John Kerry has responded to critics of his service in the Vietnam War with documents showing high praise from his supervisors, but he has not released his medical records from his time in the Navy.
Kerry’s campaign Web site posted more than 130 pages from his naval record, documenting his training and experience in combat that earned a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts. Some talk radio conservatives and other critics question whether the future Democratic presidential candidate was severely wounded enough to leave the war zone.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said he is eager to compare Kerry’s military record to President Bush’s. McAuliffe accused Bush of using family connections to avoid service overseas and failing to show up for duty while in the National Guard.
“Simply put, Kerry has a proud record of sacrifice and service whereas Bush has a record of cashed-in connections and evasion,” McAuliffe said in a statement Wednesday.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson said, “Like so many of Terry McAuliffe’s comments, this one is not worthy of the dignity of a response.”
During his four years of active duty, Kerry received glowing evaluations that cited his maturity, intelligence and immaculate appearance. He was recommended for early promotion, and when he left the Navy in 1970 to run for Congress, his commanding officer said it was the Navy’s loss.
Kerry’s lowest marks were the equivalent of average — in military bearing, reliability and initiative.
Close calls on the swiftboat
His most harrowing experience came during the nearly five months he spent commanding a swiftboat, a 50-foot-long craft that could operate at high speeds in the rough waters of Vietnam’s tributaries.
“He frequently exhibited a high sense of imagination and judgment in planning operations against the enemy in the Mekong Delta,” wrote Lt. Cmdr. George Elliott, Kerry’s commanding officer. “Involved in several enemy initiated fire fights, including an ambush during the Christmas truce, he effectively suppressed enemy fire and is unofficially credited with 20 enemy killed in action.”
On Feb. 28, 1969, Kerry’s craft and two other boats came under heavy fire from the riverbanks. Kerry ordered his units to turn into the ambush and sent men ashore after the enemy. According to the records, an enemy soldier holding a loaded rocket launcher sprang up within 10 feet of Kerry’s boat and fled. Kerry leapt ashore, chased and killed the man.
Kerry and his men chased or killed all enemy soldiers in the area and returned to the boat only to come under fire from the opposite bank as they began to pull away. Kerry again beached his boat and led a party ashore in pursuit, and they successfully silenced the shooting. Later, with the boats again under fire, Kerry initiated a heavy response that killed 10 Viet Cong and wounded another with no casualties to his own men.
He won the Silver Star “for gallantry and intrepidity in action” that day.
Two weeks later, Kerry’s role in another firefight earned a Bronze Star for heroic achievement and the third Purple Heart that would result in his reassignment out of Vietnam.
Kerry was commanding one of five boats on patrol on March 13, 1969, when two mines detonated almost simultaneously near Kerry’s craft. Shrapnel hit Kerry’s buttocks and his right arm bled from contusions, but he rescued a boatmate who had been thrown overboard by the blast and was under sniper fire from both banks. Kerry then directed his crew to return to the other damaged craft and tow it to safety.
Kerry’s records briefly describe shrapnel wounds to his arm and thigh for the first two Purple Hearts, but they don’t detail the severity of the wounds. The first wound — to his arm — was described in a document that Kerry has not released to the public, but has been shown to reporters at campaign headquarters. There is no description on the wound in the documents posted on Kerry’s Web site.
According to a naval instruction document provided by Kerry’s campaign, anyone wounded three times while serving in Vietnam, regardless of the nature of the wound or treatment required, “will not be ordered to service in Vietnam and contiguous waters.”
In April 1969, Kerry was sent to the Military Sea Transportation Service, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, in Brooklyn, N.Y. On Nov. 21, 1969, Kerry requested that he be released from his commitment to serve actively until August 1970 so that he could run for Congress.
He was promoted to full lieutenant on Jan. 1, 1970, and soon after was discharged from active duty and became a reservist.