Fox News' Molly Henneberg uncritically reported the assertion by Bud Day, a member of the then-named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, that Wesley Clark "spent a month in Vietnam, got badly wounded, evacuated, and that was his Vietnam experience." In fact, according to documents posted on the website for Clark's 2004 presidential campaign, Clark served at least six months in Vietnam -- first as a 1st Infantry Division staff officer, then as an infantry company commander -- before he was wounded.
On the June 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report, news correspondent Molly Henneberg uncritically reported retired Air Force Col. George E. "Bud" Day's assertion that retired Gen. Wesley Clark "spent a month in Vietnam, got badly wounded, evacuated, and that was his Vietnam experience." Day, a member of what Sen. John McCain has dubbed his "Truth Squad," was responding to Clark's June 29 comments on CBS' Face the Nation. According to Henneberg, Day was "incensed" by Clark's comments and, on a McCain campaign conference call, said, "General Clark spent a month in Vietnam, got badly wounded, evacuated, and that was his Vietnam experience. I'd say let's hold the two of them up and see who's most qualified to talk about their experience as a combat officer." In fact, Clark served at least six months in Vietnam, first as a 1st Infantry Division staff officer (assistant G-3) from July 1969 until January 1970, and then as an infantry company commander from January 1970 until he was wounded in combat on February 19, 1970.
Military documents posted on the website of Clark's 2004 presidential campaign document his service in Vietnam, beginning with his September 10, 1969 Officer Efficiency Report identifies him as "an Assistant G-3 of the 1st Infantry Division," and his superior states in that report that he has used Clark as "a Special Projects Officer." His October 21, 1969, Army Officer Efficiency Report states that he was the G-3 "Research and Evaluation Officer" "[e]ngaged in counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam," and his January 4, 1970, Army Officer Efficiency Report states that Clark was "the chief of the research and evaluation division of the G-3 section." Clark's Officer Evaluation Report for January 5 to February 22, 1970 identifies his position as "[c]ommanding [o]fficer" and states that he "has commanded a mechanized rifle infantry company in combat in a truly outstanding manner." Clark was wounded in combat on February 19, 1970, and a week later, was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on that day.
Clark described his arrival in Vietnam in his 2007 autobiography, A Time to Lead: For Duty, Honor and Country (Palgrave Macmillan):
Gert was four months pregnant when I left for Vietnam in July 1969, and we were able to set her up to live with another waiting wife. I would leave behind Gert as well as my mother and stepfather, and I could imagine what they felt. But I tried not to think about that too much, I just kissed Gert goodbye at JFK airport and walked away. I wrote, and we talked, and I loved her, but Vietnam was what I felt called to do. It was time for me to go.
In July 1969, I stepped off the chartered Boeing 707 and into the bright sunshine of Vietnam, carrying the mixed baggage of homesickness, hard determination and a lot of suppressed excitement. This was it. I had arrived, one of more than 500,000 American soldiers and Marines inside Vietnam that day, one of the more than two million who would serve on the ground in that war. [Page 85]
After a couple of days I got word that I would be assigned to the 1st Infantry Division. The Big Red One, whose main base camp was at Di An, a few miles north of Saigon. It took less than an hour to get there and as soon as I had disposed of my duffel bags, I reported in to the headquarters.
I was hoping, of course, to be given command of a company in combat, though I didn't know what my chances of getting such an assignment were. But they had long known I was coming, and my duties had already been decided for me. [Page 86]
Early the next morning, I got the summons: "Captain Clark, get your gear. You're leaving early."
But instead of heading into combat to lead an infantry company, I was being sent to the division headquarters, another thirty miles north in Lai Khe. I was going to be placed on the division staff, as one of several hundred officers associated with the headquarters. I was rear-area duty. No patrols. No air assaults. No leadership. [Page 86]
I went in [to the briefing] with shined boots and freshly pressed jungle fatigues, and I was lucky if I came out in one piece, since the division's senior officers had been out flying around all day, visiting units, checking activities, and getting a sense for what was happening, knowing that at every moment their men's lives were on the line. Occasionally an enemy rocket would land in the headquarters area, which meant we weren't exactly safe. And I habitually slept with a loaded M-16 in my bunk on the base's perimeter. Still, it was definitely rear-area duty. [Page 88]
As Media Matters for America has noted, Day was a member of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an organization that promoted false and baseless smears about Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) military service during the 2004 presidential campaign.
From the June 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
[begin video clip]
HENNEBERG: McCain's plane was shot down over North Vietnam in October 1967. He was then held and tortured as a prisoner of war for five-and-a-half years. Today, Obama's campaign says Obama rejects General Clark's comments. The candidate also tried to separate himself from his surrogate when talking about sacrificing for one's country.
OBAMA: For those like John McCain, who have endured physical torment in service to our country, no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary. Let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign.
HENNEBERG: Not enough for McCain's military surrogates, including two of his fellow POWs, who, on a conference call, were incensed by Clark's remarks.
DAY: General Clark spent a month in Vietnam, got badly wounded, evacuated, and that was his Vietnam experience. I'd say let's hold the two of them up and see who's most qualified to talk about their experience as a combat officer.
LT. COL. ORSON SWINDLE, USMC (RET.): I just recall very vividly that Senator Obama said he was running -- he was going to run a civil campaign. This is not a civil campaign.
HENNEBERG: McCain suggested this type of attack may be a coordinated effort by the Obama campaign.
McCAIN: I know that many -- that General Clark is not an isolated incident, but I have no way of knowing how much involvement Senator Obama has in that issue.
[end video clip]
HENNEBERG: The McCain people point to earlier comments by two Democratic senators -- Jay Rockefeller and Tom Harkin. Rockefeller, who endorsed Obama in February, criticized McCain in April for not knowing what happened on the ground after his plane dropped bombs in Vietnam. Harkin said in May, a couple of weeks before he endorsed Obama, that McCain is, quote, "trapped in a world view shaped by the military," and that, Harkin said, quote, "can be pretty dangerous" -- Brit.
BRIT HUME (host): Molly, thank you.
From the June 30 conference call with the McCain "Truth Squad":
REPORTER: Greetings, thanks for having us. What do you expect there Senator [Barack] Obama to do? Are you asking him to criticize General Clark's remarks, and I just -- also I want to ask if you would comment on Senator Obama today is giving a big speech on what patriot, you know -- patriotism today. In light of what you folks are complaining about, can you comment on that as well?
DAY: This is Colonel Bud Day. Let me just add one remark here. As I said, John McCain served some 65 months in a Vietnamese POW camp, plus some additional time that he served on the previous ship. Things were very difficult. He was horribly wounded in all of his extremities, questionable if he would ever live through that experience. He set a high standard for himself because the Vietnamese tried to release him, wanted him to go home early. He showed the character that every military officer would hope that he had by refusing anything like that to come about. We had the opportunity also to watch a president in office -- a Democrat -- who was extremely ineffective during those years. He learned a huge amount from that. So, I'm saying that some five-and-a-half years of experience in Vietnam was extremely important -- he learned an awful lot of lessons.
Now, General Clark spent a month in Vietnam, got badly wounded, evacuated -- and that was his Vietnam experience. I'd say let's hold the two of them up and see who's most qualified to talk about their experience as a combat officer.