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Kerry rejects medals dispute

Page 3 of 3 -- Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in its Washington office, concurred. ''People said things like that -- all medals are ribbons, but not all ribbons are medals," he said.

But John Rowan, who served in the Air Force in Vietnam and is now president of Vietnam Veterans of America's New York State Council, said he ''never heard people mix up medals and ribbons." Rowan, who, like Kerry, later opposed the war, and described himself as a Democrat who planned to vote for the senator added: ''Veterans knew the difference between medals and ribbons. . . . You can get a ribbon for many things. Though of course, at the time of the protests we didn't give a damn much about those awards anymore."

In his column on today's op-ed page, Oliphant describes witnessing the April 1971 event at the Capitol, and says his daughter has recently joined the Kerry staff.

The medals controversy distracted from the Kerry campaign's message of the day, the start of his ''Jobs First Express" charter bus tour across four swing states such as West Virginia, where Kerry championed the interests of coal miners and steelworkers, and Pennsylvania, where he spoke about free trade and job creation to union workers.

Even his endorsement by the United Mine Workers of America, outside a coal mine near Wheeling, W.Va., was overshadowed by his appearance on ABC after ''Good Morning America" aired the 1971 footage. Kerry appeared on the program from the mine site, scrapping tensely with interviewer Charlie Gibson, who at one point intimated that the medals controversy might derail Kerry's presidential bid. When the segment was over, Kerry turned to two aides and complained, ''God, they're doing the bidding of the Republican National Committee."

Kerry appeared a little reserved as he shook hands with mine workers and accepted a gift, a gold-colored ''safety lamp" that miners use to determine whether there is enough oxygen in a mine. ''I can carry this in Congress to see if the oxygen goes out," Kerry said of the lamp. Later, he put on a hard hat and red, white, and blue-colored miner's lamp and rode an elevator 990 feet below ground to explore a series of shafts. There, he quickly summarized his plans for job creation and health care for 10 men coming off the midnight shift.

Bush won West Virginia over Vice President Al Gore in 2000, yet some union members and others who voted for the president have expressed frustration with his steel tariff policies and the war in Iraq. During a jobs forum featuring Kerry yesterday, his friend Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, said that Gore did not try hard enough to win the state, which would have swung the election his way, and that Kerry will not make that mistake. Yet the Bush-Kerry military history did not recede even at that event, as Rockefeller extolled Kerry as a war hero and said he could ''think of a number of people" who did not serve in battle in Vietnam, including himself.

Patrick Healy can be reached at phealy@globe.com. 

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