Which one do you think received the Medal-of-Honor from President Richard Nixon, the Army guy or the Navy guy?
The two men we refer to are LTJG Joseph Robert (Bob) Kerrey, and SGT Ed Eaton. Both men are Americans, and both men served in the Vietnam War. But, that’s pretty much were the similarity ends. Aside from obvious differences, is the fact that Kerrey received the Medal of Honor for his dubious actions in Vietnam, and Eaton has thus far been denied the Medal of Honor for an act of heroism that defies description.
Ed Eaton’s commanding officer Captain Mike Perkins detailed what occurred from his hospital bed and submitted a formal recommendation for Ed to receive the Medal of Honor, but someone in the Army dropped the ball. Army headquarters claimed they never received Capt. Perkins’ recommendation.
We ask our readers to compare and contrast for themselves which one of these men should have been awarded the Medal of Honor. We believe that President Nixon bestowed the Medal of Honor on the wrong guy.
LTJG JOSEPH ROBERT (BOB) KERREY, USN
Kerrey was an officer and Navy Seal, and Eaton was enlisted Army sniper. Kerrey deployed to the Republic of Vietnam as assistant platoon commander with Delta Platoon, SEAL Team ONE in January 1969.
Bob Kerrey was wounded and lost the lower part of his right leg on Hon Tre Island near Nha Trang Bay on March 14, 1969. It’s said that his injuries were self-inflicted when he accidentally dropped a grenade that exploded severely damaging his right leg. This is based on information from people who were on the ground in Vietnam at the time.
His Medal of Honor citation reads, “utilizing his radioman, LTJG Kerrey called in the second element’s fire support which caught the confused Vietcong in a devastating cross fire. After successfully suppressing the enemy’s fire, and although immobilized by his multiple wounds, he continued to maintain calm, superlative control as he ordered his team to secure and defend an extraction site.”
Of course the MOH citation failed to mention that Kerrey almost blew himself to kingdom-come by accidentally dropping his own grenade. As a result of his injuries, Kerrey received a medical discharge from the Navy.
A little over a year later, on May 14, 1970, President Richard Nixon awarded LTJG Bob Kerrey the Medal of Honor during a ceremony at the White House. From there, Bob Kerrey went on to become the Governor of Nebraska, then U.S. Senator from Nebraska, politically milking his Medal of Honor for all it was worth.
In September 1991, Kerrey announced his candidacy for the 1992 Democrat nomination for President. In a small field of five second-tier candidates devoid of an early front-runner, Kerrey was seen as the early favorite. However, his performance on the campaign trail sometimes seemed lackluster, especially in comparison to that of the slick Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton.
Kerrey finished third in the New Hampshire primary in February 1992, despite spending heavily on TV advertising. He briefly rebounded after winning the South Dakota primary but soon dropped out of the race after finishing fourth in the Colorado primary. Kerrey was on Clinton’s “short list” of vice presidential candidates, but decided to pick Tennessee Senator Al Gore instead. Clinton’s selection may have been just political strategy, or his selection of Gore over Kerrey could have been motivated by seeing something in Kerrey that he just didn’t like.
KERRY’s RAID ON THANH PHONG VILLAGE
About two weeks before the fire-fight on Hon Tre Island that ultimately resulted in severe leg injuries to Kerrey’s right leg and his Medal of Honor, there was another attack. On 25 FEB 1969, LTJG Kerrey led a Swift Boat raid on the isolated peasant village of Thanh Phong, targeting a Vietcong leader whom intelligence suggested would likely be present.
Kerrey’s SEAL team first encountered a villager’s house. Later, according to Kerrey, the team was shot at from the village and returned fire, only to find after the battle that some of the deceased appeared to be children, clustered together in the center of the village.
“The thing that I will remember until the day I die is walking in and finding, I don’t know, 14 or so, I don’t even know what the number was, women and children who were dead”, Kerrey said in 1998. “I was expecting to find Vietcong soldiers with weapons, dead. Instead I found women and children.”
Gerhard Klann, a member of Kerrey’s SEAL team that night, gave a much different version independently supported by a separate interview with a Vietnamese woman named, Pham Tri Lanh. According to Klann, the team rounded up the women and children from hooches (shelters) and decided to “kill them and get out of there”, for fear that they would alert enemy soldiers.
If Kerrey’s Seal Team did not round up the women and children and commit wholesale murder, then his response would have been clear and concise, something like, ‘Fuck NO! We did no such thing.’
Kerry’s typical hair-splitting political response of, “it’s not my memory of it” and his attack on Gerhard Klann, indicated to many who viewed the 60-Minutes interview, that Kerrey was probably dancing the Potomac two-step. Gerhard Klann’s account of what happened in Thanh Phong is probably true.
After the story broke on CBS 60-Minutes about the slaughter at Thanh Phong, the other members of Kerrey’s SEAL team met secretly with Bob Kerrey. They all gathered to either get their stories straight, or to decide to forever remain quiet about what happened in Than Phong, Vietnam.
After the secret meeting adjourned, the Navy Seals involved in the raid on Thanh Phong decided to “wholeheartedly” deny Gerhard Klann’s account. It was easier to call Gerhard a liar, than to admit to participating in a heinous act of genocide.
Kerrey expressed guilt over the incident, saying: “You can never, can never get away from it. It darkens your day. I thought dying for your country was the worst thing that could happen to you, and I don’t think it is. I think killing for your country can be a lot worse. Because that’s the memory that haunts.”
WITH BOB KERREY
The wholesale slaughter of women and children seemed to only darkened his day! WTF!
It’s clear from the quotes above that Kerrey is terribly confused. Killing enemy “combatants” for your country to achieve victory is actually a good thing. It’s the killing women, children and seniors that’s a bad thing. War is horrible and images from war can “haunt” those who experienced it. It’s important to note here that not all women and children were innocent. There were many instances in Vietnam where a women or child would “innocently” run up to one of our brave lads and pull the pin on a grenade. When anyone, regardless of their age or gender picks up a weapon, they become a potential combatant.
Unless you are a sociopath, memories of atrocities that rise to the level of heinous war crimes are more likely to create vivid memories which can “haunt” someone their entire life. Maybe that’s what Kerrey meant when he used the word “haunt.”
Amazingly, Bob Kerrey was actually awarded a Bronze Star by the United States Navy for the deaths of women and children at Thanh Phong. Whether the deaths were accidental or intentional, the people who caused it should have been disciplined, not given an award for heroism. Whether intentional or accidental, THERE WAS NOTHING HEROIC ABOUT IT. The citation for Kerrey’s Bronze Star medal reads, “The net result of his patrol was 21 Vietcong killed, two hooches destroyed and two enemy weapons captured.”
There was no mention of the dead women, children and seniors in the citation for some reason. And the memories that were allegedly “haunting” Kerrey didn’t seem to bother him when the Navy pinned a Bronze Star on his chest that represented what he and others had done in Thanh Phong. A veteran newsman who actually covered Bob Kerrey later on in his life believed him to be a complete sociopath. A sociopath is a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.
THE BACK STORY
The real reason Kerrey received his MOH may not have been for any action of his, but more because President Nixon desperately needed a distraction from negative political issues that were piling up on him.
President Nixon found himself mired down with several issues that were politically detrimental long before the Watergate scandal broke. And, to create a needed distraction, it’s said that he ordered one of his minions in the White House to find someone he could give a Medal of Honor to.
So, acting on the President’s direction, the military combed through the after-action reports and discovered a young Navy Seal who was wounded in battle at Hon Tre Island. He was from the heartland in Nebraska and for all intents and purposes, the All American Boy.
It was just what the “doctor” ordered. But, what President Nixon most likely did not know at the time, was that Kerrey and his Seal team were responsible for the killing of about 14 women and children at Thanh Phong only a couple-three weeks prior.
ARMY SERGEANT ED EATON
IS A DIFFERENT STORY ALTOGETHER
SGT Eaton was based on a ship in the Mobile Riverine Force. On approximately 03 APR 1969, a little more than a month after Bob Kerrey paid a visit on Thanh Phong Village, 19-year-old Ed Eaton and nine others boarded a helicopter for a night raid on what was believed to be a Vietcong stronghold. Once they realized the overwhelming strength of the enemy force, they decided to vacate the area and fight another day.
During the scramble to evacuate, one of the two helicopters was hit by enemy fire as it took off and went down hard. The other came back to pick up survivors. What happened then is better explained in the video below. The video is a reenactment of the event was aired on the History Channel. It’s appropriately entitled “AN ARMY OF ONE.”
In 2009, forty years after Captain Mike Perkins submitted his recommendation for Eaton to receive the Medal of Honor, they both discovered the recommendation never arrived at Army Headquarters for some unknown reason. It’s speculated that because their unit had been moved all around hither and yon, the recommendation could have wound up in a box and there is sits to this day.
On a trip back to Vietnam in an effort to give warriors on both sides a sense of peace, the Vietnamese Army general who was in-charge of all enemy forces in the Mekong Delta told Ed Eaton, that he had fought many different armies throughout his military career, and the one thing that he appreciated about most of his American adversaries was the fact they left the Vietnamese women and children alone. Not only were they left alone, but many times American forces would provide food and medicine before leaving the area.
It’s clear by the general’s statement to Ed Eaton, that most American military units ARE NOT cold-blooded murders like Lt. William Calley at the My Lai Massacre, or LTJG Kerrey’s Seal Team at Thanh Phong. By and large, the American military in Vietnam and in battles around the world, continues to demonstrate that it’s there to provide a intimidating deterrence, and if necessary utterly destroy enemy combatants. but leave non-combatants alone.
Many times American military units have placed themselves at extreme risk, and actually lost their own lives protecting women, children and seniors who frequently disclosed their location to enemy combatants. It’s rare that an American military unit will slaughter women and children to avoid being detected as Bob Kerrey’s team purportedly did at Thanh Phong. Adding insult to injury, the Navy decided to call what Kerrey did in Thanh Phong an act of bravery and awarded him a Bronze Star.
WHAT THE HELL REALLY HAPPENED?
All members of the raid that night received an Army Commendation Medal (ACM) which is almost standard operating procedure (SOP) for an engagement against the enemy where a helicopter is shot down, forcing men to scramble for their lives. Ed Eaton and several others ended up with a box full of ACMs for various other engagements with the enemy. Captain Mike Perkins and SGT Ed Eaton eventually parted ways and Perkins always thought the Army surely gave recognized Eaton for his bravery that night.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s when the two men once again connected, that Perkins realized Eaton had received no recognition from the Army for his gallant action saving his life. Perkins felt that ignoring Eaton’s act of valor was a terrible injustice and decided to take action to correct it. Perkins strategically thought that if he drafted up a recommendation for the Silver Star, the Army would at least investigate what happened. The hope was that once the Army discovered the details of Eaton’s actions that night, they would realize his act of heroism rated much more than a Silver Star. Eaton’s courage and skill was actually deserving of America’s highest award, the Medal of Honor.
A frustrated Mike Perkins may have offended someone on the military’s Awards Board and the whole matter was discarded because of someone with bruised feelings. It’s very hard from a seasoned combat warrior to deal with a pencil neck who has no clue as to what real combat is all about. Sadly, the reason that Ed Eaton did not receive the Medal of Honor could simply be due to a crazy set of circumstances resulting in hurt feelings by a Washington bureaucrat.
A MESSAGE TO THE UNITED STATES ARMY
ARMY, it’s still not too late to do the right thing and recognize SGT Ed Eaton for his courage and bravery as he fought off 30 or more attackers to protect his commanding officer.
Whether the failure to recommend SGT Ed Eaton for the Medal of Honor was a simple screw up, or an intentional act by someone offended on the Military Awards Board; all of that doesn’t matter now.
There can be no question that Eaton is most deserving of our country’s highest honor. Time does not erase his selfless act of valor in the thick of the fight. The facts bear that out. Do the right thing Army. Give Ed Eaton your highest recommendation for the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Whether Bob Kerrey should have received his Medal of Honor for his actions at Hon Tre Island, or a Bronze Star for his involvement at Thanh Phong, is a matter for history to decide.
But, everyone familiar with SGT Ed Eaton’s selfless act of bravery and courage knows, without a doubt, the United States Army should immediately recommend him for our nation’s highest award.