The Making Of John Kerry

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THEN, NOW: Kerry as a schoolboy in Switzerland in 1954 and campaigning in Florida last March

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If any place comes close, it is a rural town outside Boston called Millis, where the Kerrys settled after the war. They bought a big, pretty house with six bedrooms, multiple fireplaces and a pond where John and his sister Peggy played. "He was a very adventurous, outdoorsy person," says Peggy, who is two years older. "There was a farm next door, and John used to like to play there and in the woods." Sister Diana was born in 1947, then brother Cam in 1950. That year the rural idyll was interrupted, when John was 7 and the family moved to Washington so that Richard could work in the office of the general counsel of the Navy. "We went to a school where quite a few kids were sons and daughters of Congressmen," says Peggy. "We became aware of the political environment early." Peggy and John went door to door in 1952, selling ADLAI STEVENSON FOR PRESIDENT buttons. And they got their first taste of dinner-table conversation that revolved around policy, diplomacy and the cares of the world, a language in which John would become fluent, if for no other reason than it was one he and his father could speak to each other.

In 1954 the family moved again, to Berlin, where as the legal adviser to the U.S. mission, Richard got a longed-for chance to be part of history being made. And John got his first taste of another world. Traveling through communist East Germany, "I actually noticed a very perceptible difference — the darkness, the lack of automobiles, the dark clothes. It just seemed bleak. And I sensed the foreboding unwelcomeness to it." One day he went so far as to ride his bike through Checkpoint Charlie and into East Berlin to look around and visit Hitler's bunker. When Richard realized where his son had gone, John recalls, "My dad was not thrilled. He explained to me that I could have [caused] an international incident. I think he took my passport. I think I got grounded — passport grounded."

And soon he got sent away. Feeling that English boarding schools were too stuffy, Rosemary and Richard sent John to the Institut Montana Zugerberg near Zurich, a strict place with only a handful of English-speaking boys. "At first I was homesick as hell," Kerry says. Raised a Catholic, Kerry says he found comfort and company in church, becoming quite religious and serving as an altar boy. "I remember him writing me to remember to say my prayers," Peggy recalls. Cam, on the other hand, recalls how John learned to swear in Italian. "That part I do remember. Him coming back from vacation and spouting 'Spaccare la faccia, porco!'" Cam says with a laugh. The phrase roughly translates as "Shove it in your face, pig" and was "probably one of the milder things he learned," says Cam. "I had to learn Italian to get food at the table," John recalls. "I could make a sailor blush in Italian, no question about it."

Having a mother who grew up in Europe and a father who worked to reshape it, going to school abroad and learning French, Italian and German meant that Kerry developed a comfort with other cultures and other points of view that abides to this day. He's an affirmed multilateralist and proud regular at the yearly World Economic Forum in Davos, and he is married to a woman — Teresa — who speaks even more languages than he does. When he and his brother are on a conference call and want to talk privately, they have been known to break into French. But when he tried to flaunt his credentials as a favorite of foreign leaders and a better bet to navigate the now hostile waters of world opinion, the Republicans pounced, suggesting that he is some kind of Eurosnob — forcing Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, to remind people that he had fought for his country and has served it as a public official for most of his adult life.

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