Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain
by blueflorida, Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 06:23:30 PM EDT
I don't want to belabor or be gratuitous about this, but I think it's important to defend Wes Clark's right to challenge McCain's service record insofar as it is being used as a Commander-In-Chief credential.
To be clear, on a personal level, I have the greatest possible reverence for John McCain's wartime sacrifice and his overall service record. McCain and his fellow brothers-in-arms who survived the Hanoi Hilton hell-hole are heroes in every sense and remain to this day inspiring profiles in human courage.
Because of this, very few people have the moral and experiential standing to comment on McCain's service record. I would go so far to say that not everyone who has simply worn an armed forces uniform has standing to comment. It requires a peer record of combat service. Wes Clark has such a record.
Wesley K. Clark lay bleeding on the ground as the landscape around him echoed with the high-pitched ping-ping-ping of gunfire. It was Feb. 19, 1970, and the young Army captain had been on patrol near Saigon when he paused to peer down a trail that disappeared into the jungle.
In an instant, a hellish hail of fire from AK-47s exploded all around. Clark saw blood oozing from his body.
"They're in there!" Clark shouted to a couple of soldiers at his side.
"Get down, sir!" responded one of the soldiers, sniper Michael McClintic, who vividly recalls the moment. Pushing Clark to the ground -- and probably saving his life -- the Army sniper sprayed the jungle with covering fire. Clark said he called for backup and ordered nearby soldiers to set up a base of responding machine gun fire.
The 25-year-old Clark had waited years for a chance to engage the enemy, and now he was out of the fight from nearly the start.
The Viet Cong ambush that nearly took his life that day would be the only significant combat Clark would experience over the course of an Army career spanning 34 years. But the episode set a course for a military life that both detractors and supporters describe as charmed from the start. First in his class at West Point, Clark carried the hopes of many high-ranking champions into the battlefield with him.
"How bad are you shot?" Clark's commanding officer, David C. Martin, asked when he reached Clark on the radio.
"I don't think I'm shot too bad," Clark replied, according to Martin's recollection. Clark apparently did not realize the severity of four wounds to his shoulder, hand, and leg. Later Clark would recall: "I couldn't hold anything in my right hand, and I couldn't use my foot. I stumbled."
Martin raced to a helicopter and flew to Clark's location.
An Army typist recorded the moment, according to a document found in the National Archives: "Urgent . . . Gd [ground] contact . . . area unsecure -- need jungle penetrator. . . . Lighthorse 21 en route."
Within minutes, a second helicopter was overhead, dangling its "penetrator" lifeline into the jungle. Soldiers attached Clark to the dangling cord, and he was "extracted" and flown to a hospital 8 miles away.
McClintic, who was also hit by enemy fire during the ambush, received a Bronze Star with valor for heroic achievement in action. Clark was awarded the more prestigious Silver Star, reserved for "gallantry in action of marked distinction." While Martin originally wrote up Clark for a Bronze star with valor, a now deceased superior asked him to elevate the medal, and Martin said he agreed. Officers were often given higher medals than enlisted men in Vietnam, and a Silver Star added weight to Clark's military resume. The decision "suits me fine," said Martin, especially because Clark was "leading his people" and on foot patrol and retained control of the company.
Without jumping into the substance of Clark's critique of McCain or the political optics, I think that on the subject of whether it was legitimate for Clark to even make the attempt, I would say it is. Clark has more than earned the right to challenge a fellow military man, if his judgment informs him it;s called for. Accordingly, it probably wouldn't have been appropriate for Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, or even, Jimmy Carter (USNA grad, but no war service) to do this. If, however, Clark thinks it's fair, then I trust him.