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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Brinkley had in-hand the Belodeau Eulogy, but ignored it in telling the Rassmann rescue story

My regard for Kerry biographer Douglas Brinkley as an historian has dropped to a new low.  I've discovered that Brinkley must have had in his hands — and ignored — an unimpeachable source in which John Kerry told a version of the Jim Rassmann rescue that is completely, mutually inconsistent with the version which Kerry has related, and Brinkley himself has repeated, everywhere else.

Prof. Douglas BrinkleyIn reading his book Tour of Duty:  John Kerry and the Vietnam War, I've mostly marvelled at Brinkley's tin ear — his seeming obliviousness to Kerry's own tendencies toward self-aggrandizement, exaggeration, and hyperdeveloped ego.  I'd wondered if Brinkley had noticed these things and was just being droll, passing them along with a straight face to let his readers draw their own conclusions.   I'd thought that Brinkley himself — despite being a professor of history and the Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans — perhaps just didn't know much about, for example, the Battle of Antietam during the American Civil War.

But then I came upon this passage tonight at page 264 of Tour of Duty, in which Brinkley is writing about the crewmen young Lt. Kerry took over when he assumed command of PCF 94 when that Swift Boat's skipper, Tedd Peck, was wounded in an ambush on January 29, 1969 (boldface mine):

Rounding out Peck's five-man crew on PCF-94 was Radarman Thomas M. Belodeau, whose shy, demure demeanor masked a fighting instinct that had already made him a decorated seaman.  On July 5, 1968, Belodeau had been serving on PCF-27 when he spied a Viet Cong suspect running from a riverbank and went after him.  As enemy fire exploded all around, Belodeau had gone in and pulled the suspected VC from the water for interrogation, earning a Bronze Star with the Combat V device for his bravery.  "I cannot adequately convey or describe to you the measure of this man at war — screaming up a river in the dead of night, no moon, fifty yards from Cambodia, literally bouncing off the riverbank, waiting for a mine to go off or a rocket to explode," Kerry would later marvel at Belodeau.  "And always, always dependable — always there for the rest of the crew."

Since the point of this paragraph was to tell Belodeau's history, I have no particular quibble with Brinkley's failure to point out explicitly that Belodeau's medal-winning performance on July 5, 1968, long predated his association with Kerry.  (In July 1968, Kerry was finishing up his service on the Gridley and hadn't even started his Swift Boats training in San Diego.) 

But my jaw dropped upon reading the next lines — because the "Kerry later marveled at Belodeau" quote in ToD is drawn directly, word-for-word, from the eulogy that Kerry gave at Belodeau's funeral on November 10, 1997, and then had inserted into the Congressional Record for January 28, 1998!  As shown by this screencap of three consecutive paragraphs from the .pdf version (at 150 percent magnification) of page S186 from the Congressional Record on that date:

relevant text  from the far-right column

It is simply inconceivable that, in extracting the Kerry quote from the Belodeau Eulogy that he republished in Tour of Duty, Brinkley could have missed what appeared a mere two paragraphs up from it.  Anyone even vaguely familiar with Kerry's war-hero record could not possibly fail to recognize this as Kerry re-telling the Bay Hap River action — including the loss overboard of Green Beret Lt. Jim Rassmann, whose rescue got Kerry his Bronze Star.  And anyone even vaguely familiar with those events cannot fail to spot, immediately, the inconsistencies between the version of this story that Kerry told in the Belodeau Eulogy and the version that Kerry has told everywhere else — including the version later recounted by his authorized biographer Brinkley in Tour of Duty!

I've already blogged at length (here and here) about the inconsistencies between the Belodeau Eulogy version of the Rassmann rescue and that which Kerry has told elsewhere.  In the Belodeau Eulogy version, for example, Rassmann goes overboard during a "high speed turn to starboard," and the only mine has gone off some time prior to that, under Kerry's own PCF 94, lifting it two feet out of the water.  In the other versions that Kerry and his supporters have told, Rassmann goes overboard not during a sharp turn, but due to a second mine (or perhaps a rocket explosion, per Kerry supporter Sandusky), and it's Lt. Pees' PCF 3 that had previously been lifted out of the water (and indeed totally disabled) by the first mine.

I've been frustrated that these inconsistencies — which seem to me as simple and stark and obvious as those which led to the exposure of the "Christmas in Cambodia" fairy tale — haven't gotten any substantial attention in the blogosphere, much less in the mainstream media.  I was pleased to hear (although I don't yet have a verifying link) that Fox News' Brit Hume has mentioned the Belodeau Eulogy within the last couple of days.  And I am very pleased to read the just-published article on the Belodeau Eulogy by Art Moore in WorldNetDaily.com, in which Mr. Moore was kind enough to link and credit my blog for first finding it (although the credit should actually go to two of my readers who emailed me about it).

Brinkley's own tellings of the Rassmann rescue — both in Chapter Thirteen (at pp. 314-18) of ToD and in a slightly reworked version of that chapter later published as "John Kerry's Final Mission in Vietnam" on History.net — contain their own odd internal inconsistencies.  (For example, at page 314, the print version of ToD has Rassmann going overboard not from Kerry's own PCF 94, but from "PCF-35" — a boat that wasn't there at all that day.  And the History.net version has Rassmann aboard Pees' PCF 3, which is clearly wrong by everyone's account.)  In trying to sort through those inconsistencies — much less reconcile them to the versions told by Kerry's skeptics among the SwiftVets — I've been inclined to give Brinkley the benefit of the doubt, and to blame at least some of the errors on gremlins or sloppy editors.  I was inclined to attribute to an editor trying to shorten the online version, for example, the omission of this rather important sentence that, at page 313 in the print version of ToD, made clear that Kerry's butt-wound (which may have been at least part of the basis for his third Purple Heart) occurred through his own negligence rather than due to enemy fire:

"I got a piece of small grenade in my ass from one of the rice-bin explosions and then we started to move back to the boats, firing to our rear as we went," Kerry related.

But to find that Brinkley had the starkly different version of the Rassmann resuce that Kerry told in the Belodeau Eulogy actually in his hands — and that Brinkley ignored it! — simply stuns me.  This is simply not something one can blame on an incompetent editor or typesetting gremlins.

There's more mystery here, however:   In Brinkley's unnumbered "Notes" for Chapter Twelve at the conclusion of the book (at pp. 483-84), he gives no reference whatsoever for his "Kerry would later marvel at Belodeau" quote on page 264.  It's therefore unclear whether Brinkley was quoting from a written version of Kerry's Belodeau Eulogy as delivered at the funeral and maintained in Kerry's private records — records to which Brinkley was given exclusive access, and that the Kerry campaign disingenuously continues to insist, despite Brinkley's vocal disagreement, that Kerry's contract with Brinkley prevents Kerry from releasing — or instead from the presumably identical version of the Belodeau Eulogy that Kerry had inserted into the Congressional Record.  The troubling omission of any documentation, however, for the one Belodeau Eulogy quote that Brinkley did use in his book raises an inevitable ugly question: 

Was Brinkley just spectacularly incompetent?  Or did he deliberately deep-six the Belodeau Eulogy attribution that should have appeared in his notes section for Chapter Twelve, and then deliberately ignore its contradictory version for his telling of the Rassmann rescue in Chapter Thirteen?

Posted by Beldar at 01:50 AM in Books, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Brinkley had in-hand the Belodeau Eulogy, but ignored it in telling the Rassmann rescue story and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Seek, And Ye Shall Find - And Beldar Has from Cranial Cavity

Tracked on Aug 31, 2004 8:43:21 AM

» Working through the morass from Media Lies

Tracked on Aug 31, 2004 12:40:12 PM

» MORE from PRESTOPUNDIT -- "Kerry in Cambodia" Wall-to-Wall Coverage

Tracked on Aug 31, 2004 3:52:53 PM

» More Kerry Credibility Issues from Evilwhiteguy's Blog

Tracked on Aug 31, 2004 5:16:40 PM

» The Kerry Grill from Les Jones Blog

Tracked on Aug 31, 2004 10:48:37 PM


(1) Alan E Brain made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 5:47:54 AM | Permalink

Time for me to get bitter, twisted and cynical:

You read Brinkley's book, right? You or someone else bought Brinkley's book, right? You'd even encourage others to do the same, to check your facts and conclusions, right? Then as far as the author and publisher are concerned, Mission Accomplished.

As for the Belodeau omission, I'll quote one N. Bonaparte:

Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by incompetence

Not always true: but a good rule of thumb.

I still don't know how the heck the Democrats ended up with Kerry as their candidate. The quote above can explain much, but some things are just ... inexplicable.

(2) G B Coad made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 7:09:25 AM | Permalink

I have just started the Brinkley opus. What I wonder is whether Brinkley was taken in by Kerry's shtick? And is his current unwillingness to either stand up for Kerry or even his book based on his revelations that he was "had"?

(3) Patrick R. Sullivan made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 8:55:32 AM | Permalink

Just more evidence of Brinkley's stunning incompetence as a historian. Or something worse. Shouldn't his university be alerted to all of his misrepresentations?

(4) Dan S made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 8:56:11 AM | Permalink

Very nice work, Beldar.

And to those (including myself) who wince at the thought of paying Brinkley for this:

The $30 or so is a small price to pay to keep Kerry from damaging this country more. We may, in the end, decide that Brinkley did an unintentional service to this country by writing this book as he did. His work may be important in seeding Kerry's defeat.

I pray.

(5) Pat Curley made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 9:21:22 AM | Permalink

Excellent work by you and your readers, Beldar! My sense on the claim that Rassmann was on another boat before he fell in (which was consistently stated throughout the winter) might have been an effort to get Skip Barker (at the time the only Swift boat skipper supporting Kerry) at the scene. The WaPo's excellent piece about the Bronze Star incident the weekend before last exposed that Barker did not appear to be telling the truth about having been there.

As for Brinkley, I'm sure he'd say that his job was to compile the true history, not to point out inconsistencies in the story as it has been told over the years. I tend to feel sorry for him; it cannot be easy to write a biography of Baron von Munchhausen. However, his serial distortions in the book (e.g., that Sa Dec was "only miles" from the Cambodia border, and the bizarre way he reveals that David Alston was not on Kerry's 94 boat in February) make me think that he was trying to maintain his integrity at the same time he was stuffing skeletons in the closet for Kerry. I don't see how that can be excused.

(6) recon made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 9:25:47 AM | Permalink

I certainly hate to go here, but under the above reductio ad absurdum, I will have some difficulty accepting the Rassmann PH for that day and/or that action at face value, fearing that Kerry may have submitted it for him in some reciprocal complicity.

I hate to think about it, but if Rassmann wasn't on PCF #3 and/or there was no hostile fire, nothing else we have seen documents his eligibility.

Still trying for an AAR out of 5th Special Forces Group.

(7) Kathy made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 9:37:06 AM | Permalink

Beldar, Did you read the transcript from Michael Dobbs online chat at WaPo from 30 Aug 2004.

It appears from his articles that he would find your research very useful. Notice he is listed as Foreign Investigative Reporter.

Can you e-mail him and offer to send him your research?

Michael Dobbs: dobbsm@washpost.com
Foreign investigative reporter

The Post's Ombudsman, Michael Getler, is the readers' representative within the newspaper. E-mail him at ombudsman@washpost.com or call 202-334-7582.

I think you are doing a superb job of analyzing the conflicting stories.

(8) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 10:26:00 AM | Permalink


Here is a bit of help. Hope you find it useful.

One of the jobs of a good politician is to lie convincingly when it would discomfort our enemies. Kerry is an incompetent liar. Evaluation: unqualified.


Steal this sig:

George Bush never called me “baby killer”.

There is a big difference between William Calley and John Kerry. William Calley is a proven war criminal. For John Kerry we only have his word as an officer and a gentleman.

New Soldier

(9) Jumbo made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 10:32:25 AM | Permalink

Brinkley has indulged in, at best, what prosecutor's call "wilful ignorance", although how he could have remained ignorant seems a stretch. I still think the he planned to be Kerry's Schlesonger, and was blinded by dreams of glory and wealth.

Nor does he strike me as a pure historian. What kind of serious, dedicated historian, in response to questions about accuracy or contradictory evidence, says and does what Brinkley has?

BTW isn't the position Brinkley holds now at the Eisenhower Center the one that was initiated or held by Steven Ambrose before his death?
The Eisenhower Center ought to be having some indigestion over this.

(10) Reg made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 10:52:29 AM | Permalink

Beldar, I'm with you except perhaps for one issue. Is the one mine issue refered to in the eulogy a big deal? Given the context of the eulogy isn't it kinda clear that Kerry is telling the stories in a PCF-94-centric sort of way? He certainly isn't claiming that that was the sole mine that exploded that day is he?

However, if we accept that the eulogy is focused on the couragous acheievments of PCF-94 and Belodeau in particlular doesn't that make the Cambodia "50 yards" quote all the stranger? As I have written here before why stop the war story at "50 yards from Cambodia" when we all know that PCF-94 penetrated the border on a top-secret mission(s?) w/Seals and CIA men running guns to anti-communist forces in Cambodia. Why would Kerry be so modest and give the "50 yards" false impression?

Finally, on Brinkley: Did you note the "last mission contradiction"? The history.net article says the 3/13 mission was the "last mission" but TofD p.328 says the SEAL drop-off very near Cambodia was the last mission. One has the impression that Brinkley pulled an all-nighter to meet a deadline.

Anyways, good work as always Mr.B.

(11) Patrick R. Sullivan made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 10:53:20 AM | Permalink

I love this from an interview in the September issue of GQ:

"[John Kerry]: I can't say. To me Vietnam is an old place, an old memory. It is old history, it's gone, it's past. The less I have to talk about it, frankly, the happier I am."

The interview took place on July 4th. That's before Kerry "reported for duty" at the Dem. convention.

On another issue, this morning I heard Del Sandusky interviewed on a radio program. He specifically said that they "touched ground" in Cambodia. Which means it had to be in February or March '69. I suspect that careful questioning of him would destroy that claim.

Sandusky also said a number of disingenuous things in the interview that make me think he's deliberately lying, not simply mistaken in his memories. He claimed not to even know most of the people who appear in the SBVFT ads, and that for Larry Thurlow to say he served with John Kerry is, "like me saying I served with Wm. Westmoreland".

Yet, John Kerry, in Tour of Duty, has Thurlow and his boats practically side by side. Since Sandusky was at the helm of Kerry's boat, that makes either Kerry or Sandusky a liar.

(12) Patrick R. Sullivan made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 12:25:16 PM | Permalink

It isn't that Kerry is claiming only one mine exploded that day so much as that it just isn't possible for a mine to lift his boat out of the water and it could continue downriver and execute a high speed turn. But, I'd like to point out another hilarious error on Brinkley's part, from the American History article:

"Every man on the mission fully expected to get hit on the thin stretch of the Dong Cung canal on the way out, but somehow they all made it to the Bay Hap unscathed. The Swifts rounded the point toward the village of Cai Nuoc, anxious to get rid of their 'Cream-Puff' passengers, out of the river and back to the LST. For the first time that Kerry could remember, however, there were no children there to greet them as they went into Cai Nuoc -- in fact, the pier was practically deserted. 'Had we been paying attention,' Kerry noted, 'the obvious clue that something was up would have hit full force in the face, but, because we were all pissed off and anxious to clear out, we just unloaded and moved away.'"

Okay, the PCFs have just unloaded the troops they'd ferried earlier in the day (which brings up the interesting question of why their leader, Jim Rassmann, stays aboard with the navy)at the village of Cai Nuoc. They get about a half mile away when the mine explodes under PCF-3, Kerry describes his reaction thus:

"I turned the boat into the fire on the left with the intention of trying to get the troops ashore on the outskirts of the ambush...."

Forgetting that he'd already unloaded them at the village of Cai Nuoc!

(13) Reg made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 1:33:05 PM | Permalink

Ok Patrick, that makes a bit more sense.

Patrick, you write: "I suspect that careful questioning of him [Sandusky] would destroy that claim."

Ok, I'll bite. What would you ask Sandusky?

Here are a few questions that came to mind:
1. Approx. Mission date? Purpose of mission? Was this border crossing from a Rach Giang Thanh patrol? Where specifically was the crossing? Was it off a canal that leads into the Rach Giang?
Was it deliberate?
2. What other PCFs were on the mission? Other OinCs? Was PCF-50 involved? Was Mike Bernique the OinC?
3. Why is there no documentation? The 12-14 Feb mission [also "near the border"] was heavily documented? Was there any reporting on this cross border operation? Is there any documentation other than your word?
4. Was there enemy contact? What SEAL/Sps Ops unit if any was used? Did the SEAL team have a seperate smaller "quiet" boat? If so why was the PCF necessary to cross the border?
5. Who ordered this mission? COSDIV-11? Or was it requested by the SEAL/sp.ops unit? When was the request made? Before the mission or after you were very near Cambodia during the mission?
6. Was PCF-94 crew told to keep this border incursion secret? If so who ordered/requested this Lt. Kerry, Sp.Ops. unit, COSDIV-11?
7. To your knowledge was this type of mission ever done by another PCF while you were at COSDIV-11? What PCF? What OinC?
8. Why did PCF-94 violate standing orders [ie no cross border operations] given by Zumwalt/COSDIV-11?

It will be amusing to see how Sandusky reconciles his account with Michael Medeiros who,"...vividly recalled an occasion on which Kerry and the crew chased an enemy to the Cambodian border but did not go beyond the border. Yet Medeiros said he could not recall dropping off special forces in Cambodia or going inside Cambodia with Kerry." [Boston Globe, 8/18/04].

Wasn't Medeiros the one who kept the mission log for PCF-94?

[Don't know if I'm repeating myself here but "...chased an enemy to the Cambodian border but did not go beyond ..." is a very close desciption of the spot report (2/13/69) on the PCF-94/PCF-50 12-14 Feb mission up the Rach Giang Thanh.]

(14) ncoic6 made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 4:34:30 PM | Permalink

Beldar: You have made a very concise observation about Brinkley and the phrase from the Belodeau eulogy. Brinkley wrote this book, not as a historian, but as a "court biographer". He started out with Kerry's version as the factual record. Then he proceeded to fill in with corroboration. I find it entirely normal that Brinkley would not recognize the contradictions apparent in the eulogy - because - he wasn't looking for it. Brinkley is now caught in an academic bind with his reputation at stake. Self-preservation will be priority No.1 for him. The New Yorker article will be the first step. Debate on this topic (in the general media) has become acrimonious. Critics would do well to continue digging into the factual record but refrain from attacks on his personal integrity. It might make it easier for him to acknowledge this mess some time in the future.

(15) Stephen M. St. Onge made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 5:00:47 PM | Permalink

    I suspect that, if these inconsistencies are ever resolved, the explanation for most of them will turn out to be massive incompetence.

    In the history.net version at http://www.thehistorynet.com/ah/blkerryinvietnam/index.html, Rassmann seems to be a Navy lieutenant in command of a Swift boat.  Note that that version also says that PCF-3 was "near Kerry's port side." Was it near Kerry's boat, or was the fishing weir between them, or what?

    Then later, the article says "Suddenly another explosion went off right beside us, and the concussion threw me [Kerry] violently against the bulkhead on the door, and I smashed my arm.  At the same instant, Jim Rassman was blown overboard," which seems to imply that he was on Kerry's boat.  Brinkley's byline is on the article.  Did he actually write it?  Or did he sign his name to an article someone else mostly wrote?


(16) Duane E. Frederic made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 6:55:20 PM | Permalink

Dear Beldar,

You are an outstanding researcher to dig up Senator Kerry's obituary on Tom Belodeau! My only regret that this will never be reported in the major media.

I understand that the Communist Party USA newspaper in the 1971 time frame that Kerry was involved with the VVAW was lavish in its praise of Kerry following the NVA/VC propaganda line of unilateral withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Vietnam, and cutting off financial support of the Saigon government. I don't have access to dusty archives of the Daily Worker newspaper(or was it called Daily World?) but if you or some of your readers could get to them, I am sure that there are many more "gems" about Kerry's adherence to the communist propaganda line.

Keep up the good work!1

(17) 73wcf4440 made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 10:03:33 PM | Permalink


Looks like you should start selling "Kerry = Captain Queeg" bumper stickers!

For them that don't get the reference:


(18) Bob made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 10:54:08 PM | Permalink

Beldar: Nice work. Keep it up!

Patrick and all: Cambodia Back On? Most Excellent!


Follow the link at the end for your reward!


(19) BlogDog made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 11:09:46 PM | Permalink

Was Bellesiles otherwise occupied that the use of Brinkley became necessary?

(20) Tom Maguire made the following comment | Aug 31, 2004 11:40:06 PM | Permalink

On the subject of Brinkley's dubious reliability:

There has been widespread mis-reporting about Kerry's military status during his anti-war days. It was widely reported that Kerry was honorably discharged in 1970. However, his website has since corrected their previous error, and now reports that he was on active duty from 1966 to 1970, and in the Reserves until he was honorably discharged in 1978. (They made this correction after Kerry's miltary records were released in April).

Who cares? Well, some folks might blink at the news that Kerry was an officer in the Reserves when he met with the North Vietnamese, threw his ribbons away, and accused his fellow officers of war crimes.

In the text of his book (p. 338), Brinkley toes the original party line and tells us that Kerry was honorably discharged in 1970.

However, the book also has a timeline in the back; on p. 462, Brinkley actually presents the accurate information. Weird.

Now, a bonus reason to insist that some serious reporters peer at Kerry's War Notes - Brinkley's account of the first Purple Heart story (the skimmer op, with three or four men in the boat) is based on an interview with Kerry from Jan 2003. Brinkley also credits (in his chapter notes) the Boston Globe article from April 2003.

Strangely absent - any mention of what Kerry recorded at the time, in his voluminous notes, although Kerry described it as one of the most frightening nights of his life.

Huh? His first combat, his first Purple Heart, his most frightening night, and he writes nothing? Show me the notes.

(21) Veeshir made the following comment | Sep 1, 2004 8:34:22 AM | Permalink

I thought Brinkley was a historian, shouldn't he have known that Bronze Stars don't come with a 'combat V'?

(22) old maltese made the following comment | Sep 1, 2004 10:09:44 AM | Permalink

Bronze Stars *may* be awarded with combat V. Silver Stars may not (because they themselves acknowledge valor).

(23) Jeff made the following comment | Sep 1, 2004 2:57:37 PM | Permalink

Beldar, great work finding the holes in Kerry's rapidly sinking Swift boat!
You forgot one thing, though, where's VC, the magic canine?
Remember that Kerry told the Humane society that VC flipped out of his boat when it was "hit by a mine" and VC was picked up by another boat (which had to be one of the other 4 Swifts, although not a single mention is made by anyone else).

(24) Shirley made the following comment | Sep 1, 2004 3:34:50 PM | Permalink

Correct me if I am wrong . If Kerry was not discharged until 1978 , would it not be treason to meet and work with the enemy during the time he met with the North Vietnamese ?

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