Ignorance surrounded — and still surrounds — that tragedy. In the immediate aftermath of the downing of Iran Air 655, the United States military’s prevarications came thick and fast: The plane wasn’t in the civilian air corridor. (It was.) It didn’t have its transponder turned on. (It did.) It was descending toward the Vincennes. (It wasn’t.)
The truth gradually came out in the course of the Navy’s own inquiries and in later investigative reports that revealed a pattern of reckless aggression by the Vincennes captain, beginning a month earlier. David Carlson, the commanding officer of the frigate Sides, which was also deployed then in the gulf, called the downing of the Iranian airliner “the horrifying climax” of that aggressiveness. Just before firing at the plane, Captain Rogers had provoked Iranian gunboats and then followed them into Iran’s territorial waters.
Yet the United States later decorated Captain Rogers “for exceptionally meritorious conduct” as commander of the Vincennes during that time. The citation made no mention of the downing of Iran Air 655. How would Americans feel if Iran pinned a medal on a man who killed 290 American civilians?