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New Clash on Military Service

Attacked on Medals, Kerry Cites Bush's Record in Guard

By Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 27, 2004; Page A01

WHEELING, W.Va., April 26 -- John F. Kerry on Monday sharply questioned President Bush's National Guard service in the 1970s and accused the president of spreading false information about the Massachusetts Democrat's Vietnam War protests of 33 years ago.

Kerry, described by aides as fuming over Republican attacks on his Vietnam service and antiwar protests, unleashed one of his most pointed attacks against Bush, as the presidential campaign and debate over national security issues past and present turned personal.

Cheney: John Kerry "has given us ample grounds to doubt" his judgment on national security.
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"This comes from a president who can't even show or prove that he showed up for duty in the National Guard," Kerry said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "And I'm not going to stand for it."

Kerry was responding in part to criticism Sunday from Bush adviser Karen Hughes about whether he tossed away his service medals to protest the war in 1971. Kerry was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts during two tours in Vietnam.

The assault on Kerry by the president's allies, including Vice President Cheney, continued Monday. They portrayed the presumptive Democratic nominee as weak on defense and dishonest about his antiwar activities.

"The senator from Massachusetts has given us ample grounds to doubt the judgment and the attitude he brings to bear on vital issues of national security," Cheney said in Missouri.

The dueling charges reflect the effort of each side to discredit the national security credentials of the other in an election dominated by Iraq and the fight against terrorism. Yet strategists from both camps say Bush and Kerry run the risk of appearing too political or too focused on long-ago events.

Kerry has maintained for years that he tossed his ribbons, not medals, along with the medals of two veterans who could not attend a protest rally in Washington. But during a 1971 interview re-aired Monday on "Good Morning America," Kerry said he jettisoned as many as nine war medals.

Kerry said on the ABC program Monday that the terms "ribbons" and "medals" were interchangeable. "The U.S. Navy pamphlet calls them medals," he said. "We referred to them as the symbols -- they were representing medals, ribbons. Countless veterans threw the ribbons back."

He charged Bush and the GOP of trying to discredit him with a "phony controversy." Then Kerry, who has avoided talking about the questions over Bush's National Guard service, said: "George Bush has yet to explain to America whether or not to tell the truth about whether he showed up for duty."

David Wade, Kerry's spokesman, said it is clear that the attacks on Kerry were orchestrated by the Republicans, including the release of the videotape. On Thursday, GOP House members attacked Kerry for his antiwar activities, and then Hughes, a close friend and adviser to the president, criticized Kerry about the medals 12 hours before the video was released. "He only pretended to throw his [medals]," she said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition."

"Now, I can understand if, out of conscience, you take a principled stand, and you would decide that you were so opposed to this that you would actually throw your medals. But to pretend to do so -- I think that's very revealing," Hughes said.

Wade said: "We love this fight. We won't be lectured about his honorable service and noble opposition to a war gone wrong from Republican hacks working for a man who can't prove he showed up to do his duty. If they want to compare what the two men were doing in 1971, we will win that character test any day."

Republican officials said the issue of the medals could have a mixed impact, since it draws attention to Kerry's heroism. So Bush's political machine worked to steer the debate toward broader questions about Kerry's veracity.

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