Sufficient time has elapsed for interested persons to digest and analyze the contents of the book, “Unfit for Command.” Most who have read it appear to have concentrated on the revelations regarding Lt. John Kerry’s Silver and Bronze Star medals. My experiences as a combat surgeon in Vietnam (Dec. 10, 1967 to Dec. 11, 1968) and also as a forensic consultant for the past two decades, however, lead me to the conclusion that Mr. Kerry’s first Purple Heart award is his most serious problem. The recent revelation of the use of falsified documents (by CBS and Dan Rather) might not be the first time such a technique has been used.
During Mr. Kerry’s four-month tour in Vietnam, which he presents as his principal qualification to be president of the United States, his application for his first Purple Heart award was disapproved by both his commanding officer and the doctor who evaluated his wound. Yet he somehow managed to get that award. How?
How Lt. Kerry got his first Purple Heart award, despite its disapproval, overwhelms all other questions about his Vietnam service. If Mr. Kerry can document that he got his first Purple Heart award legally, why has he failed to do so? His continuing failure to show that he obtained his first Purple Heart award honorably and legally invites the rational assumption that he is unable to do so.
Nobody can possibly be certain if either the swift boat vets, or John Kerry, or both, are lying about the incidents on which his Silver and Bronze Star medals are based. About 80 percent of those involved in perceived life-threatening incidents have distorted, or even completely false, memories of these events. The FBI Academy has a “Critical Incidents Unit” whose mission is to study these perplexing encounters. If the swift boat vets, or Mr. Kerry, or both, are recounting events as they actually remember them — even though they might be reporting misinformation — they are not lying. Add 35 years since the incidents, and the futility of further debate about Mr. Kerry’s Silver and Bronze Star awards becomes clear.
Purple Heart medals, on the other hand, are based largely on objective physical evidence (wound size, type and severity), which rises to a far higher level of certainty. Mr. Kerry’s Purple Heart awards, where rational analysis should reveal the truth, are where the focus in evaluating his Vietnam record should be. The objective physical evidence related to his Purple Hearts is obtainable: It resides in Mr. Kerry’s medical records from Vietnam — which he has thus far refused to fully release. Because these records do exist, it appears just a matter of time until, one way or another, they become public. This question is unlikely to go away.
Having served 31 years as a medical officer in the United States military — one as a combat surgeon and three treating complications of Vietnam wounds — I have operated on hundreds of Purple Heart recipients. Yet I am unaware of any Vietnam veteran who received a Purple Heart medal for a “band aid” wound too minor to require hospitalization. It is conceivable that a glib Lt. Kerry was able to talk someone into certifying Purple Heart medals for wounds that did not meet the requirements set forth in the Purple Heart regulation (“…the wound for which the award is made must have required treatment by a medical officer.”) I cannot think of a wound serious enough to require treatment by a physician that would not also have required hospitalization — yet Lt. Kerry was not hospitalized for any of his wounds.
If Lt. Kerry did talk his way to his second and third Purple Heart awards, the character defects of cowardice and dishonesty come to mind. But Lt. Kerry’s first Purple Heart falls into a very different category: His request for that award was turned down. I am unaware of any legal way to have an adverse decision regarding the application for a Purple Heart award reversed. Mr. Kerry’s failure to make public his records from Vietnam showing the details of how he acquired his first Purple Heart award, despite the denial of his request for that award, forces voters to consider the possibility that Lt. Kerry falsified his official naval records to get his undeserved first Purple Heart medal.
If Mr. Kerry fails to clear up before the election the question about how he got his first Purple Heart, voters intending to vote for him must consider the possibility that they could be voting for a man who might, sooner or later, be shown to have falsified his naval records to obtain a medal he didn’t deserve — which is a federal crime. The fact that he used that medal to get out of Vietnam after only four months — while the rest of us served our full year — would greatly magnify the disgrace of such a crime. I think that every American citizen would find a replay of the impeachment of a sitting president to be extremely distasteful.
Dr. Martin L. Fackler served as a combat surgeon in Vietnam.