WASHINGTON — Two newly declassified official reports concerning a raid on a Vietnamese village by Bob Kerrey’s Navy SEAL team make no mention of civilian casualties that the former senator says he included in his initial after-action report on the incident.
The reports, both dated Feb. 25, 1969 – the day of the raid on Thanh Phong, a coastal hamlet in the Mekong Delta – were released Friday by the Naval Historical Center in Washington.
They are not signed, but military address codings suggest they are a message from Kerrey’s immediate superior officer to the commander of SEAL Task Force 115 and that officer’s reply.
Both refer only to ”21 VC KIA (BC),” meaning ”21 Viet (Viet Cong) killed in action (body count).” The senior commander’s reply says the SEALS “have gained a well-deserved spotlight as a result of their successful and highly productive operations,” and praises “the Kerrey Raiders of Market Time,” saying they “not only surprised the enemy in his own sanctuary but struck him a severe and fatal blow. Well done.”
Market Time was the code name for a U.S. Navy effort to interdict Viet Cong boats carrying ammunition and supplies along the coast of the South China Sea, where the communist forces controlled many populated areas.
The language is similar to that in a later citation awarding then-Lt. (jg) Kerrey, 25, the Bronze Star, the nation’s fourth-highest award for valor. Kerrey has said recently that because a dozen of the victims turned out to be civilians, “the medal means nothing to me.”
Kerrey also claimed, most recently at a New York news conference on Thursday, that his written after-action report on the Thang Phong raid included the civilian casualties.
Kerrey, a Democrat who served as governor and senator from Nebraska and ran for president in 1992, publicly disclosed the incident this week. He said he has been haunted by the memory of the killings and has kept the details private, even from his children.
Kerrey said Thursday that he and his six-member squad began shooting only after they were fired on in a free-fire zone – an area cleared of civilians by government forces. Anyone remaining was assumed by South Vietnamese and U.S. forces to be the enemy.
The first teletype message, labeled a “spot report,” says Kerrey’s team “received fire from hooches” and returned fire. Then: “Observed several personnel running from hooches. Took under fire,” it said.
It said no Americans were hurt and that 21 Viet Cong were killed. It also noted the number of rounds of ammunition the squad had expended and said two hooches had been destroyed and two Chinese carbines captured.
Civilian casualties were mentioned two days later, Feb. 27, in a radio log obtained by The Associated Press. The log, which reflect military activity in Than Phu district of Kien Hoa province, where the village is located, cited 11 Viet Cong and 13 civilians killed during the raid.
Later that day, a separate log entry reports that an “old man” from the village came to the district headquarters was seeking restitution for the killings.
The Vietnam government on Thursday offered conciliatory words for Kerrey. “Mr. Kerrey has shown in his statements about what happened in the past in Vietnam that he was remorseful about his behavior,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh said in Hanoi.
“We think the best way for Mr. Kerrey and other Americans who fought in Vietnam to achieve peace of mind is to contribute to healing the wounds from the war through concrete and realistic actions,” she said.