Navy records detail Kerry Vietnam duty
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As reported last week, this newspaper reviewed Kerry's combat record in preparation for a book written by a team of Globe reporters, "John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography," to be published next week. The review found that Kerry acted heroically and under fire in many situations, and also found that questions were raised about the circumstances of Kerry's first purple heart. Kerry's commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Grant Hibbard, told the Globe that he raised questions about whether Kerry and his crew received enemy fire and about the minor nature of the wound, which Hibbard said resembled a fingernail scratch. Hibbard said he recalled that there was some correspondence about the matter and that Kerry eventually received the purple heart.
The records released yesterday did not include any correspondence indicating that questions were raised about the purple heart. The campaign earlier this year showed the Globe a document verifying that Kerry was treated for a shrapnel wound that led to the first purple heart, but a campaign official was quoted by the Associated Press yesterday as saying Kerry did not plan to post that document on the website because it was viewed as a private medical record. Given that decision, it is not clear whether the campaign has other documents that it is not posting due to their personal nature.
The campaign also did not post a copy of the official card describing the first purple heart wound or the after-action report for that event, which occurred on Dec. 2, 1968. The Navy Historical Center has said that it cannot locate a copy of the card or after-action report for the first purple heart, although it has verified that Kerry did receive the award.
In that first purple heart event, Kerry and two sailors were on a small boat, similar to a Boston Whaler, when they spotted men running from a boat along a beach. Kerry has said he believed he was facing the enemy and ordered the crew to open fire. During this event, Kerry has said, he was hit by a piece of shrapnel. The Kerry campaign has declined to respond to a question about whether Kerry believed he was hit by enemy fire, and Kerry has been quoted as saying he didn't know where the shrapnel came from.
The campaign did post an evaluation of Kerry by Hibbard. Hibbard's evaluation was brief and incomplete because Hibbard oversaw Kerry's service for only about two weeks. Kerry's duty under Hibbard included "counter infiltration operations against Viet Cong forces. Engaged in combat operations." Hibbard marked a few performance categories, noting that Kerry's initiative, cooperation, and bearing ranked among the top few. But unlike other evaluators who wrote about specific actions by Kerry, Hibbard did not do so, providing this explanation: "The short period LTJG Kerry was attached to Coast Division 14 prevents further evaluation."
After leaving that division, Kerry went on to command six-man swift boats. One of the evaluations from that period says that Kerry, in an event during what was supposed to be Christmas truce, "effectively suppressed enemy fire and is unofficially credited with 20 enemy killed in action." The report was signed by two of Kerry's commanders: George Elliott and Joseph Streuli. But both said in telephone interviews yesterday that they did not recall the fighting.
"That number is so high I just don't recall anyone coming back and saying we got 20 of the enemy," Elliott said, adding that the timing of the fighting meant it would have happened when Streuli oversaw Kerry. Streuli, however, said, "I just don't remember it."
One of Kerry's crewmates, Steven Michael Gardner, said he remembers the firefight but does not recall 20 enemy killed. He said the crew would not have been able to verify the deaths.
Kerry, in interviews with the Globe, has not claimed to have been responsible for 20 enemy dead. The Globe has previously described the event, quoting a Kerry crewmate who said the crewmate had killed an old man in the crossfire and citing reports that two South Vietnamese allies were wounded or killed and a machine-gun nest manned by a dozen Viet Cong was silenced. Kerry provided the Globe last year with a lengthy diary entry about the event. It describes the firefight, but it does not mention 20 enemy being killed.
Michael Kranish can be reached at email@example.com
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