What Happened in Kerry's Vietnam Battles?

Less than a kilometer upriver is Nha Vi, a small hamlet. Vo Van Tam, now 54, was a local Viet Cong commander during the war. According to him, the area was a hotbed of guerrilla activity. They had recently been reinforced by a 12-man unit, supplied with small arms and one B-40 rocket launcher. He said the reinforcements had been dispatched from provincial headquarters specifically to target the Swift boats.

According to Vo, there were at least 20 Viet Cong soldiers at Nha Vi there that day. "There were 12 soldiers from the provincial level and eight from the district level," he said.

His wife, Vo Thi Vi, 54, said Feb. 28, 1969, is a day that the villagers of Nha Vi hamlet will never forget. "Everything was destroyed," she said. "There's no houses left. They leveled everything. There was no leaves left. The fighting was very fierce."

According to the citation for Kerry's Silver Star, when the boats approached the hamlet, "a B-40 rocket exploded close aboard PCF 94" -- Kerry's boat. He "personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy," the citation says, before commending Kerry's "extraordinary daring and personal courage" for "attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire."

That account is disputed by Swift boat veteran John O'Neill, author of "Unfit for Command," who maintains in his book that the statement "is simply false. There was little or no fire."

Different Accounts

Villagers say this is what they saw:

"Firing from over here. Firing from over there. Firing from the boat," Vo Thi Vi told "Nightline."

She was only a couple hundred yards away when a Swift boat turned and approached the shore, she said, adding that the boat was unleashing a barrage of gunfire as it approached.

"I ran," she recalled, "Running fast. ... And the Americans came from down there, yelling 'Attack, Attack!' And we ran."

Her husband, Tam, said the man who fired the B-40 rocket was hit in this barrage of gunfire. Then, he said, "he ran about 18 meters before he died, falling dead."

Was the man killed by Kerry or by fire from the Swift boat? It was the heat of battle, Tam said, and he doesn't know exactly how the man with the rocket launcher died. But he knows the man's name -- Ba Thanh. He was one of the 12 reinforcements sent to the village by provincial headquarters, and after he died, the firefight continued, according to Tam.

"When the firing started, Ba Thanh was killed," Tam said. "And I led Ba Thanh's comrades, the whole unit, to fight back. And we ran around the back and fought the Americans from behind. We worked with the city soldiers to fire on the American boats."

According to the after-action report, after beaching the Swift boat, Kerry "chased VC inland, behind hooch, and shot him while he fled, capturing one B-40 rocket launcher, with round in chamber."

None of the villagers seems to be able to say for a fact that they saw an American chase the man who fired the B-40 into the woods and shoot him. Nobody seems to remember that. But they have no problem remembering Ba Thanh, the man who has been dismissed by Kerry's detractors as "a lone, wounded, fleeing, young Vietcong in a loincloth." (The description comes from "Unfit for Command," by Swift boat veteran John O'Neill.)

"No, this is not correct," Nguyen Thi Tuoi, 77, told ABC News. "He wore a black pajama. He was strong. He was big and strong. He was about 26 or 27."

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