The military records that Sen. John Kerry posted on his Web site yesterday raise new questions about the actions he took to earn several prestigious war medals and whether he deserved them.
The Navy awarded Mr. Kerry three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star in just four months of commanding a gunboat along rivers in Vietnam. It’s an extraordinary record, say many veterans, and one that raises questions on its face.
For example, those military records do not show Mr. Kerry ever missing a day of duty for injuries, there is conflict between some of the accounts and Mr. Kerry’s presidential campaign still refuses to release some records.
“The idea that John Kerry would have put in for three Purple Hearts during only four months in country is just ridiculous,” said Mel Howell from Evansville, Ind., a retired Navy officer who flew helicopters in Vietnam. “Most of us came away with all kinds of scratches like the ones Kerry got but never accepted Purple Hearts for them.”
Upon inspection of the government documents posted on the Massachusetts Democrat’s Web site, other questions arise such as the conflicting descriptions in official records of the injuries Mr. Kerry sustained on March 13, 1969. It was the commendations he earned that day — a Bronze Star and a third Purple Heart — that let Mr. Kerry request a transfer out of Vietnam and into a desk job eight months before his tour expired.
The Personnel Casualty Report from that day says Mr. Kerry “suffered shrapnel wounds in his left buttocks and contusions on his right forearm when a mine detonated close aboard” his boat.
But the citation for the Bronze Star that he was awarded for the same action described “his arm bleeding and in pain,” saying nothing about arm bruises or shrapnel wounds anywhere.
“I don’t want to say it’s a lie, but it isn’t true,” said Charles Kaufman, a retired Air Force captain whose job once was to submit military award requests.
“His Bronze Star medal citation appears to be based on an injury he did not receive,” said Mr. Kaufman, who now lives in Germany. “His arm was not bleeding. If the paperwork had said, ‘Kerry had a bruised arm,’ I wonder if he would have been given this medal for bravery?”
“They don’t quite jibe,” said James W. Doran, national service director of the advocacy group American Veterans. But he did not fault Mr. Kerry.
“Somebody up the command flowered it up,” Mr. Doran said. “They just made it pretty for somebody’s signature.”
Several requests for comment were not returned by the Kerry campaign yesterday.
During Mr. Kerry’s relatively short tour in Vietnam, he racked up a stunning record, based on the documents released by the campaign yesterday.
All of his performance evaluations rated him first or nearly first among his peers, and no evidence suggests he ever missed duty because of illness or injuries. He was credited with killing 20 enemy fighters.
“Intelligent, mature and rich in educational background and experience, Ens Kerry is one of the finest young officers I have ever met and without question one of the most promising,” wrote Capt. Allen Slifer, Mr. Kerry’s commanding superior aboard the USS Gridley before going into combat.
But some veterans say his record is too good to be true.
“Superhuman” is how Ray Waller, a combat medic in the Marines, described Mr. Kerry’s record of awards.
“I don’t remember anybody getting three Purple Hearts and leaving, even within six or eight months,” said Mr. Waller, who as a medic was responsible for determining whether injuries warranted Purple Hearts. “And if they did, it was very, very rare — not to mention the Silver Star and the Bronze Star.”
He also was surprised that Mr. Kerry never missed duty for the wounds that earned him Purple Hearts. Although Mr. Kerry has said one of the injuries caused him to lose two days of service, there is no evidence he ever lost time for any injuries.
“If he’s got shrapnel in his buttocks, he’s going to lose time,” Mr. Waller said. “It would be impossible to have three wounds and never have a loss of time.”
Though the campaign released more than 120 pages of Navy records yesterday, Mr. Kerry still refused to release medical records that more thoroughly describe the injuries.
Among the records that the campaign will not release is any explanation for the injuries that led to Mr. Kerry’s first Purple Heart, less than a month after going into combat.
Although the campaign won’t release one document, called a “Sick Call Treatment Record,” officials allowed the Associated Press to view it earlier this week. It said: “Shrapnel in left arm above elbow. Shrapnel removed and appl[ied] bacitracin dressing. Ret[urned] to duty.”
“If it only required bacitracin and a Band-Aid, it sounds like a piece of hot shrapnel that was flying around and may not have even broken the skin,” said Mr. Waller, adding that he’d never heard of a shrapnel injury that didn’t require a tetanus shot and time off leading to a Purple Heart.
It was Mr. Kerry’s first injury that already is the source of serious questions raised by his commanding officer at the time, Grant Hibbard.
Mr. Hibbard declined requests yesterday to be interviewed by The Washington Times, but he told the Boston Globe that Mr. Kerry’s injuries were too minor to qualify for a Purple Heart.
“He had a little scratch on his forearm, and he was holding a piece of shrapnel,” Mr. Hibbard said. “People in the office were saying, ‘I don’t think we got any fire,’ and there is a guy holding a little piece of shrapnel in his palm.”
But Mr. Kerry persisted and, to his own “chagrin,” Mr. Hibbard told the Globe, he dropped the matter.
“I do remember some questions, some correspondence about it,” Mr. Hibbard said. “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.”
One possible reason why Mr. Kerry racked up so many battle awards in such a short period of time might be the command structure. Because awards are generally recommended by superiors, Mr. Kerry’s bosses would have relied on accounts of the action from Mr. Kerry and his underling crew mates.
And because injuries warranting Purple Hearts are verified by medics — or corpsmen — it would have been a soldier inferior to Mr. Kerry who was in charge of determining the seriousness of his injuries.
“If the commander walks up to the corpsman and says, ‘I’m wounded,’” said Mr. Waller, “his corpsman isn’t going to say it’s just a scratch, he’s going to say ‘OK.’ ”