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A Record Questioned

Sunday, August 22, 2004; Page A15

Members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have challenged several aspects of John F. Kerry's military record in addition to his account of the March 13, 1969, mission for which he was awarded the Bronze Star; Kerry's campaign has vigorously defended his record. Among the events at issue:

Kerry's first Purple Heart

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Dec. 2, 1968

What Kerry has said: On a predawn patrol, as he and other sailors were firing on suspected Vietcong, a "stinging piece of heat socked into my arm and just seemed to burn like hell," meaning he had taken a small piece of shrapnel.

What his challengers say: Kerry took a tiny fragment of shrapnel when he fired an M-79 grenade too close to his boat, inflicting his own wound, which was trivial. Self-inflicted wounds are ineligible for Purple Hearts.

What available military records say: A medical report on Kerry's injury was signed by J.C. Carreon, not Louis Letson, the doctor who treated Kerry, according to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Letson says that Carreon, a corpsman, routinely drew up reports on his behalf.

Christmas in Cambodia

December 1968

What Kerry has said: Over the years, he has repeatedly said he was illegally ordered into Cambodia during Christmas 1968. Last week, his campaign issued a statement saying he was in Cambodia but did not specify a date.

What his challengers say: At the time, Kerry was stationed in an area about 50 miles from the Cambodian border, and he never entered that country then or at any other time during his service in Vietnam.

What available military records say: Kerry's boat at the time, PCF-44, was 40 to 50 miles south of the Cambodian border at 7 a.m. on Christmas Eve. With a cruising speed of 23 knots, the boat could have reached the border in about two hours, but there is no archival evidence it did so.

Kerry's Silver Star

Feb. 28, 1969

What Kerry has said: While in command of a three-boat mission, his Swift boat was ambushed; he ordered his men to beach the boat so he could pursue the attacking Vietcong; a teenager with a grenade launcher popped out of a hole a few feet away; one of Kerry's men shot and wounded him in the leg, but he ran; Kerry, fearing the youth was trying to get far enough away to fire a grenade, chased him and shot him dead. Support for Kerry's account came yesterday from the only other surviving Swift boat commander to witness the incident, William B. Rood.

What his challengers say: Kerry's conduct was neither extraordinary nor medal-worthy; the decoration was based on false and incomplete information that Kerry provided and was not properly reviewed; ordering the craft beached reflected poor tactical judgment.

What available military records say: The Silver Star citation describes the beaching of the boat and says, "Without hesitation Lt. Kerry leaped ashore, pursued the man behind a hootch and killed him, capturing a B-40 rocket launcher with a round in the chamber."

SOURCES: "Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War" by Douglas Brinkley; "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry" by John E. O'Neill and Jerome R. Corsi; the Los Angeles Times; and military records on the Kerry campaign Web site.


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