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John Kerry: Candidate in the Making

  Kerry, left, sails with President John F. Kennedy aboard the 62-foot Coast Guard yawl Manitou in Narragansett Bay on Aug. 26, 1962.
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(White House Photo / Robert Knudsen, courtesy JFK Library)

The Globe today begins a weeklong examination of the life and record of Senator John F. Kerry, whose political roots in Massachusetts go back to the early 1970s and who is now vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. In the months ahead, the Globe will examine the careers and records of other presidential contenders.

A privileged youth, a taste for risk

By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff, 6/15/2003


Events in Kerry's life

  photo galleries

Kerry's life in pictures

  the series

Part One:
A privileged youth, a taste for risk
Handwritten letter to his parents
Transcript of the letter

Part Two:
Heroism, growing concern over war
Kerry's journal from Vietnam
Where Kerry served in Vietnam

Part Three:
With antiwar role, high visibility
Clips from Watergate tapes
Transcripts of Watergate tapes
Doonesbury cartoon about Kerry

Part Four:
First campaign ends in defeat
Sampling of Lowell Sun coverage

Part Five:
Taking one prize, then a bigger one
Kerry took loss in tax shelter
Kerry's tax shelter documents
Freeze Voter '84 memo

Part Six:
With probes, making his mark

Part Seven:
At center of power, seeking summit A quest for the edge
Senator Kerry's voting record

John Forbes Kerry swerved his two-seat plane across San Francisco Bay, heading straight toward the Golden Gate. ``Let's fly under the bridge!'' Kerry shouted to his sole passenger and close friend, David Thorne. Thorne tried not to panic as the tiny craft buzzed low across the swells.

Most students who had graduated from Yale with Kerry the previous year knew him as the ultimate Brahmin, the studious and serious class orator who longed to run for president someday. But Thorne and other members of the university's elite Skull and Bones society knew another side of Kerry: He was a young man drawn to danger. During his senior year he "majored in flying," as Kerry put it, learning aerobatics and performing loop-de-loops instead of focusing on his studies.

Thorne also knew that Kerry had been fascinated with the legend of a Yale professor who once looped a bridge, pulling a 360 around the span.

It was a summer day in 1967. The sky was clear as the Golden Gate Bridge came into view. Kerry clung to the controls of the rented T-34, similar to those used for military training, and the two young Naval officers headed toward the famous span.


The plane jerked and veered. Out on the wing, the feet of an unfortunate seagull stuck out like a scene from a cartoon. Seconds later the scene flipped from Looney Tunes to Alfred Hitchcock, as more birds appeared in front of them. Suck one into an engine and a young pilot's life story could conclude right there: Yale aviator, dreamed of being president, killed on joyride.

Kerry, the son of a World War II test pilot, pulled up the nose of his small plane, ascending beyond the dangerous flock of birds.

"We were worried the wing would come off," Thorne recalled. Instead, Kerry steered the aircraft away from the bridge and toward a nearby airfield, leaving behind whatever stunts were lurking inside his 23-year-old brain.

In the coming years Kerry would take countless risks, most of them more calculated than flying a plane toward the Golden Gate Bridge. But the episode underscores a life lived on the edge, foolhardy daring matched by controlled focus. He is, too, a man defined by inner conflicts: The gung-ho Vietnam hero turned articulate antiwar protester; the shaggy-haired liberal rebel turned feisty prosecutor; a politician whose core beliefs included a skeptical view of government as a result of his combat experience.

The rap on John Kerry is that he is an aloof politician who lacks a core. Part of his personal story feeds the image: Kerry is a man without geographic roots; his youth stretched through a dozen towns across two continents. He enjoyed the cachet of illustrious family names but not always the bonds of a household. By the time he was 10 years old, he was shipped off for an eight-year odyssey at boarding schools in Switzerland and New England, where ``home'' was a dormitory or an aunt's estate.

More than any one place, his ties were to a social milieu -- that rarefied world of wealth and privilege where the French is fluent and the manners impeccable. As a young man, Bill Clinton got a chance to shake JFK's hand on a Boys Nation outing; young John Kerry dated Jacqueline Kennedy's half-sister and once sailed Narragansett Bay with JFK at the helm.

But Kerry did not fully belong to this elite world, either. His father's government salary, combined with his own struggles with money, left him planted further on the outskirts of New England's ruling class than many realized. The boy who was educated at patrician prep schools grew into a gentleman without significant means, part of a landless aristocracy that one might find in a Jane Austen novel. He married wealthy wives whose net worth dwarfed his own.

There is a boldness, and brashness, about Kerry that can breed resentment, but it has also served him well in political life. After winning medals for his courage in combat, he became such an eloquent critic of the war that President Nixon and his staff secretly plotted to undermine him. In Massachusetts as a prosecutor and in Washington as a senator, Kerry often proved himself to be a crusading and articulate investigator and lawmaker willing to stand up to prevailing political winds.

Now the young man in a hurry is a 59-year-old senator determined to turn a boyhood dream of following in JFK's footsteps into the reality of a Democratic primary win -- and, ultimately, a victory over George W. Bush.

The family tree

Kerry's reputation as a Boston Brahmin has deep roots, but only on one side of the family. His maternal ancestors include the Forbes family, which started the Boston-China trade and which still owns estates around the world frequented by Kerry, and the Winthrops, who produced the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Kerry name on his father's side led some of his Irish-American constituents to assume he had Irish roots.

Here the story takes a turn. For the past 15 years or so, Kerry says, he knew his paternal grandmother was probably Jewish, and he also knew the Kerrys came from the former Austrian empire. But he said he did not know, until informed by the Globe earlier this year, that his grandfather was a Czech Jew named Fritz Kohn who changed his name to Frederick Kerry to escape a violent strain of anti-Semitism. According to a story passed down to at least one family member, Kohn and his siblings randomly dropped a pencil on a map of Europe, spotted Ireland's County Kerry, and adopted the name. Kohn and his wife, Ida Lowe, who was born Jewish in Budapest, changed their name to Kerry, were baptized as Catholics in 1902, and immigrated to the United States in 1905.

For several years the Kerrys prospered, with Frederick working as a business consultant in Chicago and then moving the family to Massachusetts. In 1915, Richard, the father of future Senator Kerry, was born. By 1921, the Kerrys were wealthy enough to park a Cadillac outside their home at 10 Downing Road in Brookline. At the time, Frederick Kerry was described in the Globe as ``a prominent man in the shoe business.''

But on Nov. 23, 1921, Frederick Kerry walked into the washroom of Boston's Copley Plaza Hotel, pulled out a handgun, and shot himself in the head. Just days earlier he had filed a will revealing that his debts nearly equaled his assets. Six-year-old Richard Kerry was left without a father, though enough family money was available to send Richard to Yale University and Harvard Law School.

During an extended trip to Europe in 1937, Richard Kerry took a sculpture class in the French coastal town of St. Brieuc. Kerry was a dashing figure, the sort of man who later would sail a 35-foot ketch across the Atlantic. He quickly caught the attention of the wealthy Forbes family, led by Massachusetts expatriate and Harvard law graduate James Grant Forbes. Forbes's wife was Margaret Winthrop, a descendant of the Winthrops who had helped establish Massachusetts.

When the Forbeses invited Massachusetts compatriot Richard Kerry to the family estate, Kerry was attracted to Rosemary, one of the couple's 11 children. Rosemary, who had planned to become a nurse, fell in love and promised to leave Europe to marry Richard, who was to become a US Army Air Corps pilot.

Then came the Nazis. In 1940 the Germans marched into the Brittany village and took over the Forbes estate, using the elegant compound as a lookout over the English Channel. Rosemary was suddenly forced into a dangerous journey to evade German bombers. As she reached Paris, she wrote a letter to her fiance.

``Dick Dearest,'' she wrote on July 14, 1940. ``We left Thursday June 13 at 8:30 p.m. just after the gas and electricity had been shut off and explosions were going off where they were blowing up gasoline tanks. . . . At dawn the Germans entered Paris. Next day, we pushed on towards Orleans, missed being bombed . . . by taking a longer route though we saw the planes going on the mission of death and had to duck their machine guns. . . . I am so scared of coming to America but with you I know everything will be all right.''

Childhood years

Kerry, age 4, flanked by his sisters Diana (left) and Peggy when they lived in Millis. By the time Kerry was 7, the family was in Washington, and politics was dinner conversation.

Six months later, with the Nazis still occupying Rosemary's house, Richard and Rosemary were married in Alabama, where Richard was training as an air cadet for the Army Air Corps. John Kerry, the second of four children, was born on Dec. 11, 1943, in Denver, where his father was briefly hospitalized for tuberculosis, an illness that prevented him from seeing combat.

In 1944 the Germans turned their artillery on the old Forbes mansion rather than allow an American general to use it. By the time young John Kerry saw the family estate, when he was about 4 years old, all that was left was an old stairwell, a burned-out structure, and some old German bunkers useful mostly for games of hide-and-seek.

This was the crucible into which the Democratic presidential candidate was born -- a marriage forged in war, a home ravaged by the enemy, and a US liberating force seen as the very embodiment of all that was right with American war power. Soldiering appealed to the young Kerry.

So did politics. His father worked for the State Department, and his mother was an active volunteer in community service. Kerry lived his first year in Groton and his next five in another Massachusetts town, Millis. But by the time he was 7, the family had moved to Washington. Politics was part of dinner-table conversation. ``Growing up in Washington, our father in government service, paying close attention to presidential elections, and then along came John F. Kennedy, a Catholic from Massachusetts,'' like the Kerrys, noted his brother, Cameron Kerry. ``All of these things resonated -- all of the excitement that represented for lots of people of our generation. I think that is really when John began to be actively interested in politics.''

When Kerry was 11, his father was appointed legal adviser to James B. Conant, head of the US High Commission for Germany, which later became the US mission to the country. Kerry was sent for the next two years to boarding schools in Switzerland, joining his family in West Berlin only on vacations. By the time Kerry turned 13, his parents decided that they would stay in Europe, and that -- in what Kerry calls a ``Victorian'' process -- their son would return to New England for his education. ``My parents were fabulous and loving and caring and supportive, but they weren't always around,'' Kerry recalled.

The constant shuffling between boarding schools, he noted, was ``to my chagrin, and everlasting damnation -- I was always moving on and saying goodbye. It kind of had an effect on you; it steeled you. There wasn't a lot of permanence and roots. For kids, [that's] not the greatest thing.''

Kerry, the eldest son, experienced a distance from his father that was more than geographical; Richard Kerry retrained a lingering bitterness over his father's suicide. ``My dad was sort of painfully remote and shut off and angry about the loss of his sister [who had polio and cancer] and the lack of a father,'' Kerry recalled.

Among the array of relatives who looked after John, none was more important to his education than great-aunt Clara Winthrop, who had no children of her own. She owned an estate in Manchester-by-the-Sea, complete with a bowling alley inside a red barn. Winthrop offered to pay for much of John's prep school education, an expensive proposition far beyond the means of Kerry's parents. ``It was a great and sweet and nice thing from an aunt who had no place to put [her money],'' Kerry said. Such a gift today might be worth about $30,000 per year, given the school's typical annual cost before subsidies.

``We weren't rich,'' explained Kerry's sister, Diana. ``We certainly had some members of the family we thought of as rich. We were the [beneficiaries] of a great-aunt who had no children. My father was on salary from the State Department, and my mother had some family money but not major.''

In 1957, after his father had become the chief political officer at the US Embassy in Norway, the 13-year-old Kerry entered the Fessenden School in West Newton, Mass. There he began a pattern of filling his family void by forming close friendships with like-minded boys, including Richard Pershing, grandson of the famed US general John Joseph Pershing. Like Kerry, the young Pershing had been educated in Europe; the intertwining of their later lives would leave a deep imprint on Kerry.

After a year at Fessenden, Kerry entered the prestigious St. Paul's School, in Concord, N.H. To step inside the school's campus is to step inside a world that seems frozen in an age of privilege. Much of the 2,000-acre campus, nestled amid white pines along the shores of Turkey Pond, features a neo-Gothic architectural style that echoes Oxford or Cambridge. Meals are served in an Elizabethan-style dining hall with flying buttresses.

The school, boys-only at the time, was a study in structure. Breakfast began at dawn, followed by compulsory chapel at 8:10 a.m. Classes ran from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., followed by afternoon athletics. Two more classes ran from 4:50 p.m. to 6:15 p.m., followed by dinner and then hours of homework.

``These days [it] would be called appallingly regimented,'' said Kerry's former English teacher, Herbert Church, who taught there for 27 years.

Kerry entered St. Paul's as a short, pudgy boy focused on intellectual pursuits. Within a couple years, however, he rocketed up in height. He was one of the tallest boys on campus and soon became a sports standout, using his newfound height to advantage in hockey and soccer. One of his greatest pleasures was strapping on his ice skates and speeding down the glassy black ice of Turkey Pond, with the wind rippling across the exposed expanse.

Kerry's Latin teacher, George Tracy, has no memory of Kerry's performance in class. But he does recall, vividly, Kerry's star-turn on the school hockey team, which didn't lose a game during a memorable season. Another Kerry talent, the teacher said, was debate, in which he impressed Tracy as ``one of the most brilliant people I've ever known.''

At St. Paul's, Kerry founded the John Winant Society, an organization that still exists to debate major issues of the day. Kerry recalled delivering an award-winning speech titled ``The Plight of the Negro.'' St. Paul's officials could not find a copy of the speech but did unearth a speech Kerry gave for the Concordian Literary Society that won the top prize. It was titled: ``Resolved: that the growth of spectator sports in the western world in the last half century is an indication of the decline of western civilization.''

Kerry was one of a handful of boys with Democratic leanings and a Catholic on a campus dominated by Republican Episcopalians. That became most painfully clear when Kerry delivered a speech in favor of the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, which Kerry says was the first political speech of his life. St. Paul's was firmly in Nixon's corner.

After five years at St. Paul's, Kerry was eager to move on to his father's alma mater, Yale University, where his liberal views and political ambitions were more welcomed. It was during the summer of 1962, between high school and college, that Kerry solidified his Kennedy ties. He worked briefly for the US Senate bid of Edward M. Kennedy, handing out leaflets but apparently never meeting the candidate. He read a book about President Kennedy's World War II experiences on a patrol boat, PT-109, which one day would help inspire Kerry to volunteer for duty on a Navy patrol boat in Vietnam. And Kerry had begun to spend time with Janet Auchincloss, the half-sister of the first lady.

Kerry's friends became fascinated with the striking parallels between John Forbes Kerry and the American president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Aside from the identical initials, both lived at least part of their childhood in Massachusetts and shared a similar political philosophy. Kerry even sounded eerily like Kennedy, with the same deep Boston accent, even though Kerry had spent much of his life outside the Bay State.

``[John] Kennedy was certainly a model for him,'' said Daniel Barbiero, Kerry's roommate at St. Paul's and Yale. ``He admired the man greatly, admired the man's ability to speak and write.''

Meeting a hero

Kerry (rear, second from right) played on the 1959 lacrosse team at St. Paul's in Concord, N.H. Growing to 6 feet, 4 inches, he became a sports standout at the school.

In August 1962, Janet Auchincloss invited Kerry to her family's palatial estate, Hammersmith Farm in Rhode Island, which was serving as the summer White House. ``We were friendly, sort of beginning to date, half-date, and she invited me in the summer of 1962,'' Kerry said. President Kennedy was visiting, and in a scene right out of ``Forrest Gump,'' the young Kerry had an extraordinary opportunity to visit with the president.

Arriving late for his date, Kerry was directed into the house and saw a man standing against a wall, his back turned. As Kerry approached, he realized it was his hero. ``This guy is standing there, he turns around, and it is the president of the United States,'' Kerry recalled. ``I remember distinctly saying, `Hi, Mr. Kennedy,' and we chatted. He said, `Oh, what are you doing?' I said, `I just graduated from St. Paul's. I am about to go to Yale.' ''

``He was incredibly warm, incredibly friendly, just relaxed,'' Kerry recalled. After a conversation about his brother's Massachusetts Senate race, the president took Kerry down to the dock, where they and some others went sailing on a Coast Guard yawl in Narragansett Bay. A White House photographer snapped the scene on the Manitou: There is Kennedy, at his handsomest in white pants, blue-as-the-bay shirt, and dark sunglasses; and there is Kerry, his white shirt-sleeves rolled up, leaning back, soaking up the sun and the presence of power.

A few weeks later Kerry once again met with Kennedy, this time at a September 1962 America's Cup race off the coast of Rhode Island. A photographer again captured the scene. Shortly afterward Kerry wrote to the president: ``Having met you several times this summer at Hammersmith Farm, and having worked for your brother in Massachusetts during the same time, I am to say the least an ardent Kennedy supporter,'' Kerry wrote in a letter now stored at the JFK Library. Kerry closed by thanking Kennedy ``for a very unforgettable and exciting time the weekend of the America's Cup races.''

But the relationship with Janet Auchincloss was short-lived. It turned out that Kerry's close friend, David Thorne, was dating Auchincloss at the same time. Neither romance lasted, and the deep friendship between the two young men endured. Both had been partly raised in Europe and spoke at least one foreign language. Thorne, who came from what he called a ``rock-ribbed Republican family,'' and Kerry, whose family leaned Democratic, nevertheless shared a common continental viewpoint. One summer the two college students toured Europe.

From their European youths, Thorne and Kerry had developed a passion for soccer, enabling both to make Yale's varsity team. Kerry played right wing and became a starter late in his college career, including a 1965 game in which he scored three goals to help defeat Harvard for the championship. But that was not the most memorable game.

Late during a game on Nov. 22, 1963, a ripple went through the crowd, growing louder by the second. News was spreading: President Kennedy had been shot. It had been just 15 months since Kerry had gone sailing with the president. Kerry was in shock. After the game, he tried to walk off his despair into the early hours of the morning.

``We were all sort of numb,'' he recalled.

When Kerry was 20 years old, he visited Thorne's family and met David's twin sister, Julia. The Thorne family, successful in Wall Street finance, was worldly and wealthy. Julia's grandfather and a partner once bought South Carolina's Hilton Head Island as a hunting reserve. The Thornes owned an estate on Long Island and -- like the Kerrys -- lived for long periods in Europe. Julia spent part of her childhood commuting between a family home in Rome, another in Tuscany, an estate on Long Island, and a boarding school in Virginia.

``I was what you might call a high society jet-setter,'' Julia Thorne said. ``I had been brought up in this rarefied world. My mother was very Edwardian in her value system. She had an idea of what was a decorous life for a young lady, and that didn't include going to colleges. It was more about knowing the right people in the right palaces. It was a waste of a good mind.''

As their romance blossomed, Kerry became Julia's tutor, talking ceaselessly about his views on peace and politics and art and history. Kerry had found a best friend and future brother-in-law in David and a fiancee in Julia.

The military question

Kerry joined President Kennedy and his entourage watching the 1962 America's Cup races on Narragansett Bay, off Newport, R.I. "I am to say the least an ardent Kennedy supporter," he wrote the president shortly afterward.

During most of Kerry's years at Yale, 1962 to 1966, his world revolved around his cozy dormitory at Jonathan Edwards College, a Gothic-style quadrangle complex. Kerry lived in a three-room suite, complete with fireplace, along with his roommates, St. Paul's buddy Barbiero and Harvey Bundy, whose uncles William and McGeorge Bundy were part of the Kennedy administration brain trust and among the most aggressive proponents of escalating the US involvement in Vietnam.

When William Bundy, then assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, came to campus to speak in support of US involvement in the Vietnam War, he was greeted as a living legacy to the slain president. After his speech, he visited his nephew's suite and talked with the roommates, including Kerry, into the wee hours of the morning. ``[We were] all drinking beer and sitting around and talking about, you know, Southeast Asia and domino [theories] and war,'' Kerry recalled. Bundy's overriding theme to the young men was this: ``We need you. We need you to go into the officer program and to go to Vietnam.''

The visit nudged the students in the direction of Vietnam. ``I don't know that he was the prime mover in us going,'' added Barbiero, ``but he was certainly an influence. He was an assistant secretary of state.''

As graduation approached, Kerry knew that he had three choices: be drafted, seek a deferment for graduate school, or join up and position himself to become an officer. ``It was clear to me that I was going to be at risk,'' Kerry recalled. ``My draft board . . . said, `Look, the likelihood is you are probably going to be drafted.' I said, `If I'm going to be drafted, I'd like to have responsibility and be an officer.' ''

At the same time, Kerry was losing interest in academics and was ready for adventure. ``I cut classes,'' Kerry said. ``I didn't do much. I spent a lot of time learning to fly.''

Kerry also had political ambitions -- and was aware of how much military service had served John Kennedy's career. ``John would clearly say, `If I could make my dream come true, it would be running for president of the United States,' '' recalled William Stanberry, Kerry's debate team partner for three years. ``It was not a casual interest. It was a serious, stated interest. His lifetime ambition was to be in political office.''

Why? What drove Kerry? ``I don't think there was any one specific issue, such as `I am going to spend my life working for racial integration or world peace.' '' Stanberry said. ``I don't think he had pet issues as much as he simply said, `The life of a politician is the life I want. I want to speak out on issues. That is what I want to do for a job.' ''

Upon his graduation in 1966, Kerry was given the honor of delivering the class oration. Many at Yale noticed that this young man, on his way to becoming a commissioned officer in Vietnam, was critical of the war -- and the use of American military might against communist regimes.

``What was an excess of isolationism has become an excess of interventionism,'' Kerry said in the oration. ``And this Vietnam War has found our policy makers forcing Americans into a strange corner . . . that if victory escapes us, it would not be the fault of those who lead, but of the doubters who stabbed them in the back -- notions all too typical of an America that had to find Americans to blame for the takeover in China by the communists, and then for the takeover in Cuba.''

Then, in a sentence that harkened back to the Nazi aggression that his mother had fled, he said: ``The United States must, I think, bring itself to understand that the policy of intervention that was right for Western Europe does not and cannot find the same application to the rest of the world.''

In what may have been an allusion to his own plans to enlist, Kerry added: ``We have not really lost the desire to serve. We question the very roots of what we are serving.''

Kerry's critique of American policy stood out at a time when there were few protests, and most of the public assumed Vietnam would be a winnable war, producing a fresh crop of military heroes. The speech also reflected an evolution in Kerry's own thinking about the war.

Earlier in his college life, Kerry had been ``gung-ho: had to show the flag,'' his father, Richard, a staunch critic of Vietnam policy, told the Globe in 1996, four years before his death. By his senior year, Richard Kerry added, his son had ``matured considerably.''

While a senior at Yale, Kerry had been inducted into the secret Skull and Bones society, an exclusive club for Yale men destined to do great things -- or at least for those who were or sought to be well connected. Only 15 students were chosen each year, and Kerry was picked mostly because he was viewed as a future political leader, according to John Shattuck, who was a year ahead of Kerry and recommended his friend's selection. Kerry spent hours inside the tomblike society headquarters. Girls and sex and money were inevitably discussed. But what fellow ``bonesmen'' most remember is how Kerry steered the talk toward Vietnam.

``You had this group of the elite of the elite selected out of the Yale senior class who probably were most adept at gazing at their own navels and probably thought the world rotated around them,'' said one of Kerry's fellow bonesmen, Dr. Alan Cross. ``You had this one among us who saw this growing quagmire in Vietnam we were heading into with good intention and certain results. His statements were really a clarion: `Hey, guys, this is happening, this is going to define our generation.' ''

Off to war

'Dearest Mama and Papa,
What can I say? I am empty, bitter, angry and desperately lost with nothing but war, violence, and more war around me...'

John Kerry, in a letter to his parents
after learning that his friend, Richard Pershing, died in Vietnam. See the letter
Transcript of the letter

Of the 15 members of Skull and Bones, an extraordinary bond formed between the four on their way to Vietnam: Kerry; Thorne; Fred Smith, a Kerry flying partner who would later found Federal Express; and, Pershing, Kerry's close friend since age 13.

All four could have used their connections to avoid or at least delay military service. But Pershing set the tone. ``When a war comes along, you go,'' the grandson of the general of the US armies would tell the bonesmen. If this were a movie, Pershing would be the dashing heroic figure, the fun-loving troublemaker who always got the girl and didn't have a care in the world.

``John was very serious, very interested in politics,'' said Dr. George Brown, a fellow bonesman who was close to both. ``Pershing was the opposite. He was the fun lover, get us all into trouble. Pershing was the bon vivant. Fitzgerald would have enjoyed writing about Pershing. He was our hero, because of his charismatic personality. He would run up these incredible bar tabs. He took me to restaurants in New York City where all the women knew him.''

Pershing's dazzling girlfriend from Smith College caught everyone's eye: Kitty Hawks, the smart, witty daughter of the legendary Howard Hawks, who directed ``The Big Sleep'' and ``Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.'' Reached at her home in New York, Kitty Hawks described her time with Pershing and Kerry and the other bonesmen in romantic terms: ``To fall in love with one of them was to fall in love with all of them. It was an amazing time. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about it.''

Hawks added: ``There was an element of sobriety to Johnny, and Dick didn't have that. All of us thought [Kerry] would be an important person in this country somehow. It didn't feel so much as ambition as destiny, that this was bound to happen to him in one way or another.''

With Pershing leading the way, the quartet of bonesmen headed into military training. In early February of 1968, Kerry shipped out to the Gulf of Tonkin aboard the USS Gridley, a guided-missile frigate. By then, the antiwar movement was heating up, and Kerry carried with him the memory of seeing demonstrators in Los Angeles beaten by police.

As the Gridley crossed the Pacific, an officer bearing a telegram tracked Kerry down on the deck.

``Do you know a guy named Dick Pershing?'' the officer asked. The officer handed him the paper, and Kerry feared the worst as he opened it.

On Feb. 17, 1968, the telegram said, Richard Pershing had died due to ``wounds received while on a combat mission when his unit came under hostile small-arms and rocket attack while searching for remains of a missing member of his unit.''

Kerry was devastated. The war was no longer an abstract policy issue. One of his best friends, bearing one of the most famous names in US military history, had died trying to find a fallen comrade. Kerry couldn't attend the funeral because he was so far at sea. Instead, he wrote to Pershing's parents, then to his own.

``Dearest Mama and Papa,'' Kerry wrote in his stylistic script. ``What can I say? I am empty, bitter, angry and desperately lost with nothing but war, violence and more war around me. I just don't believe it was meant to be this cruel and senseless -- that anyone could possibly get near to Persh to take his life. What a Goddamn total waste. Why? . . . I have never felt so void of feeling before. . . . With the loss of Persh something has gone out of me -- he was so much a part of my life at the irreplaceable, incomparable moments of love, concerns, anger and compassion exchanged in Bones that can never be replaced.''

There was no way to turn back. Pershing was heading home in a casket, Kerry was heading to Vietnam. A war was waiting.

Alex Beam of the Globe staff and librarians Richard Pennington and Lisa Tuite contributed to this report. Michael Kranish can be reached by e-mail at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/15/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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