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NOTE
: THE DEFINING GENERATION is a project begun by Doug and Pam Sterner in 2002 and completed in 2006. Initially is was prepared for publication as a book, however with their changing focus to development of a database of military awards, was postponed indefinitely so they could concentrate on that larger, more important work. The stories found herein however, need to be shared, and they have consented to make this compilation available in this format. While each story can stand alone, it is recommended that for continuity, readers will be best served by reading the chapters sequentially from first to last.

 

The Defining Generation

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Defining Dissent

John Forbes Kerry

"We do not need to divide America over who served and how. I have personally always believed that many served in many different ways. Someone who was deeply against the war in 1969 or 1970 may well have served their country with equal passion and patriotism by opposing the war as by fighting in it."

John Forbes Kerry

 

One of the best-known maxims of foreign policy as related to military action is the statement, "You don’t just send an army to war, you take a country to war." The fact that both the (Lyndon) Johnson Administration and the (Richard) Nixon Administrations failed to rally the American public behind the war is often seen as the cause of our failure in Southeast Asia . Towards that end those who supported the war effort often try to blame the media and the anti-war movement for the loss. It is a shortsighted view that is grossly unfair to a generation of men and women who were articulate, bright, and the best-educated youth in our history.

The reason for the failure of the Vietnam War is more appropriately better elucidated in an equally important maxim of military intervention that says, "Don't go to war without clear objectives." It was the lack of such clear objectives more than anything else that turned American youth against the war in the early days when they were asking insightful questions for which there were no honest or reasonable answers forthcoming.

Ours' was a generation that grew up under the threat of nuclear attack. With regularity we watched grainy black and white movies warning us of the evil Communists that wanted to control the world or teaching us how to survive WHEN, not IF, an attack came. It think it would be safe to say that for many of us as we matured and no such attack materialized, Communism began to be regarded much like the "boogie-man" our parents used to frighten us into good behavior. There was little opposition to the war in the early 1960s when a few advisors were sent but when President Johnson escalated the war in 1964-65, we asked questions for which we received only vague and evasive answers. The excuse the President gave to justify the war, the purported attack on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin , became itself highly suspect and American youth felt deceived and betrayed into a cause they couldn't support.

It is important to remember that the young men and women who "came of age" in the 1960s was the best-educated generation in our history as they fulfilled the dreams of their Greatest Generation parents of getting a college education. In the beginning the anti-war movement was generally young, middle-class college students with unprecedented interests in world affairs and inquisitive minds. They responded well to rational arguments but disdained being patronized, propagandized, or lied to. Rather than responding to their questions about the war, the Administration tried its best to discredit their voices by painting them with a broad brush as being young, naïve, and radical. As the war escalated they were openly portrayed as Communist sympathizers and unpatriotic rebels.

As the movement grew following escalation of the war in 1965-66, so too grew the false profiling of the anti-war protesters as easy-to-disdain "long-haired, drugged-out hippies and Commies." Though the movement's ranks contained far more budding doctors, lawyers, politicians, and business leaders than hippies, this was an effective stereo-type propagated by pro-war politicians, the military, and even the media. Stories of an organized demonstration never showed pictures of well-dressed, neat and articulate young men and women. What generally appeared in the papers was the minority that fit the common profile.

The Johnson Administration was especially effective in its efforts to thus discredit and thereby ignore the growing anti-war movement which included not only the young but leaders who were themselves members of the older generation. Dr. Martin Luther King became the subject of F.B.I. investigation early in the Civil Rights movement and, after he joined the anti-war crusade he became an even bigger target. When efforts to portray him as a Communist failed the Johnson Administration tried to attack his personal character, LBJ himself calling King a "hypocrite preacher." Similar attacks were launched against such other older generation leaders by both Presidents Johnson and then Nixon as Congresswoman Bella Abzug, Dr. Benjamin Spock, and even Senator George McGovern who in World War II had become a war hero.

By 1967 some returning veterans of the war in Vietnam , having seen it first-hand, began questioning the war. That summer six of these veterans joined together to establish "Vietnam Veterans Against the War" (VVAW) in order to lend their support of a populace at odds with the president. As the war dragged on into its eighth, ninth and tenth years and more young men returned, the organization grew. They were a difficult group of anti-war activists to discredit--they had been there.

The service of the Vietnam Veterans who opposed the war, though largely a minority of returning veterans, was difficult to discredit. Many used G.I. Bill benefits to enroll in college and pursue distinguished degrees, but a few dropped out and became part of sub-cultures that were still held in disregard. As a result the anti-war vets were painted with a stereo-type that made them generally less respectable in society: they were seen as long-haired, drug-addicted souls who had committed atrocities that turned them into psychotic civilians who showed up in military fatigues covered with medals, patches and peace signs. A small number who did indeed fit that profile, when found, made it possible to effectively validate the false assumption that this fit them all. Furthermore, because being an anti-war Vietnam veteran was a good way to evoke sympathy and other "perks" in the hippie movement, some who had never served began to portray themselves falsely as veterans. When uncovered, their deceit served to discredit them all.

Such was the stereo-type in 1970 when a returning Navy Veteran became active in VVAW. The man's combat record was undeniable; he wore the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. He was a Yale Graduate and a former officer who, well-dressed and with neat appearance, didn't fit the popular profile of an anti-war activist. His intelligent oratory insured that he could not be ignored by those who preferred to highlight the "way-out-there" veterans, and his service in answer to the call of duty could not be denied. Despite the best efforts of two Presidents, John Kerry remained a voice that couldn't be overlooked and a war hero whose service could not be discredited.

John Forbes Kerry was born in the Fitzsimons Army hospital at Aurora , Colorado , on December 11, 1943 . At the time his father, a test pilot for the U.S. Army Air Forces, was undergoing treatment for tuberculosis. Early in 1944 the family returned to their home state of Massachusetts . It was the traditional family home though none of the four, Mr. Richard John Kerry and Mrs. Rosemary Forbes Kerry, or children John Forbes or Margaret Peggy would spend much time there.* While the immediate Kerry family was upper-middle class, they had extended ties to some of the world's richest families. John's father Richard Kerry was the son of Austrian and Hungarian immigrants who settled in Chicago and then Boston to build a successful business three times and then lose it three times, the last prompting his father to take his own life. When Richard Kerry married Rosemary Forbes he became part of two of the world's most affluent and powerful families.

The Forbes family of Boston , not to be confused with the famous publishing magnate of the same surname, accumulated its fortune in 19th century by trade with China and the family became an ensconced and respected icon of Boston business and social life. When Rosemary's father James Forbes married Margaret Winthrop it marked a merger with another affluent and powerful family with roots back to Thomas Dudley who founded Massachusetts and John Winthrop, the colony's first governor.

Richard Kerry and Margaret Forbes met in France where the Forbes family had a large estate at Saint Briac prior to the Nazi invasion, and the two fell in love. Richard returned home to America where he hoped to become a pilot for the Army Air Corps while Rosemary remained in her native France with hopes of becoming a nurse. She escaped just ahead of the Nazis and made her way to the United States to find Richard in Alabama where he was undergoing military training. The two married in January 1941 and 11 months later Margaret was born, followed by son John Forbes two years later in Aurora .

John Kerry recalls returning to the Forbes estate called Les Essarts shortly after the liberation of France to find it in ruin. He speaks of walking through broken glass, crying openly as he held his mother's hand. The self-described "first memory of his childhood" reflected the tragedy and horror of war. From the ashes of that war-torn dream the estate was eventually rebuilt however, and would become a favored summer retreat for the Kerry family throughout young John's life.

In 1950 Richard Kerry, with a Harvard law degree, took a job with the Office of the General Counsel for the Navy and one year later moved up to work in the State Department. Living in Washington, D.C. it was unavoidable that the Kerry's would develop an interest in politics that became even more exciting in 1952 when a young World War II Navy veteran from Massachusetts named John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected to the Senate and seemed poised to become a political "star."

In 1954 Richard Kerry accepted a high-level position as the U.S. Attorney for Berlin . After spending a brief time with the family in Germany , John's parents decided it best to send him back to Massachusetts to attend  a boarding school. It was the first in what would become a life-time of what some might call an "education of privilege" but it was also one that separated him, save for summers at Les Essarts, from his family. Kerry remembers, "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, (it's) not the greatest thing."[i]

One boy with whom John did establish a close friendship was Richard Pershing, grandson of famed World War I General John J. Pershing. The two met while attending the Fessenden School in Newton , Massachusetts . The two parted in 1958 when, thanks to the sponsorship of a wealthy aunt John enrolled for his high school years at St. Paul 's School in Concord , New Hampshire . Here he established a close friendship with another fellow classmate, Peter Wyeth Johnson. Both Pershing and Wyeth would be subsequently killed while serving in Vietnam .

Although not necessarily academically in the top of his high school classes, John Kerry excelled at debate--perhaps because it was something he was so good at. In his sophomore year he founded the John Winant Society to debate current issues, a club that exists to this day. He got plenty of practice--St. Pauls' student body was largely conservative and Kerry's Democratic leanings put him at odds with the popular majority on campus. When Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, who had been the subject of much discussion around the dinner table during John's boyhood began his presidential campaign, he had an ardent supporter at St. Pauls. On November 7, 1960 , the day before Kennedy was elected, John Kerry took the train from Concord to Boston to personally witness his developing hero's last campaign speech. The following day Kerry himself gave a political speech to a dissenting audience, urging the election of John Kennedy.

The similarities between John Fitzgerald Kennedy and John Forbes Kerry, far beyond their common initials and their Massachusetts roots, seemed to run deep in young Kerry's heart and mind. After graduating from St. Pauls in 1962 and while working for the U.S. Senate campaign of JFK's younger brother Edward Kennedy, he read the book chronicling JFK's World War II service PT-109 that had come out the previous year. Kennedy had grown up a child of privilege, the son of a government official, and attended the best schools--just as had Kerry. Instead of using his family status to avoid service in World War II Kennedy volunteered for duty as commander of a small Patrol Boat (PT) and served with distinction. So too, John Kerry knew is his heart as early as 1962, would he. John Kennedy had returned home to become a prominent Massachusetts politician and then was elected to the highest office in the land. Even the possibility of following in that example was not beyond the dream of John Kerry as he began his college education at Yale. Those who watched him and knew him best had similar thoughts.

One month before entering Yale in 1962 to pursue a degree in Political Science John Kerry was invited to visit his friend Janet Auchincloss' family's estate in Rhode Island , where John Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier had married nine years earlier. During that visit Kerry, quite by accident, met his hero. Kerry entered the house late for a date with Janet to see a tall man standing against the wall. Kerry recalls, "This guy is standing there, he turns around and it’s the president of the United States . 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.' "[ii]

Kerry then remembered that his hero was a Harvard man and blushed. Kennedy however, quickly put the budding politician at ease. Calling to mind the fact that he had recently received an honorary degree from Yale the President replied, "It might be said now that I have the best of both worlds, a Harvard education and a Yale degree."[iii] It only served to cement the young soon-to-be college student's loyalty and hero-worship of President John F. Kennedy. Later Kennedy, whose affection for sailing was well known, even took young Kerry with him on an outing aboard the yacht.

During Kerry's sophomore year at Yale he became president of the Yale Political Union, involving himself in sweeping issues like the Civil Rights movement. In his first semester he was stunned by the death of his role model when John Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas . He was sitting in the bleachers watching a soccer game when the news was announced. Only after returning to his room and watching the black and white replays on television did he come to grips with the fact that his hero was gone. And yet, in some way, John F. Kennedy and all that he represented would never be far from the psyche of John F. Kerry.

Kerry's classmates, including Richard Pershing with whom he was reunited at Yale, were quick to see that John Kerry was destined for a large role in American politics. Issues and causes seemed to be his consuming interest, debate was a skill in which he had no equal on campus, and his eyes shone with an intensity fueled by an inner drive. When he graduated with a B.A. in 1966, it was John F. Kerry who was chosen to give the class speech at graduation. It was an issue-driven commencement address in which he intoned that America had moved from an "excess of isolationism (to) an excess of interventionism." He targeted specifically the Vietnam War, ironic since during his senior year he had joined the U.S. Navy Reserve and might be called upon to serve there. For Kerry there was no disparity between his enlistment and his opposition to what was happening in Southeast Asia . He noted, "We have not really lost the desire to serve. We question the very roots of what we are serving."[iv]

One year after graduating from Yale Ensign John F. Kerry was assigned to the U.S.S. Gridley (CG-21), an escort destroyer in the Pacific Fleet. He started as Electrical Officer and performed those duties for four months and then was assigned responsibility for the decks. His unique abilities also resulted in his being assigned duties as the Public Affairs Officer. Captain James F. Kelly, the ship's executive officer who opposed Kerry's 2005 Presidential bid, recalls despite his negative feelings about the young officer's later activities, "I remember him as a serious and intelligent young ensign, seemingly mature beyond his years. The skipper and I were mightily impressed with him in spite of his inexperience… Drafting his fitness reports was an exercise in the use of superlatives. In fact, of the thirty or so officers, I counted him in the top half dozen, no mean feat for an ensign."[v]

Early in 1968 the Gridley was deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin where it ran routine patrols and stood by to recover pilots returning from action over North Vietnam that were forced to ditch at sea. In February Kerry received stunning news; Second Lieutenant Richard Warren Pershing had been killed in action on February 17 while searching for a missing soldier after a firefight. He was subsequently buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to his famous grandfather. Being at sea, Kerry was unable to attend his best friend's funeral. In a letter home to his parents he vented his frustrations and feelings at the loss: "I am empty, bitter, angry and desperately lost with nothing but war, violence and more war around me…What a Goddamn total waste. Why?...With the loss of Persh something has gone out of me."[vi]

What Kerry did not know at that time but would subsequently learn was that four days before Pershing was killed his friend from St. Pauls, First Lieutenant Peter Wythe Johnson had also been killed in Vietnam while serving with the Army Special Forces. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, for his heroism in the action that took his life.

Returning home aboard the Gridley in the spring of 1968 Kerry was promoted to Lieutenant, Junior Grade (j.g.) on June 16. He had requested to be trained to command a Fast Patrol Craft (PCF), the Navy's equivalent to the World War II PT Boats and now called "Swift Boats," and then to be assigned to duty in Vietnam. He began training on June 20 and arrived in Vietnam on November 17, 1968 .

On December 2, 1968 , Lieutenant (j.g.) Kerry and two other sailors went up river from the U.S. base at Cam Ranh Bay in a small "skimmer" boat to recon for enemy guerillas. Early in the patrol they encountered a sampan and opened fire, then captured two Vietnamese who were transferred to a larger craft. The area was what was known as a "free fire" zone…in effect anything that moved on the river was considered enemy. Vietnamese thus found usually were in fact enemy, but occasionally innocent civilians might be caught out on the river past curfew and find themselves being fired on. After delivering his prisoners Kerry's boat continued up stream until, rounding a bend they encountered six sampans. Kerry and his comrades opened fire and he soon felt a burning sensation in his arm. Whether the Vietnamese returned fire or if the small wound was a result of his own or one of his two sailors' guns remains the subject of some controversy. The Purple Heart Lieutenant (j.g.) Kerry was awarded that night, the first of three, would become perhaps the most controversial.

It should be noted that military regulations authorize the Purple Heart "For wounds or death as result of an act of any opposing armed force." There is no specific regulation regarding the severity of the wound other than that it require treatment by a medical officer, medic or corpsman. While most Purple Hearts have been awarded for grievous wounds and many were pinned to the pajamas of a man or woman recovering in a hospital, there was no shortage of what we called "band aid" Purple Hearts in Vietnam . Stories circulated of some soldiers incurring a small scrape while diving into a bunker during a mortar attack receiving the award. Many veterans disdained such "band aid" awards and, with great machismo it was not uncommon for a slightly wounded soldier to shake off an injury and choose not to report it or to see a medic. Many of those same veterans are now returning to their various branches, armed with statements by the men with whom they served and letters from Congressmen, to apply for the Purple Heart they didn't want decades ago. In most likelihood John Kerry's first Purple Heart would not have become an issue if he had come quietly home from Vietnam and stayed out of the spotlight.

On December 6 Lieutenant (j.g.) Kerry was assigned as commander of PCF-44 operating out of An Thoi in the delta area far south of Saigon . He and his crew of five enlisted sailors began operations immediately, running patrols inland on the murky waterways that flowed into the delta from Cambodia in the northwest. These were scattered and shallow streams through thick jungle down which the North Vietnamese ferried supplies into the South, and interdicting that flow was one of the Swift Boats' primary missions. It was highly dangerous work, patrolling into unknown areas surrounded by heavy vegetation from which hidden enemies could rain machine gun fire, rockets and mortars on the light 50-foot aluminum Swift Boats. The valor of the men who performed those important jobs is reflected in awards of the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Stars, and numerous names on The Wall in Washington , D.C.

On Christmas Eve Lieutenant (j.g.) Kerry and his crew went up river in a mission he later claimed also took them into Cambodia, a neutral area that provided harbor to the enemy but that was off limits to U.S. Forces until 1970. Despite a Christmas truce PCF-44 suddenly came under mortar attack from hidden Viet Cong soldiers. While returning fire Steve Wasser, Kerry's second-in-command, watched as bullets from his M-60 machine gun cut down what appeared to be an old man tending his water buffalo and behind whom the enemy had hidden their position. The apparent death of an innocent civilian who had been caught in the cross fire of opposing forces made a profound impact on Wasser who says the memories of that moment now prevents him from enjoying Christmas. Kerry himself says he was unaware of that killing until Wasser told him about it in 2003.[vii]

The Vietnam War was indeed a complicated way to fight a war. It was difficult to tell friend from foe; the Vietnamese girl who walked into the base camp each day to clean your hootch might well be pacing it off to deliver accurate coordinates to an enemy mortar team that would drop a devastating bombardment on you at night. American combat troops found themselves confronted with an Army--the North Vietnamese (NVA), an insurgency--the Viet Cong (South Vietnamese Communists), and an innocent population caught in the middle and leaning in loyalty to which ever side posed the least immediate threat to their existence. For that reason some new methods of fighting were developed: "Reconnaissance by Fire" (shooting into a potential area in hopes of killing or flushing the enemy), "Mad Minutes" (a 60-second release of all weapons on a defensive perimeter at varied times throughout the night), "Sterile Boxes" (a 1-kilometer-square grid on the map inside which there was not supposed to be friendly forces or civilians), and the similarly designed "Free Fire Zones." Some American combatants found these as necessary measures to their own survival, others found them to be serious violations of the proper way to conduct a war. Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kerry numbered among the latter.

Despite these misgivings that haunted his conscience, as a Naval officer he continued to perform his duty. It was sometimes difficult to reconcile the two, as on the night of January 20, 1969 , when his boat took a sampan under fire. Exactly what happened and what the "body count" was that night, despite differing recollections of Kerry and one of his crewman, both recalled capturing a woman and then finding the body of a dead boy in the bottom of her boat, killed by American fire. Such tragic incidents, all too common under the unique situations of that war, weighted heavily on Lieutenant (j.g.) Kerry's mind.

In January Kerry's crew was transferred and he assumed command of Swift Boat No. 94 (PCF-94) which had recently been heavily engaged and the skipper wounded. On February 20 when his new boat was attacked while moving up the Bo De River, shrapnel from an enemy Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) struck Kerry in the thigh. It was a minor wound and doctors decided it better to simply suture the wound without removing the shrapnel rather than inflict further damage through surgery. He returned to duty and the shrapnel remains in his body to this day. It marked award of his second Purple Heart.

Eight days later PCF-94 was patrolling with two other Swift Boats when they came under fire. In violation of protocol Lieutenant (j.g.) Kerry directed all three boats, which were under his tactical command, to beach and pursue the enemy. It was an act some might perceive as an expression of frustration at being shot at by an enemy that hit and ran, by others as a dangerous decision that could endanger his craft and crews. The great Marine Corps icon General Chesty Puller once told a comrade that "There is only a hairline's difference between a Navy Cross and a general court-martial." Lieutenant (j.g.) Kerry was initially concerned that he might indeed be court-martialed, instead he was awarded the Silver Star--one step below the Navy Cross.

On March 13 Lieutenant (j.g.) Kerry received a third shrapnel wound for a third Purple Heart, a ticket home under Navy policy. Before his force of Swift Boats could return to base however, an exploding mine or rocket threw him against the bulkhead injuring his arm and tossing James Rassmann, a Special Forces advisor along for that mission, into the water. Kerry's subsequent actions in returning to the scene to rescue Rassmann from the water earned him a Bronze Star in addition to his other awards. After a final patrol on March 26 John Kerry came home to serve as a personal aide to Rear Admiral Walter Schlech.

On November 12, 1969 , the American public was stunned when leading news magazines broke the story of the purported massacre more than a year earlier at a Vietnamese village named My Lai . Initial investigation indicated that soldiers of an Infantry company in the Americal Division had killed perhaps hundreds of women and children. For years college students had protested the war in Vietnam as criminal, railing against bombing in both the north and the south, defoliation of jungles, and policies of indiscriminate fire. Older veterans of past wars who had seen the tragedy of armed conflict understood well that war is a tragic but often necessary evil and could brush this aside as tragic but not uncommon "collateral damage" until confronted with reports of the needless killings at My Lai . As the investigation continued it became an issue that festered and grew, and the details became both frightening and shocking.  

A rally in November drew 250,000 protestors to Washington , D.C. including Judy Droz, widow of a Swift Boat skipper who had covered PCF-94 on the mission that earned Kerry the silver star. Her husband Lieutenant (j.g.) Donald Droz was killed in action on April 12, 1969 , only weeks after Kerry departed Vietnam . Judy spoke to the crowd while holding the couple's daughter who had only been three-months old when her father died, to state: "Too many families are suffering what I am suffering and too many children will have to suffer what my daughter will suffer."[viii]

With the words of Judy Droz haunting him and seeing more and more veterans joining the anti-war crowd, John Kerry requested and received early discharge from active duty early in 1970. He had served three years and eight months including a deployment aboard the U.S.S. Gridley in the waters of the Tonkin Gulf and then four months of combat duty in the brown water rivers of South Vietnam . Now he felt he had a moral obligation to end the war through words--indeed bombs and bullets had failed to do anything but escalate the violence and casualties.

In February Kerry, now a civilian on Navy Reserve status, mounted a brief campaign for a vacant Massachusetts Third Congressional District House Seat under an anti-war platform. Ultimately, in the citizens caucus he withdrew and put his support behind anti-war Democrat Robert Drinnan who won election and later repaid Kerry with critical support to his own political ambitions. In May Kerry married his girlfriend of six years Julia Thorn, drawing attention from the New York Times which reported: "Miss Julia Stimson Thorne, whose ancestors helped to shape the American republic in its early days, and John Forbes Kerry, who wants to help steer it back from what he considers a wayward course, were married this afternoon at the 200-acre Thorne family estate (on Long Island).”[ix]

In November Kerry gave his first speech as part of his efforts to "steer (his country) back from (its) wayward course" during a VVAW rally at Valley Forge , Pennsylvania . His abilities as a speaker stood out to mark him a vital spokesman for the growing opposition in the veterans community. From January 31 to February 2, 1971 , VVAW held a series of hearings in Detroit . It was a media rather than a political event during which more than 100 Vietnam veterans testified to witnessing and even participating in atrocities in Vietnam . The mainstream media opted largely to ignore these Winter Soldier Hearings though the Detroit Free Press published every word. In light of My Lai , which was becoming more and more believable, their testimony fueled the anti-war fire.

The Winter Soldier Hearings remain one of the most bitterly remembered and divisive protests of the Vietnam War. Based upon the testimony of 108 veterans and a few civilians who had worked in Vietnam and, validated by reports of the My Lai Massacre, veterans of the war were painted with the same broad brush that had tainted the true image of war protesters. It came to seem as if ALL Vietnam vets were psychotic killers of civilians and children. In fact, some of those who testified were later discredited as not even having served in the war. Other accounts were found to be embellished or even outright false. But there was enough truth to some reports of "war crimes" to turn a segment of American society against not only the war, but against young men and women who continued to serve valiantly with dignity and honor. Returning war veterans not a part of the anti-war movement were spit on and called "baby killers."

John Kerry did not personally participate in those hearings but his role as a leader in VVAW and his subsequent Senate testimony linked him inexorably to the event. Senator Fulbright, who as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee had held continuous hearings that expanded upon the 1968 testimony of General Shoup, heard three days of testimony in April 1971. John Kerry was the first called to testify in the televised event.

Dressed in green Navy utility shirt and with the ribbons for his medals above his left breast pocket, Kerry testified from a prepared statement with the oratorical skills for which he had become already renown. Speaking for the 1,000-member VVAW he told members of the Committee, "In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam , nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America …We found most (Vietnamese) people didn't even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart."[x]

Recalling the hearings in Detroit two months earlier he noted: "we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command....They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country."[xi]

Those few sentences came to define John Kerry more than any other words of the anti-war movement. Thousands of veterans felt then, and remain convinced today, that a former Swift Boat commander had impugned the nature of their honorable service and portrayed them all as war criminals. Those sentences may well have cost him the Presidential election of 2005. At the time however, before a generally sympathetic panel of Senators, his testimony demonstrated his keen mind and finely-tuned oratorical skill. His clean-cut, All-American image on television confronted the false image many Americans had of the members of the anti-war crowd. In fact, in that moment the face of the Vietnam War protester morphed from being that of a drugged out rebel to the face of an heroic former Naval officer. The face of John Forbes Kerry may well have become the face of the anti-war effort. Mention it today and John Kerry is often the first person to come to mind.

Following the Senate Hearings Kerry, in cooperation with VVAW, published The New Soldier, containing his Senate testimony, details from the Winter Soldier Hearings, and his reasons for opposing the war in Vietnam . Perhaps most striking of all his words was the statement, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Over the next year Kerry continued his high-profile efforts to bring the war to a quick end though not without opposition. Many Vietnam Veterans were outraged at his testimony, perhaps with good reason, though the conviction of Lieutenant William Calley for the murders at My Lai on September 10, 1971 , validated some of his claims. In an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show Kerry debated former Swift Boater John O'Neill who had served adjacent to Kerry in Vietnam . When asked on NBC's Meet the Press if he had personally committed atrocities in Vietnam , Kerry alluded only to the use of .50 caliber machine guns as an anti-personnel weapon, search and destroy missions during which villages were burned, and combat in "free fire zones."

In 1972 John Kerry became less active in VVAW and, buoyed by his high public profile, ran again for a Congressional Seat in Massachusetts . After losing that bid he returned to school to pursue a degree in law at Boston college. When he received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree in 1976 the war in Vietnam had ended. After working in the Middlesex, Massachusetts District Attorney's Office he opened his own law firm in 1979. In 1982 he ran for the office of Lieutenant Governor with Michael Dukakis, winning that post. In 1984 Senator Paul Tsongas retired for health reasons and Lieutenant Governor Kerry won election to that post. There he continued his activism, becoming a leader in the issues that led to the Iran-Contra hearings of 1989.

Kerry's detractors, generally unable to discredit his distinguished service, sometimes resorted to attacking his character. Some have intoned that his anti-war activism was simply an opportunistic rally to an issue that could get him before the public. Even his friends acknowledge that John Kerry was always an opportunist. Ironically, in The Land of Opportunity, being an opportunist is not always seen as a good thing--especially when it defines an individual who remains as controversial thirty-five years after the war as he was during the war.

Love him or hate him, believe him or revile him, there is no doubt that John Forbes Kerry sincerely believed what he said, said it with eloquence, and accepted the consequences. If in fact there were only limited consequences in the 1970s, there can be little doubt he paid for exercising his right of free speech in 2005. In a close Presidential election Kerry lost, perhaps because of the activist opposition of former Vietnam War comrades who refused to forget or forgive.

Free speech is a fundamental of our American society, a safety-valve to force us to see both sides of every issue. When voicing a dissenting opinion however, free speech may be a costly right to exert. For John Kerry, expressing his dissent came at a very high cost.



* Another daughter, Diana was born in 1947 and a second son, Cameron was born in 1950.


[i] Kranish, Michael, Brian C. Mooney & Nina J. Easton, John F. Kerry-The Complete biography by the Boston Globe Reporters who Know Him Best, Public Affairs, New York, 2004, p 23.

[ii] Ibid, p 32.

[iii] Ibid, p 32.

[iv] Ibid, p 54.

[v] U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, July 2004, p 16.

[vi] Kranish, Michael, ibid, P 65-66

[vii] ibid, p 88.

[viii] Ibid, p 113.

[ix] Ibid, p 115

[x] Kerry, John F., Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, April 22, 1971

[xi] ibid

The Defining Generation: Copyright © 2006 by Doug and Pam Sterner
All Rights Reserved

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Cover & Introduction
     Preface
Out With the Old
     The Defining Generation

I. - Defining the New
     John Fitzgerald Kennedy
     Roger H.C. Donlon
     Robert Robin Moore
     Barry Sadler
     The Green Beret

II. - Defining Equality
     When Worlds Collide
     Dr. Martin Luther King
     Jimmy Stanford & Vince Yrineo
     Milton Lee Olive, III
     Specialist Lawrence Joel
     Sammy Lee Davis
     Black MOH Recipients - Vietnam War

III. - Defining the Role of the Sexes
     Evolution of a Husband
     Remember the Ladies
     Rosie the Riveter
     Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard
     Linda G. Alvarado
     Karen Irene Offutt
     Women in Military Service
     Lieutenant General Carol Mutter
     The Modern Woman in Combat
IV. - Defining Human Rights
     My Brother's Keeper
     Who is My Brother
     Christopher Dodd & Christopher Shays
     Peace Corps Politicians (Memories)
     Don Bendell
     Sir Edward Artis
     General Colin L. Powell

V. - Defining Entertainment
     Life Imitating Art
     Troubled Waters
     Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
     Brian's Song
     All in the Family
     Adrian Cronauer

VI. - Defining Dissent

     From Berkeley With Love
     The Pen and the Sword
     General David Shoup
     Muhammad Ali
     John Forbes Kerry

VII. - Defining the Future of Politics
     An Act of Congress
     All Politics is....Hereditary?
     Hillary Rodham Clinton
     Condoleezza Rice
     James Henry Webb
The next Section is scheduled for posting on May 20, 2011
VIII. - Defining Memories
     Jaime Pacheco
     The Glory of their Deeds
     Jan Scruggs
     Delbert Schmeling
     Peter C. Lemon

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
The authors extend our thanks to the following who granted personal interviews for this work
: Roger Donlon (MOH), Robin Moore, Don Bendell, Jimmy Stanford, Vince Yrineo, Sammy L. Davis (MOH), Linda Alvarado, Karen Offutt, Lieutenant General Carol Mutter, Sir Edward Artis, General Colin L. Powell, Katharine Houghton, Adrian Cronauer, Jan Scruggs, Delbert Schmeling, and Peter Lemon (MOH).
Our thanks to the staff of the following who either wrote or allowed reprint of their own works for this book: Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard, Don Bendell, Congressman Sam Farr, Congressman Thomas Petri, Congressman Mike Honda, Congressman Jim Walsh, Governor Jim Doyle, and Scott Baron.
Our special thanks also to the staff of the following who provided information and fact-checked the chapters related to their subject: Staff of Senator John Kerry, Staff of (then) Senator Hillary Clinton, Staff of Senator Jim Webb
A SPECIAL THANKS also to Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard for his assistance in writing and editing the entire section on the Role of the Sexes.

 

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