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OVERVIEW: The controversy over whether John Kerry, Presidential hopeful, manufactured his heroism and wounds in Vietnam to garner future political fame, raises old ugly memories for me. Thirty-five years ago I was ordered to manufacture wording for a bravery award and refused. I was threatened with a court martial and challenged my adversary to charge me. I also know both Purple Hearts and bravery medals were "given away" in Vietnam...and that knowledge casts doubt on the veracity of John Kerry's claims. But I will let you judge, for I also am angry that my medals of bravery were never given me. Just the opposite of John Kerry, mine were denied by a jealous officer. Am I any better than John Kerry? Find out.

GROUND ZERO PLUS 1079 DAYS--New York, NY, Tuesday, August 24, 2004--The furious debate over whether Presidential contender John Kerry is a hero or not continues to rage among Vietnam Vets--one side calling his Bronze and Silver Star awards for heroism a fabrication of facts, and the other side alleging the accusations against him are politically motivated by the Republicans to discredit him.

There is a furious debate raging between Vietnam Vets and John Kerry over the veracity of his three Purple Hearts and medals for bravery
There is a furious debate raging between Vietnam Vets and John Kerry over the veracity of his three Purple Hearts and medals for bravery

I'm angry too, because my medals were denied by an jealous officer. I am the opposite of John Kerry. I want recognition denied me, while John Kerry's opponents want to deny his recognition.

At question with John Kerry is the veracity of his three Purple Hearts and his medals for bravery.

A group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans For Truth is at the center of the debate. These former Vietnam Vets, many of whom served with Kerry, claim the stories of his courage under fire are fabrications, mythical combat legacies Kerry has built over the past three decades to feather his political aspirations.

The Swift Boat Veterans For Truth claim Kerry's stories of his courage under fire are myth
The Swift Boat Veterans For Truth group claims Kerry's stories of his courage under fire are myth

Part of the evidence being offered by Kerry's critics to discredit him is that the Presidential hopeful asked to be transferred from Vietnam after four months and 12 days. Regulations at the time provided that anyone with three Purple Hearts could request relief from combat. Kerry did just that.

The Swift Boat Veterans For Truth allege the wounds he suffered were "band-aid" wounds. And that Kerry was doing everything possible to escape his duty in Vietnam by claiming unwarranted wounds. In today's news, retired Dr. Louis Leston who treated him for one of his "wounds," recalls it to be a sliver in the arm that barely punctured the flesh and required only a band-aid to repair. Witnesses of the event say the wound was self-inflicted by Kerry when a mortar he was firing at a beach for practice hit some rocks and fragment ricocheted back, jamming the sliver of metal in his arm.

There is also the contention that his bravery awards were "manufactured." Disputes about what really happened when Kerry won his Silver and Bronze Stars whirl about like political dust storms. Whatever truths might exist are clouded one way or another.

One report against Kerry says he attacked a defenseless village and shot a villager in the back while he was running away, then made up a story about a courageous attack and how he led the charge to save others who were in harm's way.

It seems the facts are not available, as many of the official records regarding Kerry have "disappeared," making it virtually impossible to verify the events. Kerry has angered many Vietnam Vets by throwing his ribbons away in anti-war demonstrations.

Spokesman for veterans speaks against Kerry
"We resent very deeply the false war crimes charges he made coming back from Vietnam in 1971 and repeated in the book "Tour of Duty." We think those cast an aspersion on all those living and dead, from our unit and other units in Vietnam. We think that he knew he was lying when he made the charges, and we think that they're unsupportable. We intend to bring the truth about that to the American people.

We believe, based on our experience with him, that he is totally unfit to be the Commander-in-Chief."

– John O'Neill, spokesman, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth

It would be absurd for me to claim I knew one way or the other what the truth is. Only John Kerry knows that, but then politicians soon believe their own PR, so it could well be that whatever Kerry has told himself "really" happened has become his truth.

I only know a couple of things about my experiences in Vietnam regarding wounds and medals for bravery.

Let's take the issue of Purple Hearts. If you wanted a Purple Heart, all you had to do was scratch yourself and draw blood when in "enemy territory." Usually, it took a sniper's bullet to be fired, or a booby trap to be exploded to really make it "authentic," but since the Viet Cong had "punji" traps everywhere--sharpened sticks with fecal material on the tips to scratch and infect you, or, if you fell on one, to impale you--the "scratch" would work.

And, if you knew the medic well, he could just write it up. It was a red tag he filled out, time, date, location and wound. Anyone could have gotten one for virtually any reason with few if any questions asked.

I have a friend who has five Purple Hearts. A couple of them come from being bitten by a Viet Cong when he was trying to pull him out of spider hole. If you're looking to lace your chest with medals, it was easy. Sometimes I regret not putting in for Purple Hearts for my "scratches," because everyone gives you sympathy and the VA treats you special. However, there is a moral issue about a Purple Heart.

The Purple Heart was once our nation's highest award, for being "wounded" in battle was the ultimate sacrifice.

I suffer from PTSD. The VA says it is war related and Ground Zero related since I was there at the time of the Terrorist attack. If one carries a wound around inside them, then I deserve a Purple Heart for Vietnam and for Ground Zero, September 11, 2001. But, since I'm not running for President of the United States, I can't claim my rights.

Now, let's get to the issue of falsification of medals for heroism.

I was a good, loyal Marine. And, an expert writer. Everyone knew I was both. That's why the captain in charge of S-1, the administrative arm of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, came to me one evening and asked me write up a medal of bravery award for one of the platoon leaders. He said I needed to "write it up" so it would be approved.

At first, I said sure. He handed me the documents. One was for the conditions necessary for "bravery" to exist regarding the medal, and, the other was the information and affidavits about what the platoon leader had done.

I read each carefully and then turned to the Captain. "I'm sorry sir," I said, "but I can't do this."

Bob Dole called on Kerry to release his Vietnam War records

On August 23, 2004 Former Republican Sen. Bob Dole suggested that John Kerry apologize for past testimony before Congress about alleged atrocities during the Vietnam War and joined critics of the Democratic presidential candidate who say he received an early exit from combat for "superficial wounds."

Dole also called on Kerry to release all the records of his service in Vietnam

"What do you mean, sergeant," he replied, shocked by statement.

"I mean, according to the criteria for the award, and what the lieutenant did, he didn't do anything but his job. He was supposed to lead his men into battle. He didn't go beyond his duty as a leader."

The captain growled. "I'm ordering you to write that award up, sergeant."

I stared at the Captain. "Go ahead sir. I won't do it, it's wrong."

"You'll get court martialed!"

"That's fine, sir. Court martial me!"

The Captain glared and snatched the papers from my hand. We weren't "friends" after that.

Colonel Leon Utter, the battalion commander of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, had a standing order. "All his officers went home with medals." He'd said that numerous times. It was his way of rewarding them, even if the medals didn't meet the courage or bravery required.

At the time, America was struggling to accept the war in Vietnam, and the more medals that were issued, the more patriotism soared--at least for those immediate family members, relatives and friends.

Later, as too many Purple Hearts were being given out, they were limited only to those who required hospitalization. Had John Kerry been under that criterion, he wouldn't have earned any.

Now, my medal(s).

As a Marine Combat Correspondent charged with fighting first and writing second, I saw more than my share of combat. I witnessed and participated in more than 100 combat operations from ambushes and patrols, to major engagements with the enemy.

Colonel Utter put me in for a medal, one, of course, I deserved. I wasn't attached to his unit, so he sent it back to headquarters where my direct superior, a lieutenant, received the documents. It was up to him to forward them. He didn't like me much. I had a bit of a resentment for those who sat back in the headquarters and didn't see combat, and claimed to be "combat correspondents." Perhaps it was ego, but I was quick to show my disdain.

I waited and waited. My medal never came through. I checked with a friend of mine who worked for the lieutenant and he told me my papers never were submitted. I shrugged it off then, but later in life, and still today, I feel I deserve that Navy Commendation Medal with Combat "V."

The other medal I never got was a Bronze or Silver Star. I had to award them to myself, for no one else would. I attached myself to various units, joining up with them or "tagging along." Many times no one in the command knew who I was. I was just another Marine grunt.

I would have put my name in for a medal had I been the company commander witnessing my actions
Had I been the company commander witnessing my actions in the skirmish, I would have put my name in for a medal

The unit I was with came under heavy attack. We were ambushed on three sides. The only escape was up a high hill. I was near the end of the unit. The main two-thirds made it up the hill but our section was cut off, pinned down by heavy fire.

Bullets were kicking everywhere, cracking by ear. I knew we were all going to die because in a few minutes the heavy fire would find our bodies as targets. I leapt up and yelled for everyone to follow me. I figured we all had to move because lying on the earth was waiting for a coffin lid to shut.

The cut-off unit didn't know who I was. All they saw was my .45 and my 6-3 frame yelling at them. Up they came firing and running. I ducked and wove and made sure everyone was on the move and turned to run up the hill. I caught from the corner of my eye a Marine go down near a small haystack.

Dodging bullets I ran to him and flagged one of other last Marines to help me. We pulled the wounded Marine up, wrapped his arm around our shoulders and began back peddling up the hill, firing as we went.

Bullets were hitting everywhere, cracking, slamming against the dirt between my legs. We moved as fast we could walking backwards up the hill as we fired. Finally, we reached the top, a miracle to say the least and a tribute to the bad marksmanship of the Viet Cong.

No one said a word to me. Even the guy whose life I saved didn't thank me. We held the high ground and called in air strikes. We escaped.

Had I been the company commander of that unit, and saw this strange Marine helping save my troops, and risking his life in the process, I might have put him in for nice Bronze or Silver.

But that didn't happen. I probably could have gone to the company commander and said: "Hell, did you see what I just did. I saved a third of your men who would have died, hauled up the hill one of your wounded, and didn't even get a thank you. How about a medal?"

I knew people who did just that. They were the wheels that squeaked. And, just about anyone would write up their buddies for medals at the drop of a hat.

One of the reasons I refused the Captain's request to write up the medal for bravery was because I believe everyone in combat is a hero. I figured it was my job to help my fellow Marines get off their soon-to-be dead asses, and it was part of my job to help haul another Marine up a hill.

Marine training is all about helping out one another, leaving no one behind. In the most pure sense, what I did was just part "of my job."

In the purest sense, as a Marine, I was just "doing my job"
In the purest sense, as a Marine,I was just "doing my job"

That's why I have an aversion to John Kerry getting two medals and three Purple Hearts in four months and 12 days. His "combat zone" time was just a matter of weeks, and in that time he collected a legacy of heroism that seems incredible for a man willing to throw away those medals in an anti-war statement that was politically charged to seek personal recognition.

True heroes are quiet heroes. Most of them would never say they deserved what they got, because they were just "doing their jobs," the same "job" anyone else would or should do.

That's how I felt, and deep down feel. Any acts of bravery that I performed were part of my "job," and not "special." And, had I received the medals, I would treasure them with all my power and might, for they would be given to me not for my acts, but because my peers were thanking me for doing something extraordinary for them.

That's why I find it hard for John Kerry to throw away medals that he earned for helping save and secure the safety of others. You just aren't supposed to get medals unless you go "beyond the call of duty," and that "duty" seems to me to always be doing whatever is necessary to protect your troops.

I don't think chasing down a villager accused of being a V.C. and shooting him in the back is a qualification for bravery. Neither do I consider a fierce firefight in which one helps save another's life anything above the normal expectation of a leader. Officers are coaches. They are supposed to set examples, and the idea that they get medals offends me. They are in charge of inspiring the players--the troops--and when they take the honor for heroism, they steal it from the troops under them.

Is this sour grapes? I don't think so. It's a reality when you read about someone like John Kerry claiming his "heroism" is a qualification to become the Commander-In-Chief. When a man is willing to throw away his Medals of Heroism in disrespect to his country's legacy of fighting for others' rights, I question the deep character of such actions, and, question the truth of earning such medals.

But John Kerry is, in a way, a victim of a political system that tends to use medals for heroism as lubricants for wars that are unpopular. In the July 12th New Yorker is a compelling article by Dan Baum called "The Price of Valor."

In the article, Mr. Baum goes through a myriad of issues about the effects of death on families and combat veterans. He cites one example of two Humvees on patrol in Baghdad, and how the second one is blown to bits. He follows the bodies of the two killed soldiers back to their hometowns and reports on the reactions of the parents and friends illustrating the diversity of their responses.

What I found interesting was in addition to being awarded the Purple Heart, a standard when someone is killed in combat, both of the dead soldiers were also given Bronze Stars. With no disrespect to the soldiers, the question is: how did they earn the Bronze Stars when both were inside a Humvee that was blown up?

Riding in a vehicle that is bombed and being torn into thousands of pieces is not deserving of a medal for heroism. Unless, of course, you are issuing the medals from a political vista, trying to quell any angst among the parents and loved ones by buttering up deaths with the marmalade of heroism.

I found the granting of those Bronze Stars about as disturbing as I do the issue about John Kerry's right to claim he is a hero.

A real hero wound't have requested to leave Vietnam immediately after receiving non-life-threatening scratches/wounds
A real hero wouldn't have requested to leave Vietnam immediately after receiving non-life-threatening scratches/wounds

A real hero, in my opinion, would not have requested to leave Vietnam immediately after getting his third Purple Heart, even if it was a "legal" band-aid wound. After four months and 12 days, and a very small amount of that in combat, it doesn't correlate that a man of heroic skills and leadership would abandon his men and his country because of a few "scratches."

And, to bandstand the fact that because of these "medals" John Kerry is a proven Commander-In-Chief requires a fogged brain and a blind belief that a man who volunteers to leave his men is worthy of fighting Terrorism and winning.

I'd like to brag about my medals, but I have no official ones.

But I do know what I did and why I did it.

Had I been given medals, I would never throw them away.

And, I wouldn't use them to claim my heroism or valor.

The last I heard, heroism was a selfless act, not one designed to get votes.


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