"So when it hit us, I just flopped down, and I called for [support]. I said, 'Get the mortars in here.' So there I am waiting for the smoke on each [mortar] to come up, and I'd say, 'No, 50 yards further left.' 'A hundred yards deeper.' Then I said, 'Okay, saturate the goddamn area, because I wanted to stop any attack by them.' To this day I don't know why they didn't come charging at us. Hell, it was only about six, seven of us.
"Finally we got back to the boat. Peterson said, 'Goddamn, Charlie! That's a good job you got everybody out safe.' "
* * *
Bear in mind, this event took place 30 years ago. Both Watson and Constance have advanced into full, successful civilian lives. Watson, now 68, is a lawyer, twice elected commonwealth's attorney for Virginia's Chesterfield County. Constance, 54, recently retired as police chief at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Los Angeles.
Watson says he sued because of that one accusation: he had deserted his men. "This stuff about 'Chicken Charlie'? That don't bother me. If someone thinks I was chicken, hell, that's their opinion. I don't give a shit. But when they say I deserted my troops under fire, they're accusing me of a capital crime. In wartime it's the death penalty. And [Lt.] Peterson said, 'Hey, if that had happened, I'd have taken care of it myself.' And I'm sure he would. He'd have either shot me, or certainly court-marshaled me. Why would I spend $70,000 of my money to go to a court if I did something like that? [I could] just ignore the goddamn book and say, 'Hey, it's a lie.' But I took my life savings to go to court, because that's what my reputation is worth. It's worth a lot more than that, but I ain't got much more than that. But the charges were so grave. I mean, goddamn! The only thing I could have been charged with more than that is treason! For a professional fighting man to be called a coward, and to say he deserted his men under fire, damn! There ain't nothing worse than that! That's terrible!"
Bill Salisbury, a San Diego lawyer, retired Navy commander, and SEAL officer who spent two years in Vietnam in the '60s, says he would have heard if Watson was known as a coward. "Watson's reputation among the officers and enlisted men that I respected at SEAL Team Two was very good. He certainly was not thought of as a coward. On the other hand, those who rallied around Constance I'm sure had Constance's view."
The irony is that Charlie Watson has been sitting in the courtroom wearing the coveted Navy SEAL trident badge, while Harry Constance has not. In his book and in court, he openly admitted he'd had many scrapes with SEAL brass, that he'd been court-martialed and convicted of misuse of government property, that he had been kicked out -- twice -- from the SEALs after angry confrontations with his commanding officers.
Last week, according to the Virginian-Pilot, the officer who was in charge of both men in 1968, Lt. "Pete" Peterson, now a retired captain, contradicted six stories in the book in his testimony to the jury. "I did not see Mr. Watson run [away from enemy fire]. I never heard of such a thing happening when I was in Vietnam." He said he never yelled at Watson, "Charlie! STOP! Stop running!" as quoted in the book. He said Watson did not leave Vietnam because he "cracked" but because of a debilitating illness and hospital stay.
"[Watson] conducted himself with authority and dignity," he testified. "I had no question about his courage." The Virginian-Pilot reports Peterson said Watson was a "conservative SEAL" who was "about average" and did not excel in seek-and-find missions, something that sometimes annoyed the more aggressive SEALs.
And Constance's buddy, former SEAL Charles W. Jessie Jr., testified last Tuesday that "most of it [the contents of the book]...didn't happen.... I love Harry. I love him like a brother. But I think he got carried away."
The book's editor, Zachary Schisgal of publishers William Morrow and Company, admitted that he never checked the allegations with other parties such as Watson. "I believe [Constance] entirely," Schisgal told the court. "I didn't feel the need to fact-check the things he was writing about.... This is a great story."
"Did you think this [book] was causing Mr. Watson some harm to his reputation?" asked Watson's lawyer, Thomas J. Harlan Jr.
"No," Schisgal replied, "I didn't think about that."
Since the publication of Good to Go in a paperback edition, Watson has filed a second lawsuit seeking a further $6 million for libel damages.