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September 09, 2004

Torture of Duty IX: A.W.O.L. in Saigon

Kerry asked the tactical operations man if there were any waterway restrictions on traffic to Saigon. Every night on patrol he gazed longingly upon the bright lights of the big city just seven miles away, as seductive as the City of Oz or Las Vegas glimmering beyond the horizon. Saigon had boutiques, bars, black market deals, nightclubs, brothels, and fifty-six thousand registered prostitutes (plus who knows how many freelancers). There were some river-travel restrictions, the officer informed him, but then he confided that there were also a few loopholes too. On the spot, Kerry decided to exploit those. The key was to have a plausible excuse at the ready should his boat be stopped on its way into the city. "We knew that while we were cruising up and down the river at night, someone was sitting at the bar of the Majestic Hotel in the center of the city, drinking, probably with a girl at his side," Kerry explained. "It seemed wrong. We were jealous at any rate and wanted to share it. So instead of turning right as we left Nha Be after being relieved, we went left, up the Long Tau, and into the heart of the city. We didn't have permission from the division or anyone else, but we felt that we deserved an irresponsible, personal moment, so we did it anyway."

"..."one U.S. Navy Swift boat parading gallantly through the middle of the city where she had no business being. We didn't stay long. We didn't even go ashore. I chickened out."
--p205, Tour of Duty

To give Kerry some credit, he "chickened out" before going ashore. He decided the risk of being reported overweighed their desire to sample to forbidden delights of Saigon. But, I believe, he was technically Away With Out Leave from the moment he turned (appropriately) left with the intention of visiting Saigon. He admits he had no permission to go there, and from his conversation with the tactical operations officer, it's clear that he also knew that he wasn't supposed to go there without permission.

As usual, Kerry's own words make the case. Brinkley quotes this, so it's either from an interview or one of Kerry's period journals (Brinkley says that the second quote is from a journal). This is a significant admission in light of the accusations from the Kerry supporters that George W. Bush was A.W.O.L. from the Texas Air National Guard.

Posted by dan at September 9, 2004 01:11 PM | TrackBack

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