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Mission 24 - Details
John Kerry's Silver Star

February 28, 1969:

February 28, 1969: Three Swift Boats - PCF-23, PCF-94, and PCF-43 - race through a tiny channel of the Bay Hap River, deep in the Mekong Delta. The lush green foliage hides enemy soldiers on either bank. Their mission is to transport soldiers deep into the hideouts of the Vietcong and sweep the area clean. This is part of Operation Sealords, one of the biggest, most involved missions of the war.

Since the mid-60s, the North Vietnamese army has been running guns and supplies through these tiny waterways, hidden in innocent-looking junks and sampans. It is the lifeblood of the Vietcong, the supply that keeps them fighting their insurgency and threatening the government of South Vietnam. Working with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the Navy, Coast Guard, and Special Forces units, the aim of Sealords is to break the back of the National Liberation Front (also called the Vietcong) and stop them cold.

The Delta is where the enemy hides, tends his wounds, takes on ammunition, and plots his next moves. Take him out here, and the war could be won.

All of it depends on these Swift Boats, small aluminum vessels with bare-bones protection against fire but enough speed and maneuverability to beat the enemy if driven hard and fast. They patrol the Delta to sweep the shoreline and engage the NVA ships. Every mile of this waterway is treacherous, and usually, patrols like this are harassed by Vietcong firing from the sides of the river. But today, the tactical commander of the trio of Swift Boats has a different idea. He plans to challenge the VC on their own turf. This commander is a young lieutenant named John Kerry.

Somewhere down the river, the Swift Boats take small arms fire along with RPG shells screaming past. They put Kerry’s plan into action. All three boats make a hard 90 degree turn and head for the bank, minimizing their own target profile and bringing their lethal bow guns to bear. Their twin .50 cal guns pound the enemy. As the hulls scrape dirt, the troops leap off and engage the enemy, who is momentarily confused but still lethal. M16s and SKS rifles blaze in the deep green jungle, and M60 gunners cut a swath of destruction through the underbrush. Soon half a dozen VC are dead and several more wounded.

But Kerry orders his ship and one other to move upriver and take the fight to another enemy base. They move 800 yards away, and soon they’re taking fire again as a B-40 rocket propelled grenade explodes dangerously close to the boat, and automatic fire crackles from out of the treeline. They repeat their tactics, both boats taking the same hard turn directly into enemy fire and hitting the shore. They find themselves in another gunfight, culminating in a wild race through the woods to hunt down a lone VC shooter armed with a rocket launcher. At the enemy’s base, the fight ends. And the only thing left is to pull back, go home, and mark another day. The commander is awarded a medal for this day’s work. This becomes John Kerry’s Silver Star.


John Kerry's Silver Star

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