Military medals are becoming a big political issue. John Kerry got them but the Republicans say he didn't deserve them.

Now a book is out by men who fought in Vietnam who claim Kerry was not a hero. Because of the uproar, everyone is questioning the medals GIs have won in all wars.

I would like to say here and now that the Good Conduct Medal I received during World War II was legitimate and earned. You win it for exemplary service, efficiency and fidelity -- three things I was noted for in the Marines, in spite of what my political opponents say to the contrary.

My record is spotless except for that night in Jacksonville when I got into a brawl with some loudmouth sailors and threw a beer bottle at one after he called me a name that no self-respecting Marine would stand for.

After I threw a bottle at him, he picked up a chair and threw it at me. This was the signal for my buddies to throw chairs at the other sailors in the bar.

The fighting stopped when the Shore Patrol arrived, and since they were from the Navy, they took the swabbies' side.

I thought I had lost my Good Conduct Medal, but my CO told me the next morning that, since the fighting took place off base, I was still entitled to it.

Some of the Navy veterans told Fox News the other day about Jacksonville, but they weren't there. They were in another bar at the time.

After Jacksonville, I kept my record clean until Hawaii. I went into town, just like Montgomery Clift in "From Here to Eternity," and fell in love with a girl from a house of ill repute. I was seen taking her to a Chinese restaurant after curfew.

My sergeant, a gorilla, reported me and said happily, "No Good Conduct Medal for you, sonny boy."

Years later, when he heard I got one, he called Bill O'Reilly and told him about what happened in Hawaii. O'Reilly believed him.

I went to Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. There was no way not to win a Good Conduct Medal. There were no trees, no women and no beer bottles to throw at sailors.

After a year I returned and had a weekend in San Francisco. I have no idea what happened there. I know I didn't fight and I didn't fall in love -- and that is all.

Some guys in my outfit told O'Reilly I didn't deserve the medal after what happened in Frisco, which I don't remember.

Following San Francisco, I made it my business to make sure I was awarded the medal in case I wanted to go into politics.

Brinkerhoff, who had the top bunk over me at Cherry Point, said, "Don't make a big deal of the medal. It's nothing to be ashamed of, but the other side will claim you didn't win it honestly. No one wants to run against an American hero."

I never wanted to run for any office, but now that Kerry's medals are being questioned, so is mine. I have no choice but to defend myself.

I wear the medal only on formal occasions, like the Marine Ball and dinner at the White House.

(c) 2004, Tribune Media Services