Kerry's 'Christmas in Cambodia'

Article excerpt


On the floor of the Senate on March 27, 1986, Sen. John Kerry issued this statement: "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."

Mr. Kerry's statement at the time was similar to other statements he had made after returning from duty in Vietnam, and throughout much of the 1970s. Writing for the Boston Herald in October 1979, Mr. Kerry said this: "I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. 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."

First, the obvious: Richard Nixon was not president in December 1968, and no history of the Vietnam era suggests that Lyndon Johnson ever ordered troops into Cambodia; but those are minor points. A new book, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," by John O'Neill and Jerome R. Corsi, argues that Mr. Kerry was never in Cambodia, during Christmas 1968 or otherwise. To support their allegation, Messrs. O'Neill and Corsi highlight the denials of all living commanders in Mr. Kerry's chain of command that Mr. Kerry was in Cambodia, or was ever ordered into Cambodia (Joe Streuhli, commander of Coastal Division 13; George Elliott, commander of Coastal Division 11; Adrian Lonsdale, captain, Coast Guard, commander, Coastal Surveillance Center at An Thoi; Rear Adm. Ray Hoffman, commander Coastal Surveillance Force Vietnam; and Rear Adm. Art Price, commander of River Patrol Force). Also, the authors report that three out of Mr. Kerry's five-man Swift boat crew deny that they or their boat was in Cambodia during Christmas 1968 - the other two refused to comment.

According to the book, Mr. Kerry and his Swift boat crew were stationed at Coastal Division 13 in Cat Lo, with a patrol area extending to Sa Dec, which was a little more than 50 miles from the Cambodian border. Tom Anderson, the commander of River Division 531, who was in charge of the patrol boats canvassing the waterways from Sa Dec to the Cambodian border, confirmed to the authors that no Swift boats were anywhere in the area, and that any would have been stopped, or their captains court-martialed for breaching the border. …