Jewish World Review April 27, 2004/ 6 Iyar, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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The Monsieur takes a ride in a tank | Look, Charlie, who are you gonna believe, John Kerry or your own eyes?

The great white Democratic hope set out early yesterday to clear up the 33-year-old question of what did he do with his medals from Vietnam and when did he do it?

Monsieur Kerry has told several stories so many times no mere pol could remember them all. First, he said he threw away his medals. Or maybe the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts belonged to somebody else. Then it was no, they weren't combat medals, anyway, just combat ribbons. That's what he told the Los Angeles Times last week. But bad luck: ABC News discovered the tape of an interview in 1971 in which the young monsieur said no, it was medals after all, not ribbons.

So yesterday Charlie Gibson, the interlocutor of ABC-TV's "Good Morning, America" set out to get him to clear it up. Here's the partial transcript, as on the Drudge Report, of fudge-making bordering on incoherence:

"Senator, as recently as Friday with the Los Angeles Times, you said you did not throw away the Vietnam medals themselves. But now this interview from 1971 shows up in which you say that was the medals themselves that were thrown away."

"No, I don't," Monsieur Kerry replied.

"Can you explain?" Mr. Gibson asked.

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"Absolutely. That's absolutely incorrect. Charlie, I stood up in front of the nation. There were dozens of cameras there, television cameras, there were — I don't know, 20, 30 still photographers. Thousands of people and I stood up in front of the country, reached into my shirt, visibly for the nation to see, and took the ribbons off my chest, said a few words and threw them over the fence. The file footage, the reporter there from the Boston Globe, everybody got it correctly. And I never asserted otherwise. What I said was, and back then, you know, ribbons, medals were absolutely interchangeable. [The late] Sen. [Stuart] Symington asking me questions in the committee hearing, looked at the ribbons and said, 'What are those medals?' The U.S. Navy calls them medals, we referred to them as symbols, representing medals, ribbons, countless veterans threw the ribbons — threw the ribbons back. Everybody did. Veterans threw back dog tags. They threw back photographs, they threw back their 14's. There are photographs of a pile of all of those things collected on the steps of the Capitol. So the fact is that I have — I have been accurate precisely about what took place. And I am the one who later made clear exactly what happened. I mean, this is a controversy that the Republicans are pushing, the Republicans have spent $60 million in the last few weeks trying to attack me ... I'm not going to stand for it."

But neither was Charlie.

"Senator," he said, "I was there 33 years ago, and I saw you throw medals over the fence and we didn't find out until later."

The senator was beginning to sweat. (Maybe it was the hot lights.) "No, you didn't see me throw them. Charlie, Charlie, you are wrong. That's not what happened. I threw my ribbons across. All you have to do ... "

And so it went. Monsieur Kerry and his handlers are frightened that the medals episode could be taking another Massachusetts pol for a ride in a tank. Most Americans, who regard combat medals awarded for valor as more than pieces of cast metal and strips of colorful cloth, as something, like the flag, to hold in awe and reverence because such objects have been endowed with blood spent on battlegrounds at Lexington and Concord, on hillsides from Manassas to Pea Ridge, on killing grounds in the Argonne Forest and at Guadalcanal and Pork Chop Hill and the Ia Drang Valley and a lot of other places besides. Americans will regard the distinction between a combat medal and a combat ribbon as the ultimate distinction without a difference. Both medal and ribbon are fraught with holy meaning, and the man who treats them as trash, throwing them back at the country that bestowed them as tokens of gratitude and thanksgiving, is a man whose soul has withered to a dried prune. (Would Monsieur Kerry disdain the Legion d'Honneur?)

Democrats disdain every question that John Kerry raises about his Vietnam War record as a slur at the senator's patriotism. Republicans have actually taken great care to give the senator credit for taking up arms when certain prominent Republicans went over the hill. Marc Racicot, the chairman of the Bush campaign, remarked Sunday that "from the very first [we] talked about the fact that John Kerry serviced this country honorably."

This was an odd slip, Freudian or otherwise, for a Montana man to make. Every rancher knows that "servicing" is what a bull does for a heifer. Or maybe it wasn't a slip at all.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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