An October 14 report on ABC's Nightline strongly refuted claims by opponents of Senator John Kerry, including Sinclair Broadcast Group vice president Mark Hyman and the anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, that, in Hyman's words, Kerry "shot a wounded teenager retreating from battle" when he was in Vietnam.
In a September 13 televised commentary titled "Kerry and the Killing," Hyman purported to discredit Senator John Kerry's account of events that led to his receipt of the Silver Star. Hyman claimed that an "official after action report" obtained "[i]n an exclusive" from U.S. Navy archives contradicted Kerry's account and supported the account of "eyewitnesses" that "allege Kerry shot a wounded teenager retreating from battle." Similarly, in the book Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry (Regnery, August 2004), co-authors Jerome R. Corsi and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth co-founder John E. O'Neill described the man Kerry killed is described as "a lone, wounded, fleeing, young Vietcong in a loincloth." Media Matters for America noted at the time that the Navy document Hyman cited did not contradict Kerry's account.
Hyman's commentaries, called The Point, appear on many of the 62 TV stations Sinclair owns or operates.
On October 14, ABC's Nightline reported, for the first time, the accounts of "the Vietnamese who were there that day." The Vietnamese witnesses described the man who Kerry's detractors claim was a "lone" and "wounded teenager retreating from battle" in "a loincloth" as follows:
He was one of the 12 [Viet Cong] reinforcements sent to the village by provincial headquarters, and after he died, the firefight continued.
"He wore a black pajama. He was strong. He was big and strong. He was about 26 or 27."
Hyman's September 13 report continued: "Kerry's account of killing what turned out to really be a wounded man while he fled continues Kerry's pattern of lies, exaggerations and embellishments. Killing a wounded man while he retreated from battle is not an action that most servicemen would brag about."
From a report on the October 14-October 15 edition of ABC News's Nightline:
Vo Van Tam, now 54, was a local Viet Cong commander during the war. According to him, the area was a hotbed of guerrilla activity. They had recently been reinforced by a 12-man unit, supplied with small arms and one B-40 rocket launcher. He said the reinforcements had been dispatched from provincial headquarters specifically to target the Swift boats.
According to Vo, there were at least 20 Viet Cong soldiers at Nha Vi there that day. "There were 12 soldiers from the provincial level and eight from the district level," he said.
Villagers say this is what they saw:
"Firing from over here. Firing from over there. Firing from the boat," Vo Thi Vi told "Nightline."
She was only a couple hundred yards away when a Swift boat turned and approached the shore, she said, adding that the boat was unleashing a barrage of gunfire as it approached.
"I ran," she recalled, "Running fast. ... And the Americans came from down there, yelling 'Attack, Attack!' And we ran."
Her husband, Tam, said the man who fired the B-40 rocket was hit in this barrage of gunfire. Then, he said, "he ran about 18 meters before he died, falling dead."
Was the man killed by Kerry or by fire from the Swift boat? It was the heat of battle, Tam said, and he doesn't know exactly how the man with the rocket launcher died. But he knows the man's name -- Ba Thanh. He was one of the 12 reinforcements sent to the village by provincial headquarters, and after he died, the firefight continued, according to Tam.
"When the firing started, Ba Thanh was killed," Tam said. "And I led Ba Thanh's comrades, the whole unit, to fight back. And we ran around the back and fought the Americans from behind. We worked with the city soldiers to fire on the American boats."
According to the after-action report, after beaching the Swift boat, Kerry "chased VC inland, behind hooch, and shot him while he fled, capturing one B-40 rocket launcher, with round in chamber."
None of the villagers seems to be able to say for a fact that they saw an American chase the man who fired the B-40 into the woods and shoot him. Nobody seems to remember that. But they have no problem remembering Ba Thanh, the man who has been dismissed by Kerry's detractors as "a lone, wounded, fleeing, young Vietcong in a loincloth." (The description comes from "Unfit for Command," by Swift boat veteran John O'Neill.)
"No, this is not correct," Nguyen Thi Tuoi, 77, told ABC News. "He wore a black pajama. He was strong. He was big and strong. He was about 26 or 27."
Tuoi said she didn't see Ba Thanh get shot either, but she and her husband say they were the first to find his body. They say they found him a good distance from his bunker, though she could not confirm that Kerry -- or anyone else -- had pursued him into the bush.
Her husband, Nguyen Van Ty, in his 80s, had a slightly different account of how Ba Thanh died.
"I didn't see anything because I was hiding from the bullets and the bombs," he said. "It was very fierce and there was shooting everywhere and the leaves were being shredded to pieces. I was afraid to stay up there. I had to hide. And then, when it was over, I saw Ba Thanh was dead. He may have been shot in the chest when he stood up."
He also said the Swift boats were coming under attack from the Viet Cong fighters on shore. "We tried to shoot at the boat," he said, "but we didn't hit anything."
Kerry's citation says he "uncovered an enemy rest and supply area, which was destroyed," but according to the villagers, the Americans missed the military supplies. In fact, Vo Ti Vi said, just a few weeks after the attack, the Viet Cong raided a U.S. base stealing weapons and ammunition. The weapons remain in Nha Vi all these years later, she says, buried under her garden.