Wednesday, August 25, 2004

John F. Kerry, STS

(STS - Storyteller Supreme). Boy, can Kerry twist a yarn! Came across this writing as I was researching something else:

Here are the comments of Phil Carter, RD2, on some of the items in the TOUR OF DUTY coverage of Kerry's time on GRIDLEY. He urges everyone to read it for themselves.

I was an E-5 radarman on the USS GRIDLEY and was onboard from 1965 until May of 1968. My principal role in 67 and 68 was to prepare intelligence information to brief the rescue helo pilots and the ship’s officers. I received a commendation from CINCPACFLT for this activity. I stood quite a few CIC watches with Ensign Kerry where we discussed many things, including the war. I was college educated, had traveled extensively in Europe before the Navy and spoke French, so there was some commonality despite my being enlisted. By that time, I was on my 3rd cruise and against the way the war was being waged. He was not, as I recall.

I am a registered independent and have no axe to grind with him. I gave him a reasonably large campaign contribution in the mid 1990’s and visited with him for about 30 minutes in an alcove outside the Senate chambers in 1996 when I was in DC on business.

Ensign Kerry was a fine young officer. He came aboard as a boot Ensign on June 8, 1967 and quickly impressed the senior officers in his chain of command. His fitness reports were outstanding. His privileged upbringing with experience in yachting and flying a private plane gave him a leg up on the other Ensigns.

When I read “Tour of Duty”, I became concerned because the material on Kerry’s time on GRIDLEY appeared in many instances to be exaggerations and in some cases figments of an overactive imagination.

Here are my observations on the sections that bothered me:

1. Kerry never talked about his time on GRIDLEY. He says on page 74 that it is because “nothing much of note” happened while he was onboard. He uses words like monotony and tedious, when, despite being a boot ensign he was given every opportunity for responsibility by Captain Slifer and Commander Kelly (XO). He came aboard designated for Electrical Officer (80100), a grunt position in the Engineering Department and spent four months in that position. He was assigned duty as First Lieutenant, as Commander Kelly recalls, because of his knowledge of seamanship and his experiences with small boats and sailing. Besides being responsible for the decks of the ship, the First Lieutenant is also responsible for the ship’s small boats. He also was assigned collateral duties as Public Affairs Officer. Despite all the responsibilities he was given, he gives the impression that serving on GRIDLEY was somehow beneath him. He certainly had less of an opportunity to collect “gongs” there.

2. Page 78 – “motivate 400 swabbies” – The First Lieutenant is responsible only for the personnel of 1st Division, not the entire crew. 1st Division had a roster of about 30 in 1968. To the extent that other divisions had responsibility for deck space, their officers would have been responsible for motivating them.

3. Page 87 has Kerry “shuttling sailors and provisions” between GRIDLEY and KITTY HAWK in a small motor whaleboat out in the Gulf of Tonkin. The regular method of travel between the two ships was via helo. That is how I went over to the KITTY HAWK. If such an event did occur, it would have been unusual and hardly a shuttle.

4. Later on page 87 Kerry talks about Olongapo in the Philippines. He talks about bloated corpses floating in the river and starving women with babies dying of malnutrition. Now Olongapo was a wild and wooly town that existed solely for the entertainment of the US Navy, but in over three years of calling there, I never saw a single instance of either thing happening. Kerry uncovered this in his first visit. If this was from his letters home then he was certainly writing for dramatic effect. Balderdash.

5. The trip to Danang – GRIDLEY went into Danang for briefings before going to Northern SAR. This section is so full of hyperbole that the urge to giggle is almost uncontrollable. “The panic and pressure onboard GRIDLEY, strapping on a .45, wondering if I would have to use it, B-52’s howling overhead”. A B-52 over Danang would have been so high that only contrails would have been visible, cloud cover permitting. David Simons confirmed my recollection that during our brief stay in Danang Harbor, the sky was overcast to the point of being ominous.

More seriously, no one can remember John Kerry going ashore. I was part of the shore party that went to Monkey Mountain. We were taken in a screened in truck (to protect against grenades being tossed in) and made to unload our .45’s. The driver said that he did not want us newbies to shoot anyone by accident.

Neither Commander Kelly nor LCDR Rueckert (Kerry’s immediate boss) can recall approving a trip ashore for Ensign Kerry. The author uses remarks of David Simons IC2 as a lead in to the Danang section. I spoke to David and he has no personal knowledge of Kerry going ashore at all. He did talk to a researcher and made some generic remarks about Danang but had never discussed Danang with Kerry. He recalls arguing with the researcher because he tried to put the words “cowboy” in his mouth, which ended up in the book.

There is no mystery about the “gruesome site of a pile of dead VC.” We saw no sign of anything like this. However, our escort to Monkey Mountain did tell us how the VC bodies were stacked up on the LZ’s after the TET Offensive, which had been several months before. Ensign Kerry would have been told this story by members of the shore party.

If, indeed, he got to the pier, because he was in charge of the motor whaleboat, it certainly would not have been within his purview to wander Danang, eating dog meat and drinking beer in a bar (under arms). It also seems amazing that he had all these observations on Vietnam in such a brief visit.

6. In command – Again with the hyperbole. Kerry makes much about being “in charge” of the ship after the Captain and XO. The OOD is in charge of the operation of the ship during his four hour watch but hardly in charge of the ship. Kerry qualified almost immediately as OOD(P), in port OOD but that is a given. For much of his time onboard he would have been Junior Officer of the Deck when underway. Although his fitness report as of 22 March says "he is qualified as OOD(I) now" (Independent steaming – with no ships or land anywhere near) , only OOD(P) is listed under duties. His Fitness Report from July 1968 lists two months as OOD(I) which would mean he qualified after leaving the war zone.

Some of these points may be perceived as picky, but they seem to show a deliberate effort in his writings of the time to build a mystique for a future political career showing him as a great leader, father confessor to the ship and astute analyst of political and military happenings.

That is not to say that Kerry was not a good officer. He was and to my recollection was well liked. Did he stalk the passageways showing his future presidential timber? Absolutely not. A reporter from the Chicago Tribune actually asked me that. When I told him that he was just another goofy Ensign, he was horrified and did not use that quote.

I corresponded with a CNN Producer who was working on Kerry's bio that was shown on July 25. I provided them with three or four photographs of Kerry on GRIDLEY but they were uninterested in anything else I had to say.

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