About Senator Kerry's First Purple Heart
As has been reported:
"A group funded by the biggest Republican campaign donor in Texas began running an attack ad Aug. 5 in which former Swift Boat veterans claim Kerry lied to get one of his two decorations for bravery and two of his three purple hearts.This report continues:
But the veterans who accuse Kerry are contradicted by Kerry's former crewmen, and by Navy records.
One of the accusers says he was on another boat "a few yards" away during the incident which won Kerry the Bronze Star, but the former Army lieutenant whom Kerry plucked from the water that day backs Kerry's account. In an Aug. 10 opinion piece in the conservative Wall Street Journal , Rassmann (a Republican himself) wrote that the ad was "launched by people without decency" who are "lying" and "should hang their heads in shame."
And on Aug. 19, Navy records came to light also contradicting the accusers. One of the veterans who says Kerry wasn't under fire was himself awarded a Bronze Star for aiding others "in the face of enemy fire" during the same incident."
"Two who appear in the ad say Kerry didn't deserve his first purple heart. Louis Letson, a medical officer and Lieutenant Commander, says in the ad that he knows Kerry is lying about his first purple heart because “I treated him for that.” However, medical records provided by the Kerry campaign to FactCheck.org do not list Letson as the “person administering treatment” for Kerry’s injury on December 3, 1968 . The person who signed this sick call report is J.C. Carreon, who is listed as treating Kerry for shrapnel to the left arm.Salon.com gives a more complete explanation of Senator Kerry's first Purple Heart:
In his affidavit, Letson says Kerry's wound was self-inflicted and does not merit a purple heart. But that's based on hearsay, and disputed hearsay at that. Letson says “the crewman with Kerry told me there was no hostile fire, and that Kerry had inadvertently wounded himself with an M-79 grenade.” But the Kerry campaign says the two crewmen with Kerry that day deny ever talking to Letson.
On Aug. 17 the Los Angeles Times quoted Letson as giving a slightly different account than the one in his affidavit. The Times quotes him as saying he heard only third-hand that there had been no enemy fire. According to the Times, Letson said that what he heard about Kerry's wounding came not from other crewmen directly, but through some of his own subordinates. Letson was quoted as saying the information came from crewmen who were "just talking to my guys … There was not a firefight -- that's what the guys related. They didn't remember any firing from shore."
Letson also insisted to the Times that he was the one who treated Kerry, removing a tiny shard of shrapnel from Kerry's arm using a pair of tweezers. Letson said Carreon, whose signature appears on Kerry's medical record, was an enlisted man who routinely made record entries on his behalf. Carreon signed as "HM1," indicating he held the enlisted rank of Hospital Corpsman First Class.
Also appearing in the ad is Grant Hibbard, Kerry’s commanding officer at the time. Hibbard’s affidavit says that he “turned down the Purple Heart request,” and recalled Kerry's injury as a "tiny scratch less than from a rose thorn."
That doesn't quite square with Letson's affidavit, which describes shrapnel "lodged in Kerry's arm" (though "barely.")
Hibbard also told the Boston Globe in an interview in April 2004 that he eventually acquiesced about granting Kerry the purple heart.
Hibbard: I do remember some questions on it. . .I finally said, OK if that's what happened. . . do whatever you want
Kerry got the first purple heart after Hibbard left to return to the US."
"Kerry and crewmates blew up the smugglers' beached sampans and then headed back to Cam Ranh Bay. "I never saw where the piece of shrapnel had come from, and the vision of the men running like gazelles haunted me," Kerry continued. "It seemed stupid. My gunner didn't know where the people were when he first started firing. The M-16 bullets had kicked up the sand way to the right of them as he sprayed the beach, slowly walking the line of fire over to where the men had been leaping for cover. I had been shouting directions and trying to un-jam my gun. The third crewman was locked in a personal struggle with the engine, trying to start it. I just shook my head and said, 'Jesus Christ.' It made me wonder if a year of training was worth anything." Kerry, never trying to inflate the incident, called it a "half-ass action." Nevertheless, the escapade introduced Kerry to the V.C. and earned him his first Purple Heart.As Salon explains, the 2004 election was about trying to destroy Senator Kerry, a true American Vietnam hero who was running against a draft-dodging pair of politicians. They continue:
As generally understood, the Purple Heart is given to any U.S. citizen wounded in wartime service to the nation. Giving out Purple Hearts increased in 1968 as the United States Navy started sending swift boats up rivers in the Mekong Delta. Sailors -- no longer safe on aircraft carriers or battleships in the Gulf of Tonkin -- were starting to bleed, a lot. Vice Adm. Elmo Zumwalt himself would pin the medal on John Kerry at An Thoi about six weeks after the doctor at the Cam Ranh base took the shrapnel out of the young officer's right arm. "He called me in New York to tell me he had been wounded," his then girlfriend and later wife, Julia Thorne, remembered. "I was worried sick, scared to death that John or one of my brothers was going to die. He reassured me that he was OK."
"The name of the game is to find a conservative ex-Vietnam hand to say something negative about Kerry. It's an automatic newsmaker, guaranteed to get picked up by Newsmax.com, the Weekly Standard, Rush Limbaugh, the New York Post and other conservative outlets. At issue is an attempt to downgrade Kerry's Vietnam War heroism. The major anti-Kerry Vietnam War Internet complaint, it seems, echoes Hibbard: that his minor wounds weren't big enough to warrant Purple Hearts. Unfortunately neither the Boston Globe nor New York Post takes the time to explain to readers that Purple Hearts are not given out to soldiers/sailors for the size of the wound. Only by the grace of God did the hot shrapnel that pierced Kerry's arm not enter his heart or brain or eye.The Salon article concludes:
For the record, Purple Hearts are given for the following enemy-related injuries:
a) Injury caused by enemy bullet, shrapnel or other projectile created by enemy action.
b) Injury caused by enemy-placed mine or trap.
c) Injury caused by enemy-released chemical, biological or nuclear agent.
d) Injury caused by vehicle or aircraft accident resulting from enemy fire.
e) Concussion injuries caused as a result of enemy-generated explosions.
Examples of injuries or wounds which clearly do not qualify for award of the Purple Heart are as follows:
a) Frostbite or trench foot injuries.
b) Heat stroke.
c) Food poisoning not caused by enemy agents.
d) Chemical, biological, or nuclear agents not released by the enemy.
e) Battle fatigue.
f) Disease not directly caused by enemy agents.
g) Accidents, to include explosive, aircraft, vehicular and other accidental wounding not related to or caused by enemy action.
Given the hurly-burly circumstance of Dec. 2, 1968, Kerry -- and the other men on the mission -- are not sure whether they were hit by enemy fire or if shrapnel from one of the other men on the Boston Whaler injured Kerry. It could have even been Kerry's own M-16 backfiring that caused the shrapnel wound. It doesn't really matter. The requirement makes it clear that you are awarded a Purple Heart for "Injury caused by enemy bullet, shrapnel or other projectile created by enemy action." Does anybody dispute that Kerry's wound was created by enemy action? As the stipulation also makes clear, Kerry would have been awarded a Purple Heart even if he never bled, if, for example, he had suffered a concussion from a grenade. So to set the record straight: Kerry deserved his first Purple Heart -- period. To say otherwise is to distort the reality of the medal.
Unfortunately, the Boston Globe and New York Post stories omit fully reporting the bylaws. They present Hibbard at face value, downplaying the fact that he is a Republican criticizing a fellow veteran hoping to cause him public embarrassment. According to the Globe, Hibbard -- in classic blowhard fashion -- said Kerry "had a little scratch on his forearm, and he was holding a piece of shrapnel." Adding further verbal insult, Hibbard apparently claimed: "I've had thorns from a rose that were worse." The straight-faced Globe reporter, in fact, claims that Hibbard told him that Kerry's wound resembled a "scrape from a fingernail." Not included in either newspaper account, however, is Kerry's medical report from the incident. He shared it with me last year when I was writing "Tour of Duty." It reads: "3 DEC 1968 U.S. NAVAL SUPPORT FACILITY CAM RANH BAY RVN FPO Shrapnel in left arm above elbow. Shrapnel removed and appl. Bacitracin. Ret. to duty." Is shrapnel removed from an arm really like a "scrape from a fingernail"? Or a thorn prick? The answer, of course, as any sensible person can surmise, is no."
"According to Kerry, who should know, the doctor wrapped a clean white bandage around his arm. After the procedure he rightfully put in for a Purple Heart. Kerry clearly met the requirements -- as listed above -- for deserving one. From the hospital room Kerry returned to duty. That's apparently when he held the shrapnel out in his palm for Hibbard to see.Enough said.
The Globe, however, let Hibbard off the hook, no serious questions asked. On the one hand he claimed Kerry was holding his shrapnel and then he also claims it was a scratch. Are we to believe that following his surgical procedure Kerry went to Hibbard and ripped off his battle dressing to show him the wound that looked like a "scrape from a fingernail"? Or is Hibbard simply surmising it was a thorn prick? Worse still, Hibbard now claims that he was opposed to Kerry being awarded the Purple Heart. Really? Then why didn't he fight against it harder? His superficial answer can be found in the Globe: "I do remember some questions, some correspondence about it. I finally said, 'Ok, if that's what happened ... do whatever you want.' After that I don't know what happened. Obviously, he got it. I don't know how." Does this sound like a reliable source? Is that fuzzy-mindedness worth reporting as serious news? Why wasn't Hibbard asked why he stayed quiet for 35 years?
Let me offer Hibbard an answer to his question. The U.S. Navy chose to award Kerry a Purple Heart because he qualified for it. Only a fool -- or an exceedingly modest man -- wouldn't apply for a Purple Heart that was due him. Kerry was neither. But Kerry did not receive it because, as the Post claims, he had "strong ties to the Kennedy machine in Massachusetts (Bobby Kennedy speechwriter Adam Walinsky wrote Kerry's famous 1971 antiwar Washington speech)." Kerry's only tie to the "Kennedy machine" was that as a college student he slapped a "Ted Kennedy for U.S. Senate" bumper sticker on his VW and campaigned for a summer around Cape Cod. As for Walinsky writing Kerry's famous April 22, 1971, speech/testimony -- it's utter nonsense. Walinsky has consistently denied the rumor. At his Boston home Kerry has a file brimming with his various drafts of the speech/testimony. He, in fact, had delivered parts of the speech months beforehand. Why is it so hard to accept the fact that Kerry -- like thousands of other Vietnam Vets -- was awarded a Purple Heart as a small token of appreciation for risking his life for his country?
Back in 1964 Bob Dylan wrote a lyric for the song "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." At one point in it he asks whether nothing in American life is "really sacred." When retired U.S. naval officers, 35 years after the fact, start whining to the press that a war wound wasn't big enough to warrant a Purple Heart -- and the Boston Globe goes along for the ride -- you realize Dylan's prophecy. Today the tabloids truly are king. Call me naive, or too pro-veteran, but it seems to me we should be thanking every Purple Heart recipient for their duty to country, not demanding of them explanations for why their wounds weren't bigger or fatal. Ridicule Kerry on his liberal Senate record, or so-called aloofism, or even his outspoken Vietnam Veterans Against the War protests, but leave his old battle scars alone."
Senator Kerry fought hard for America in Vietnam. I am proud of him.
He recognized injustice in Vietnam and fought against a misguided foreign policy that cost Americans 10's of thousands of American lives. I am proud of him for that too.
He backed the President early on in Iraq along with almost every Senator. He has admitted his mistake and wants America to set a timetable for withdrawal of our soldiers. I am proud of him for this as well.
He flubbed a line that was totally distorted by the right-wing, and when requested to drop out of sight by the Democratic leadership, he got out of the way. He was a good soldier in 2006, and against his own desire to confront the Swift Boaters, he got out of the public view. I don't agree with him doing this. But I am proud of his humility in seeking to act in the way that would forward the Democratic Party. I am proud of him for that as well.
But I am not proud of Americans who seek to denigrate his military record while overlooking the military record of their Republicans. No veteran should smear another veteran like the Swift Boaters are continuing to do.
When Senator Kerry spoke at the Winter Soldier testimony, he spoke about American Foreign Policy that had led to atrocities like My Lai.
When Senator Kerry protests the American policies in Iraq, when he asks for this nation to bring the soldiers home, he is not failing to support our troops. It is folly to believe that we must continue to support sending soldiers to die for a mistake...that we can express our greatest support for our fighting forces by sending them out on the streets of Baghdad to police a civil war between Muslim sects.
Senator Kerry brings first-hand experience as a Vietnam War Veteran to this discussion. But he has not been blinded by his service. He is not blinded by nationalism that knows no criticism of our own failures. He is wiser than that.
And for all of these things, I shall not be quiet when Swift Boaters are afoot once again, spreading their hate, spreading their lies, and spreading distortions of truth about a great American veteran who confronted an enemy abroad and who now has to be attacked by fellow Americans.
Keep on Coming John! We have got your back!