else, but one that left not so much as a mark on Kerry's boat. Again, his hapless and dysfunctional crew did little to nothing, while the steely eyed Kerry directed accurate and deadly return fire into the impenetrable jungles, again vanquishing the Viet Cong.
It has even been whispered that the reason no rounds struck Kerry's boat is because he stared down the Viet Cong (much like Davy Crockett staring down a bear in days of old) striking such fear into their hearts that their aim went awry and their rounds whistled harmlessly overhead - until they struck the civilians in nearby villes.
And the Purple Hearts, we can't forget the three Purple Hearts that guaranteed Kerry's early exit from the war zone only four months into his tour. This in turn set the stage for the onset of his political career and his one-man missions to Paris to meet with communists. Here Kerry took huge risks since he was still in the Navy, but preferred to be labelled another Benedict Arnold than to allow Henry Kissinger to continue bumbling through the peace process alone.
But the Hearts, we should talk about the Purple Hearts! Some say Kerry got one for being hit in the duff by a grain of rice after he threw a grenade into a vat of the just harvested crop from a Vietnamese farmer's rice paddy. But Kerry's supporters say it should be noted that those critics can't even say with any certainty whether it was white rice or long grain brown, so how can they be trusted?
And the sliver in the finger thing, that wasn't looked into until he had been medevaced far out into the South China Sea to a safe haven. Well, let me tell you ladies and gentlemen, that was no sliver, no sir, not according to Kerry's backers.
He was bleeding, profusely according to his supporters, from multiple wounds that he refused to have treated until all of the dysfunctional enlisted members of his crew had been seen to, including counseling for early onset PTSD.
No, the way they tell it, Kerry applied the tourniquets himself, and tended his own wounds, refusing to let anyone else touch them or even look at them until he reached a proper medical facility.
In fact, based on the commentaries I have received from Kerry's political supporters, if he hadn't been so stoic, so heroic, so manly, and so much the epitome of the quintessential Naval officer, he would have stayed in Vietnam for a full tour of duty like the other Swift Boat commanders, and having done so, likely would have won the war single handedly.
Even though the majority of Kerry's supporters weren't actually there with him, they are totally sympathetic to his dysfunctional enlisted crew, despite its many shortcomings, especially exposing Kerry to danger over, and over, and over, and over again.
In fact his supporters say that Kerry's devastating testimony before Congress as a founding member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, VVAW, in which he labelled his fellow veterans as baby killers and murderers, was due entirely to his overpowering disappointment at not being allowed to return and take the fight to the NVA. Regular communist troops had by then replaced the Viet Cong, mostly all of whom had been killed, the vast majority by Kerry, single-handedly.
Actually, when you consider the number of enemy killed by John F. Kerry we can even understand that he thinks millions of civilian deaths do not constitute a bloodbath as he has said so often and so recently. Compared to the numbers he has killed, a few million is obviously just a drop in the bucket.
So as I think about Kerry's unheralded heroism, and his stoic refusal to give in to critics who say his war record is straight out of a comic book, I have decided that we should put aside the call from VVA to hold a parade, as their news release states "celebrating and commemorating the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial ... .
"The festivities will begin at 10:00 a.m. with star-studded Opening Ceremonies at the parade's starting point on the Mall ... "
John F. Kerry sending out emails on his Senate letterhead is not to be misinterpreted my friends, he is just once again displaying his selflessness by asking people to send money to his old friends at VVA so they can continue his work, er, their work. And he is selflessly asking everyone to join their parade.
The appropriateness of celebrating a tombstone aside, I think it is time we honor John F. Kerry, a unique and solitary figure among America's war heroes. I don't think we should have a parade honoring a tombstone, I think we should have a parade honoring John F. Kerry.
And I don't think his parade should be cluttered up with a bunch of bands and fire trucks and cops and sirens and stuff like that. I think it should be a one-man parade, and that one man should be John F. Kerry.
He can get around the bands issue by carrying a boom box playing John Phillip Sousa music, perhaps mixed with some inspiring anti-capitalism ditties from the Communist Party Workers Chorale so the guys at the VVAW won't feel slighted.
Yes, by Jove, that is it! A one-man boom-box parade starring John F. Kerry right down Constitution Avenue. And anyone from the VVAW who happens to be in the area can run out to the sidewalk as he passes by, wave a flag of their choice and give him the clap.
Two-handed clap would be the preferred method.
Yes, I am certain, that is exactly the type of reception that John F. Kerry should get for his years of speaking about veterans, and it is exactly what he deserves.
Sunday, September 23, 2007