Monday, April 30, 2001

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey has acknowledged
leading a squad that killed women and children
in the Vietnam War.

Kerrey’s war saga
wins local empathy

Isle residents with ties to
Vietnam say such brutal acts
are simply a function of combat

By B.J. Reyes

Recent revelations from former Sen. Bob Kerrey that civilians were killed during a commando raid he led more than 30 years ago on a Vietnamese village came as no surprise to some Vietnamese here in Hawaii.

"The nature of war would warrant things like that to happen to anyone," said Truong Buu Lam, an associate professor of history at the University of Hawaii. "Owing to the nature of the war, owing to the training ... and the psychological preparation of soldiers, I think things like that had to happen."

Kerrey's admission came last week as he expressed remorse for the commando raid by his U.S. Navy SEAL team on the Mekong Delta village of Thanh Phong.

"I think it is quite clear," Lam said, "that Kerrey has been carrying this kind of thing for 30 years."

A citation for the Bronze Star that Kerrey received for the Feb. 25, 1969, raid says 21 Viet Cong were killed and that enemy weapons were captured or destroyed, though Kerrey has said he told superiors there were civilian casualties. Witness and official accounts of the number dead vary from 13 to more than 20.

Kerrey has said his team fired after being fired upon. His statements have been backed up by five other members of his Navy SEAL unit, known as Delta team. A seventh member of the unit has disputed the account, saying civilians were herded into groups and killed.

Lam, who teaches courses including Vietnamese history, does not argue that some soldiers may have committed such atrocities. However, he agrees with the sentiment of some that dredging up old wounds is counterproductive.

"I'm sure there are many cases like that," he said. "What I like most, I think, is the reaction of the government of Vietnam ... that Sen. Kerrey has suffered enough and has expressed his remorse and that all of us should put this behind us."

"I think that is about the best statement."

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Tranh said in Hanoi last week that "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."

Duc Nguyen, who moved to Hawaii from Saigon in 1975, agreed.

"I think we should let history pass," said Nguyen, 52. "I believe, let it rest."

Nguyen also said he believes Kerrey's intentions were not malicious.

"During the war, when you have a lot of young soldiers and you face a dead-or-alive situation, I think that's just reaction," he said.

"You have no time for second thoughts. They do the best they can."

Some of Kerrey's former Senate colleagues who served in Vietnam said yesterday they have little desire for hearings into the raid, though the Pentagon has left open the possibility of investigating the award of the Bronze Star, the military's fourth-highest award for valor, to Kerrey. After receiving the Bronze Star, Kerrey received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military commendation, for an unrelated mission in Vietnam.

Kerrey recently said that because some of the victims in raid turned out to be civilians, "the medal means nothing to me."

Nguyen said that any notion to strip Kerrey of the award should be closely scrutinized.

"They have to be very careful in investigating the whole situation," he said. "We have to be very careful to make sure we don't make another mistake."

The Associated Press
contributed to this report.

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