CNN versus Bloggers
Tribute - Marine Corporal Erik Silva

Vet Against Vet About Kerry's Heroism

Update 7:30Pm CST: Usually, I put the updates at the end of the post. I think this one should be at the front. Some folks point out Snopes coverage of this issue as in favor of Kerry. They are wrong. Snopes comes in on the middle on this one and there is no definitive answer. Consider that Snopes' sources are mostly the LA Times. Also, consider that the Kerry campaign sent a letter to the major tv networks to inform them not to play the Swift Boats Veteran ads. So read about what each side is saying below.

CNN Transcript of Two Viet Nam Veterans Recollections of John Kerry:

WOODRUFF: We've been reporting on the debate between Vietnam veterans for and against John Kerry. With me now, two central figures in this debate. Larry Thurlow, he's with me here in Washington. Like John Kerry, he commanded a swift boat in Vietnam. He appears in that anti-Kerry television ad that we showed you a little earlier.

In Eugene, Oregon, is Jim Rassmann. He served under John Kerry's command and he credits Kerry with saving his life. Rassmann, you may remember, spoke at last week's Democratic convention.

Larry Thurlow, I want to -- I want to begin with you. You essentially, as I understand it, you, too, won a Bronze Star, like John Kerry did. The incident in which John Kerry pulled Jim Rassmann out of -- out of the river...

LARRY THURLOW, APPEARS IN ANTI-KERRY AD: Yes? WOODRUFF: ... in Vietnam, Kerry says that this happened under enemy fire, that Rassmann had been knocked in the water, he went back and was the first to get to Rassmann and pulled him out of the water. You essentially said that's not what happened. What are you saying?

THURLOW: My recollection of that day is still pretty vivid after all these years. And what I remember, Judy, is that the incident involving Mr. Rassmann, five boats had come out of the river after running an operation up in the canal earlier that day. Three boats were going through a fishing weir on the left side of the river that had put in place between the time we entered and when we were leaving.

I'm the third boat in that column left. In the column right, there are two boats. The lead boat is John Kerry's.

He's going through a rather small opening on the right bank that (ph) had been left in his boat. The boat leading our column, as it goes through that small opening almost simultaneously, is blasted completely out of the water by a command detonated mine.

WOODRUFF: This is another boat?

THURLOW: This is a 3-boat (ph) -- this is on the opposite side of the river of John Kerry's boat. At this point, John Kerry speeds out of the area, I assume to clear the kill zone. The rest of the boats, however, went to the aid of the 3-boat (ph), which was completely disabled. Two members of that crew are in the water, the rest are badly wounded and basically incapacitated on board that boat.

WOODRUFF: You're basically saying he fled when there was...


THURLOW: I am saying he fled the area on the explosion under the 3-boat (ph).

WOODRUFF: All right. Well, before -- and let me ask Jim Rassmann about that part of the story before we ask what happened to him.

Jim Rassmann, what -- what do you say happened that day in March, 1969?

JIM RASSMANN, KERRY SUPPORTER: Well, first, I was not part of John Kerry's command. I was a Special Forces officer who happened to be on his boat at that time.

Mr. Thurlow's recollection of what occurred is not accurate. We had the boat hit the mine to our left. And John immediately had his driver, Del Sandusky (ph), turn to the left and head towards it.

And it was at that time that our gunner on the bow got his gun knocked out and he started screaming for another weapon. I ran another weapon up to me, and we hit something or something hit us. There was an explosion, and I was blown off the boat to the right.

WOODRUFF: And you ended up in the water how?

RASSMANN: I was blown into the water, and I had boats coming up behind me. So, I went to the bottom of the river.

WOODRUFF: Now, as I understand it, Larry Thurlow, you have a different version of how Jim Rassmann was in the water.

THURLOW: Yes, I do. My thought is that since no mine was detected on the other side of the river, no blast was seen, no noise heard, there's two things that are inconsistent with my memory.

Our boats immediately put automatic weapons fire on to the left bank just in case there was an ambush in conjunction with the mine. It soon became apparent there was no ambush.

The rescue efforts began on the 3-boat (ph). And at this time, the second boat in line, mine being the third boat on the left bank, began to do this.

Now, two members in this boat, keep in mind, are in the river at that time. They're picked up. The boat that picks them up starts toward Lieutenant Rassmann at this time, that's the 23-boat (ph). But before they get there, John does return and pick him up. But I distinctly remember we were under no fire from either bank.

WOODRUFF: Jim Rassmann, what about that? You hear Mr. Thurlow saying there was no enemy fire at that point.

RASSMANN: Mr. Thurlow is being disingenuous. I don't know what his motivation is, but I was receiving fire in the water every time I came up for air. I don't recall anybody being in the area around us until I came up maybe five or six times for air and Kerry came back to pick me up out of the water.

WOODRUFF: Disingenuous. He says you are being disingenuous in not recalling what happened.

THURLOW: Let me ask Mr. Rassmann this question: I also ended up in the water that day during the rescue efforts on the 3-boat (ph). And my boat, the 51-boat (ph), came up, picked me up, business as usual. I got back on board, went about the business at hand.

I received no fire. But the thing I would like to ask is, we have five boats now, John's returning, and four boats basically dead in the water, working on the 3-boat (ph). If we were receiving fire off the bank, how come not one single boat received one bullet hole, nobody was hit, no sign of any rounds hitting the water while I was in it?

WOODRUFF: What about that, Jim Rassmann, quickly?

RASSMANN: There were definitely rounds hitting the water around me. If Mr. Thurlow feels that what his story is purported to be was the case, he had ample opportunity 35 years ago to deal with it. He never did, nor did anyone else. John Kerry did not tell this story. I told this story when I put him in for a Silver Star for coming back to rescue me. The Navy saw fit to reduce it to a Bronze Star for valor.

That's OK with me. But If Mr. Furlow had a problem with that, he should have dealt with it long, long ago. To bring it up now, I think, is very disingenuous. I think that this is partisan motivation on his part and for the part of his whole organization.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Thurlow, why didn't you bring this up earlier?

THURLOW: For one thing, I did not know that John had been put in for a Bronze Star, a Silver Star or, for that matter, a Purple Heart on that day. I did not see the after-action report, which, in fact, was written by John. And as the years went by, John was not running for the highest office in the free world.

WOODRUFF: What about Mr. Rassmann's point that he thinks you're doing this for partisan purposes?

THURLOW: Well, this is not true because, the fact of the matter is, I have not been active in any political party since I got out of the service. In fact, I basically turned my back on politics because of my experience in the service.

WOODRUFF: But this -- you feel strongly enough about this to be out?

THURLOW: I certainly do. My point is, is that John Kerry, because of the actions he's taken, and then the fantastic stories he made up about this, when many people beside myself know this not to be true, negates him being the leader he claims to be. And I would hate to have him be the commander-in-chief over my grandchildren.

WOODRUFF: Jim Rassmann, you want to respond to that?

RASSMANN: I sure do. I have two wonderful kids. They're very bright, they're compassionate people. I'm here today not just because John Kerry pulled me out of that water. I'm here today because if those two kids of mine were in the military, I would want John Kerry to be the commander-in-chief, not George Bush.

I think that Mr. Thurlow has a very unusual recollection of the events. I think that it's important to note that even today John McCain has come out and called this ad that they have produced dishonest and dishonorable. And I think I would have to agree with him.

WOODRUFF: Well, gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there. Mr. Jim Rassmann, we thank you for joining us from Eugene, Oregon.

Larry Thurlow, we thank you for joining us here in Washington. We know you're from Kansas. We appreciate it.

And I have a sense we're going to continue to hear more about this story in the days and the weeks to come. Gentlemen, thank you very much.

THURLOW: You're welcome...