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Veteran retracts criticism of Kerry

Page 3 of 3 -- The anti-Kerry group provided three affidavits from veterans on nearby boats questioning aspects of the award.

On that day, Kerry rescued James Rassmann, who went overboard as a result of an explosion. Rassmann appeared by Kerry's side during the Iowa caucus campaign and at last week's Democratic National Convention, telling the story of how Kerry pulled him out of the water while his boat was under fire.

As in the case of the Silver Star, it was Elliott who recommended Kerry for the Bronze Star. According to the recommendation signed by Elliott, a mine exploded under a boat accompanying Kerry's craft.

''Almost simultaneously, another mine detonated close aboard [Kerry's] PCF-94, knocking First Lieutenant Rassman [sic] into the water and wounding Lt. JG Kerry in the right arm."

Elliott then described how Kerry ''managed to pull Lt. Rassman aboard despite the painful wound in his right arm." Elliott concluded that Kerry had been ''calm, professional, and highly courageous in the face of enemy fire."

Elliott, in the interview yesterday, said that based on the affidavits of the veterans on other boats, he now thinks his assessment about the Bronze Star and third Purple Heart may have been based on poor information.

In one affidavit, for example, Van O'Dell, who said he had been in a boat near Kerry on that day, declared that Kerry had ''lied" about what happened on that day and said that Rassmann was not under enemy fire when Kerry pulled him aboard.

Elliott, asked about the contradiction between his recommendation and his new questioning of Kerry's third Purple Heart, responded, ''It makes me look kind of silly, to be perfectly honest."

But he said: ''I simply have no reason for these guys to be lying, and if they are lying in concert, it is one hell of a conspiracy. So, on the basis of all of the information that has come out, I have chosen to believe the other men. I absolutely do not know first hand."

Naval documents said that Kerry ''received shrapnel wounds in left buttocks and contusions on right forearm when a mine detonated close to PCF 94 while engaged in operations on river. Condition and prognosis excellent. Result of hostile action."

Rassmann, reached by telephone yesterday, said he has never had any question that Kerry deserved the Purple Heart. He said there were two separate events: One was earlier in the day, when he and Kerry blew up a rice cache, and the explosion caused some of the rice to hit Kerry, and perhaps some weapon fragments as well. The second involved a mine explosion as Kerry and Rassmann were on patrol. The explosion, Rassmann said, knocked him overboard and threw Kerry against the pilot house, injuring his arm.

Rassmann said that he has always believed that Kerry got the third Purple Heart solely for the injury to his arm as a result of the explosion in the water.

''If he got fragments in the buttocks due to the mine, that is new information to me," Rassmann said.

''I would say there is confusion. Maybe they did lump it together. It was my understanding he got it for the wound being thrown across the pilot house."

Either way, Rassmann said, Kerry deserved the third Purple Heart because such awards are given for injuries incurred in combat, and Kerry's arm injury qualified. He also stood by his recollection that he was under fire when rescued by Kerry.

Those questioning Kerry's medals, Rassmann said, are ''angry about John speaking out against the [Vietnam] war." 

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