Tags: Kerrey | Controversy | Continues

Kerrey Controversy Continues

Wednesday, 02 May 2001 12:00 AM

Gerhard Klann, one of the seven SEALs in then 25-year-old Lt. Kerrey's unit, which went by the name "Kerrey's Raiders," said they entered the village of Thanh Phong on Feb. 25, 1969, and killed a number of its inhabitants by slitting their throats and shooting them at point-blank range.

"… It was carnage … we just virtually slaughtered those people. I mean, there was blood flying up - bits and pieces of flesh hitting us … It was completely a free-fire zone," said Klann.

A free-fire zone, according to the former SEAL, is when soldiers are giving free reign to shoot at anything that moves. "We had the right to choose to let 'em live or die," he added. "That was up to us."

While Kerrey denies that his unit rounded up civilians and killed them, he did admit to giving the order to fire on the village after being fired upon first.

"We fired in M-79s, M-60s. We stood back and we just emptied everything we could into this place and we were taking fire," said Kerrey.

"And we came into the village, and it wasn't a big village, it was, you know, four or five hooches [thatched-roofed houses]. There was a cluster of women and children, they were all dead. So that's the outcome."

The night in question, Kerrey's first big mission in Vietnam, was to kidnap a Viet Cong leader.

Kerrey said members of his unit entered the first hooch and killed five men with knives. He said he did not kill any of the men himself.

"No, I did not, but in my mind, I personally killed all of them. I take full responsibility for them," he said.

When asked why he did not take the men prisoner, Kerrey told "60 Minutes II," "our belief is that they could break free and we could be at risk."

The former lieutenant said his unit killed between 12 and 15 civilians.

According to "60 Minutes II," Kerrey's unit did not find any weapons in Thanh Phong, and were soon thereafter evacuated from the village by boat. Though the men did not discuss the night's event, one member of the unit filed a battle report the next morning stating they had killed 14 Viet Cong. The report did not specify whether any of the dead were women and children.

However, Klann told "60 Minutes II" they were not fired upon first and that the unit instead entered the village, gathered everybody up, and searched everything. He said a number of their detainees were women and children and that the Viet Cong leader was not among them.

"Yeah, we got together, and we were: 'Hey, they guy ain't here. Now we got these people, what do we do now?'" said Klann.

According to Klann, Kerrey then ordered the detainees executed. "We lined up, and we opened fire … We just slaughtered them," he said.

A widow of a Viet Cong who said she witnessed the raid corroborated Klann's story. She said Kerrey ordered the civilians rounded up and killed execution style.

"It was very crowded, so it wasn't possible for them to cut everybody's throats one by one," Pham Tri Lanh told "60 Minutes II."

"Two women came out and kneeled down. They shot these two old women, and then they ordered everybody out from the bunker, and they lined them up and they shot all of them from behind."

Yet another account is revealed in military documents accompanying the Bronze Star that Kerrey was awarded as a result of the raid. Kerrey is cited for killing 21 Viet Cong, destroying two huts and capturing enemy weapons.

Kerrey has said he had no part in writing the Bronze Star citation. At a news conference last week he said, "It was not a secret to our commanding officer what happened that night."

While Kerrey said he thought the medal was "inappropriately awarded" to him, he said he would not give it back.

Former colleagues in the Senate and fellow Vietnam War veterans have defended Kerrey amid conflicting stories about his involvement in the killing of innocent civilians 32 years ago.

"This is an error, and it's tragic, but I think going back … and trying to blame somebody … is not the way to go," said Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, on ABC's "This Week."

"I think we ought to be proud of our service men and women, and I'm particularly proud of Bob Kerrey."

The former squad commander is also an amputee, losing part of his right leg in an explosion during another raid. Kerrey won the Medal of Honor after the incident.

The senators, recounting their own Vietnam experiences, said that Kerrey should not be held responsible for the civilian deaths, as the distinction between soldier and civilian were often blurred.

"In Vietnam, the civilians were often the combatants. A 12-year-old kid could walk up to a cafe, and did, and lobbed a grenade into that cafe and blew up people," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. "Women would have a gun, perhaps hidden under … a dress, a skirt … this was a war where the combatants were completely confused with civilians."

In addition to his televised defense of Kerrey, Cleland, along with Sens. Chuck Hagel and John Kerry, wrote a letter that appeared in Sunday's Washington Post commending their former colleague for sharing his private memory of Thanh Phong and saying they were hopeful that it might heal lingering public wounds about Vietnam.

"Bob Kerrey's personal and difficult disclosure last week demonstrates the courage we all have known in him for years," said the statement. "It also reveals the very real guilt and pain that persists among combat veterans of all war, and particularly Vietnam."

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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Gerhard Klann, one of the seven SEALs in then 25-year-old Lt. Kerrey's unit, which went by the name Kerrey's Raiders, said they entered the village of Thanh Phong on Feb. 25, 1969, and killed a number of its inhabitants by slitting their throats and shooting them at...
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Wednesday, 02 May 2001 12:00 AM
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