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Jim Webb’s debate answer has crazy backstory



Jim Webb Vietnam
Jim Webb in Vietnam.
Jim Webb

Former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Virginia), a presidential candidate who is barely registering on national polls, made an impression at Tuesday night’s Democratic debate with his answer to a question asking which enemy he was proudest to have made.

The Vietnam War veteran said his enemy of choice was the “soldier that threw their grenade that wounded me.” He then added: “But he’s not around right now to talk to.”

Webb was most likely referring to the incident in 1969 that earned him the Navy Cross, the second-highest military decoration that is awarded to Navy and Marine Corps members.

When Webb received the honor, this is how that incident was described, according to the Military Times (emphasis added):

When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade which detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel.

Despite the smoke and debris from the explosion and the possibility of enemy soldiers hiding in the tunnel, he then conducted a thorough search which yielded several items of equipment and numerous documents containing valuable intelligence data.

Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker.

The Washington Post highlighted a 2007 Rolling Stone story that expands on the incident:

Webb was leading his platoon toward what he thought was an empty complex of bunkers. As he and his men approached, three Viet Cong soldiers jumped out. Webb grabbed one and drew his .45 on the other two, capturing all three. Webb and another soldier moved on to a second bunker; this time, a grenade sprayed him with shrapnel, but he detonated a claymore at the bunker’s entrance, killing two Viet Cong. Webb kept going, approaching a third bunker, where another grenade detonated. Webb shot the Viet Cong who threw it and hurled himself in front of his Marine, absorbing the brunt of the blast. Even then he kept fighting, lobbing another grenade into the bunker, killing the last of his enemies.

In his mind, it was the compression of his past into a moment of perfect, unthinking violence, redeeming all the history that had put him opposite a stranger and a grenade on the opposite side of the world.

Time pointed out that Webb was the only combat veteran in the 2016 presidential race.

Webb told Time after the debate: “I understand foreign policy and defense policy. I’ve worked on it every possible way you could do it. I grew up in the military I served in combat. My son served in combat. I spent five years in the Pentagon. I served as a military planner in the region.”

He’s a long-shot candidate compared with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), her chief rival for the nomination.

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