Kerry In Combat: Setting The Record Straight

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John Kerry offers his service in Vietnam as proof that he can keep America safe. But in two TV ads and a best-selling book, an anti-Kerry group has accused the Senator of dishonesty and cowardice during the war. Kerry hit back last week, accusing Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT) of doing the President's dirty work. The Bush campaign denies a connection. SBVT's biggest donor is Houston developer Bob Perry, who has given more than $4 million to Republicans, including Bush, and is a close friend of Bush adviser Karl Rove's. Of SBVT's 254 members, only one served on a boat Kerry commanded; Kerry's 10 other crewmates back him. Some group members say their real beef with Kerry is his antiwar activism, during which he testified to the Senate that "war crimes" by U.S. soldiers were common. He now says some of his remarks were excessive. Here's a look at the group's allegations.

THE CHARGE Kerry lied to get the first of three Purple Hearts. SBVT alleges that the wound was a minor, self-inflicted scratch. Kerry says on Dec. 2, 1968, he and his two crewmates that night fired on men on a riverbank. It's unclear if someone fired back, but shrapnel hit Kerry's arm. Louis Letson, a medical officer at the time, says that he treated Kerry's wound and that it was too small to justify a medal. William Schacte Jr. says he was on the boat that night and there was no enemy fire; he says Kerry was injured by a grenade Kerry himself launched.

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THE EVIDENCE Kerry's medical record was signed not by Letson but by corpsman J.C. Carreon. Letson claims Carreon routinely signed forms for him. Letson told the Los Angeles Times he heard the wound was self-inflicted thirdhand — from his subordinates, who heard it from Kerry's two crewmates. They deny saying that and insist Schacte wasn't on the boat that night. The military grants a Purple Heart for any wound requiring medical attention that was inflicted during action against the enemy.

THE CHARGE Kerry lied to win his Silver Star. SBVT charges that Kerry exaggerated his role in a battle on Feb. 28, 1969. In charge of a three-boat patrol that was ambushed, Kerry ordered the boats to beach in front of their attackers and engage them head on. Kerry's boat was providing cover when a rocket hit it. Kerry jumped ashore to chase a Viet Cong with a rocket launcher and killed him. SBVT says Kerry simply shot a wounded teenager in the back. Former Lieut. Commander George Elliott, Kerry's direct superior, said in a recent affidavit that he wouldn't have awarded Kerry a Silver Star if he had known the details.

THE EVIDENCE Kerry's crewmates say the boat was in clear danger. Besides, Kerry won the medal for leadership during the whole battle, and Elliott describes the entire episode in the citation he wrote. Elliott later told the Boston Globe he had made a terrible mistake in signing the affidavit. Then he signed a new affidavit standing behind the first. When newspapers questioned Kerry's account in 1996, Elliott went to Boston to uphold it. The commander of one of the other two boats, Chicago Tribune editor William Rood, corroborated Kerry's story last week.

THE CHARGE Kerry lied to get his Bronze Star. On March 13, 1969, five swift boats were patrolling the Bay Hap River when a mine detonated under one of them. Kerry and Green Beret Jim Rassmann, aboard other boats, claim gunfire started coming from the riverbank. After another blast knocked Rassmann overboard, Kerry pulled him onto his boat. Three members of SBVT, including Larry Thurlow, insist that there was no gunfire and that Kerry initially fled the scene, returning to help Rassmann only when it was clear there was no danger.

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