Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2004 / 19 Shevat, 5764
Kerry's Vietnam service now fair game
I would not have contemplated writing anything even mildly critical of John
Kerry's Vietnam service, were he not making it the centerpiece of his
campaign, and were not he impugning President Bush's service in the Texas
Air National Guard. But as lawyers say before cross examination: "if the
witness opens the door..."
Kerry joined the Navy after graduation from Yale in 1966, became an officer,
and volunteered for Vietnam. After service on a destroyer, Kerry
volunteered again to be a swift boat commander. This was courageous and
commendable. Service on the swift boats, which patrolled the Mekong river,
was about the only way a sailor who wasn't an aviator or a SEAL could get
Kerry served on swift boats for about four months. During that time, he was
awarded the Bronze Star (the lowest decoration for heroism in combat) and
the Silver Star (the next higher decoration for valor) and three Purple
Hearts for wounds sustained in battle. These latter decorations like my
title of "nationally syndicated columnist" sound more impressive than
they are. All three wounds were minor cuts from shrapnel, which, according
to Kerry, caused him to miss a grand total of 2 days of duty.
For soldiers and Marines, especially of the enlisted variety, a Silver Star
is a big deal. You've got to do something profound to get one. But the
rules were different for officers, especially for naval officers.
This is the action on Feb. 28, 1969, for which Kerry was awarded the Silver
Star: A Viet Cong fired a B-40 rocket at Kerry's boat, Patrol Craft
Fast-94. Tom Belodeau, manning the twin 50-caliber machine guns at the rear
of the boat, opened fire on the VC, wounding him. The VC fled behind a
hooch. Kerry ordered PCF-94 to shore, leaped out of the boat, pursued the
VC, and finished him off.
I can envision grizzled infantrymen shaking their heads. "He got the Silver Star for that?"
Kerry had an advantage most servicemen do not. Medal recommendations have
to be made by the commanding officer of the unit in which the heroism took
place. Kerry was the commander of PCF-94. Presumably, Kerry's medal
recommendation was made by the commander of the squadron to which PCF-94
belonged. But Kerry's commander wasn't there. The evidence he had of the
heroism of Lt (jg) John F. Kerry came chiefly from the after action report
of Lt. (jg) John F. Kerry.
Shortly after being awarded the Silver Star, Kerry took advantage of a
provision in Navy regulations that permits a sailor who has been wounded
three times to obtain early release from his combat tour. For Kerry
since his wounds were so minor this was taking advantage of a
technicality. There is nothing wrong with this. Many officers similarly
situated would have done the same. But it wasn't heroic.
To recap: Kerry was a double volunteer. As a swift boat commander, he was
brave and able. But I am unaware of any soldier or Marine who was awarded a
decoration of any kind much less the Silver Star just for killing a
wounded man who was running away.
Though it is being hyped far beyond what it warrants, Kerry's Vietnam
service was honorable. What is not honorable is the way Kerry in
testimony before Congress in April, 1971 falsely accused his fellow Viet
vets of routinely committing grisly war crimes. Nor does it speak well of
Kerry that in several demonstrations he marched under the flag of the Viet
Cong. It is one thing to oppose the war in Vietnam. It is another to cheer
for the enemy.
In the senate, Kerry has a reputation for trying to have things both ways.
Kerry exhibited this tendency early on at an antiwar protest in which he
flung medals over a fence at the White House but the medals weren't his
own. Kerry says now that he is proud of his Vietnam service. But he said
then that he was ashamed of it.
If Kerry plans to use his war service as a credential, he also should also be held to account for his behavior in its aftermath.
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