View Full Version : Doubt over war record used to wound Kerry

02-23-2004, 12:11 AM
Sunday Times
Sarah Baxter, New York

VIETNAM has been the defining issue for John Kerry. His status as a much-decorated war hero has helped to propel him to the top of the pack of Democrat candidates for president. Conservative critics believe he has been given a free ride for too long on his war record, however, and are planning a fightback.

Support for their case is expected to come from a book to be published next month by reporters from The Boston Globe in the senator’s home state of Massachusetts. The book, J F Kerry, the Complete Biography, will question the extent of the senator’s injuries in Vietnam and whether he was entitled to an early release from the war. Vietnam, The Washington Post said yesterday, “is a double-edged issue” for Kerry.

Kerry has not authorised the release of his war records — a strange omission, say his political foes, given the ferocity with which his supporters have demanded to see every last document of President George W Bush’s military service in the Texas air national guard.

“Vietnam is such a crucial part of his background and his campaign, you would think he would want people to see them,” said Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, a conservative journal. “There is going to be pressure on him to release them.”

Kerry, who is surrounded on the stump by the “band of brothers” who fought with him in the Mekong delta, became a fierce public critic of the Vietnam war after he left the navy.

A faked photograph of Kerry sharing a microphone with Jane Fonda was a warning to the senator how his opposition to the conflict would be used against him. There has also been much criticism of the way he threw away another man’s medals rather than his own during a 1971 protest demonstration.

Kerry’s conduct during the war, however, was thought until now to be sacrosanct. Unlike many of his generation, he volunteered for service in Vietnam.

He went on to perform heroically as the skipper of a Swift boat patrolling Vietcong-infested waters and won a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for bravery.

Kerry served only four months of a year-long tour of duty after he received three Purple Hearts for being wounded in action. The injuries were not serious; by his own account one shrapnel wound laid him off for two days and the other two did not interrupt his duties.

Five of Kerry’s friends died in action and his medals show that, at the very least, he had several brushes with death. The future senator then invoked what he insists was a “three and you’re out” rule enabling a soldier with three Purple Hearts to be sent home.

He requested a transfer to the Boston, New York or Washington DC areas and was given a plum job as an admiral’s aide in Brooklyn. He returned to America a bitter opponent of the war and was released from the army early.

In response to an inquiry from The Sunday Times, Kerry’s campaign staff gave the newspaper a copy of naval regulations stating that “all naval personnel” who are “wounded three times, regardless of the nature of the wound or the treatment required for each wound” may be reassigned.

A spokesman for the US navy said, however, that such redeployment was not automatic: “It would depend a lot on the nature of the injuries.”

Ted Sampley, who runs Vietnam Vets Against John Kerry, said if a soldier could be sent home for minor wounds, “there would have been a lot of people claiming scratches, getting their Purple Hearts and getting out of there”.

Sampley believes that the well-connected Kerry — photographed with President John F Kennedy as a young man — simply received favourable treatment. “How many other people were able to get out of Vietnam early and be reassigned to a cushy post?” he wondered.

Kerry declined a request from The Boston Globe to authorise the release of military records that could reveal more about his injuries and treatment. The Sunday Times submitted a similar request and was told the records might be released in future.

Conservative opponents do not intend to challenge Kerry’s bravery. “It’s obviously extremely dicey to question a man’s wounds,” said Lowry. “If he got injured at all he was risking his life.” But after the pressure that Bush was under to release his records, they believe Kerry is obliged to do the same.