- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

John Kerry risked winning his fourth Purple Heart yesterday. Give him a point or two for nerve, if not chutzpah. He went into a lair of National Guardsmen and escaped with his mettle intact.

Monsieur Kerry, who bugs the postman every day for a package from Paris with his long-awaited Legion d’Honneur, the medal finally worth not throwing away, has likened National Guardsmen to draft dodgers, conscientious objectors and jailbirds. He described George W. Bush, president or not, as pretty much a jerk, too.

“You deserve a president who will not play politics with national security,” he told the National Guard Association meeting in Las Vegas, “a president who will not ignore his own intelligence while living in a fantasy world of spin and who will give the American people the truth about the challenge our brave men and women face on the front lines.”

The Guardsmen, who earlier in the week gave the president nearly a dozen standing ovations, received Monsieur Kerry more or less politely, which is considerably more than a man who has been so contemptuous of them could have expected. Earlier in the campaign, Monsieur Kerry told Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes, the Fox News tag team that rules the nightly cable-TV rassling shows, that he bears George W. no particular personal ill will. “What I’ve always said is — and I defended Bill Clinton’s position, and I would defend the president’s choice with respect to going into the Guard. I’ve never made any judgments about any choice somebody made about avoiding the draft, about going to Canada, going to jail, being a conscientious objector, going into the National Guard.” (Italics mine.)

Regulars, among whom Monsieur Kerry is not one, have always paid reservists a bit of back of the hand respect; it’s part of the interservice rivalry that marks all military organizations. But this was a breathtaking insult.

Monsieur Kerry is, in fact, giving himself airs. He, too, was a reservist, and pulled a string or two to get a reserve commission to suit his purposes. He later served in Vietnam with honor and distinction, even if how much distinction is in dispute, but only for four months until he could get an assignment as an aide to an admiral. He slept on clean sheets every night he was in uniform, and good for him. Nobody wanted to be a grunt. (Full disclosure here: I served nine years as an enlisted airman, a clerk typist in Headquarters Squadron, 123rd Air Base Group, Arkansas Air National Guard, with four months active duty in the Air Force. I was fortunate enough to serve between wars: too young for Korea, barely too old for Vietnam. Like the president, I joined the Air National Guard to escape the draft, missed a few drills, made up some of them and was honorably discharged. During the years I spent in Vietnam as a newspaper correspondent, I learned to be mightily glad that I was never a grunt, whose service I accord all honor, homage and gratitude.)

In a dispatch that went mostly unnoticed — Dan Rather’s heroic adventures among the fonts and superscripts of the paper kingdom have sucked up all the oxygen available in the past fortnight — the London Daily Telegraph unearthed a 35-year-old clipping from the Harvard Crimson detailing how Monsieur Kerry unsuccessfully sought a student deferment to spend a year in the fleshpots of Paris instead of a year in the swamps of ‘Nam. The monsieur scolds Dick Cheney for getting what he tried and failed to get, and it was only then that he enlisted in the Naval Reserve.

Democratic operatives and most of the pundits who gamed their own way out of military service have, like Monsieur Kerry, sneered at service in the Guard as goldbricking, of a piece with slipping over the Canadian border in the dark of night, risking jail to avoid the uniform or otherwise cheating the recruiting sergeant.

It’s not true. National Guardsmen have served with distinction in all our wars; Air National Guard pilots are among the nation’s most decorated flyers, some winning the Medal of Honor. There is nothing in George W. Bush’s record or breeding to suggest that he would have tried to get out of his obligation if the 147th Fighter Interceptor Group, Texas Air National Guard, had been called up and sent to Tan Son Nhut or Bien Hoa or Danang or any of those places whose once-familiar names are now fading from living memory.

When George W. signed up, he had no guarantee that his squadron would remain stateside. Monsieur Kerry had no guarantee, either. He, too, might have been ordered back to Vietnam to serve the rest of the 12-month tour. But he wasn’t. Not only that, he got to wear the Navy’s splendid summer whites, the babe magnet with no peer.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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