Jewish World Review Jan. 27, 2004/4 Shevat, 5764
Looking for holes in the bloody shirt
On second thought, maybe John F. Kerry isn't JFK, after all. After tonight, we'll have a pretty good idea whether Democratic voters are entertaining lethal doubts.
Late polls suggest that perceptive voters scent that John Kerry is not exactly what he pretends to be. The senator zoomed smartly upward in the polls when he finally persuaded voters to believe that he's a candidate with no skeletons in his closet, no negatives for his opponent to pounce on when least expected, no history of opportunism in the service of personal ambition.
But there may be exploitable flaws. That's what Wesley Clark was up to, flinging heavy-handed aspersions on the Kerry war record. The general, apparently confusing a rally in the snow with the bar at the Officers Club, sneered that if anyone wants to compare war heroics, he ought to remember that one of the heroes is a general, the other merely a lieutenant. True enough, and Mr. Clark can look like a reincarnation of George B. McClellan in his dress uniform, but only a general imagines that brass on a collar lends a man popularity with the masses. Nevertheless, Mr. Kerry invites inspection of his bloody shirt if only because he never misses an opportunity to wave it, reminding everyone that he won medals in Vietnam.
And indeed he did. But veterans groups grumble that there's more to see in the Kerry military record than his Silver Star and his three Purple Hearts. He served twice in Vietnam, neither time completing the regular one-year term. His first assignment lasted six months, aboard a guided-missile frigate in the Gulf of Tonkin. He returned to "the world" (as the GIs called home) and five months later, in December 1969, was assigned to command "swifts," small gunboats patrolling South Vietnamese rivers.
He won his first Purple Heart when he was wounded slightly on an arm. But if a wound draws blood "even shaving," as irreverent GIs often say it's worth a Purple Heart. Three months later a piece of shrapnel pierced his left thigh and he qualified for his second. Eight days later, he won the Silver Star when his swift boat took a rocket shot from the shore and he beached the boat in the midst of several enemy positions. An enemy soldier sprang from a hidey hole and sprinted into a "hootch," or hut. A gunner aboard the swift sprayed the hootch with .50-caliber machine-gun bullets, and Lt. Kerry leaped from the boat to administer the coup de grace to the wounded Viet Cong. He returned triumphantly, holding high the rocket and launcher used to damage his boat. The beau geste was worth the Silver Star. The very next month he won his third Purple Heart when a mine detonated near his boat and a piece of shrapnel hit his right arm. He later said his wounds cost him two days' service.
Nevertheless, the three wounds were worth an assignment stateside, when he applied to take advantage of a Navy rule that entitled a thrice-wounded man to take his leave from a combat zone. He asked for duty as a personal aide in "Boston, New York or Washington," and came home to be an admiral's aide. Eight months later, he asked for an early discharge to run for Congress. Once out, he joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, an antiwar organization largely funded by Jane Fonda.
He burst into public prominence with testimony in April 1971 when he appeared before a crowded hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, dressed in war-surplus fatigues and his medals, to deliver a remarkable screed describing the horrific brutality of the American soldiers he said he had left behind in Vietnam. The Americans had "personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of Vietnam." (After that, presumably, no more Mr. Nice Guy.)
Several weeks later, Morley Safer of CBS' "60 Minutes" christened young Kerry as "a man with a Kennedyesque future." He was on his way to New Hampshire, arriving only 33 years later.
The senator from Massachusetts does not appear to be actually sinking in New Hampshire, but late polls suggest he may be taking on a little water. (Maybe it's snow.) John Zogby, one of the most reliable political pollsters, puts the race at even, based on his weekend polling, which is not always as reliable as weekday polling. Other polls give Mr. Kerry more comfortable margins, but all the polls indicate that nobody really knows what's going on in the minds of the famously irascible New Hampshire voters. Everyone agrees that something is.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
Wesley Pruden Archives
© 2004 Wes Pruden