Kerry Medals Flap

The story that John Kerry supposedly threw away his Vietnam medals in protest of the war but in fact now proudly displays those medals on his Senate office wall seems to resurface every couple of months. The latest flap is courtesy ABC News:

Discarded Decorations РVideotape Contradicts John Kerry̢۪s Own Statements Over Vietnam Medals

Contradicting his statements as a candidate for president, Sen. John Kerry claimed in a 1971 television interview that he threw away as many as nine of his combat medals to protest the war in Vietnam.

“I gave back, I can’t remember, six, seven, eight, nine medals,” Kerry said in an interview on a Washington, D.C., news program on WRC-TV called Viewpoints on Nov. 6, 1971, according to a tape obtained by ABCNEWS.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Kerry has denied that he threw away any of his 11 medals during an anti-war protest in April 1971.

Calling it a “phony controversy” instigated by the Republican party, Kerry said on Good Morning America today that he didn’t make a distinction between medals and ribbons. “We threw away the symbols,” he said.

His campaign Web site calls it a “right-wing fiction” and a smear. And in an interview with ABCNEWS’ Peter Jennings last December, he said it was a “myth.”

But Kerry told a much different story on Viewpoints. Asked about the anti-war veterans who threw their medals away, Kerry said “they decided to give them back to their country.”

Kerry was asked if he gave back the Bronze Star, Silver Star and three Purple Hearts he was awarded for combat duty as a Navy lieutenant in Vietnam. “Well, and above that, [I] gave back the others,” he said.

The statement directly contradicts Kerry’s most recent claims on the disputed subject to the Los Angeles Times last Friday. “I never ever implied that I did it, ” Kerry told the newspaper, responding to the question of whether he threw away his medals in protest.

“I’m proud of my medals. I always was proud of them,” he told Jennings in December, adding that he had only thrown away his “ribbons” and the medals of two other veterans who could not attend the protest.

Frankly, if Kerry had childishly thrown his medals across the White House fence 33 years ago, it would have almost no bearing on his qualifications to be president today. The fact that he pretended to throw away his medals, presumably to pander to the more radical anti-war veterans he was leading, is a bit cheesy but, again, it was a long time ago and he’s certainly matured since then. Certainly George W. Bush doesn’t want to be judged on his actions from that period.

What is troubling, though, is this bizarre pattern of lying about these minor matters when it’s manifestly obvious that he’s lying. The situation itself is mildly embarrasing but an “I occasionally acted foolishly in my youth” statement would quash it within a single news cycle. Instead, as happened to Al Gore–by most accounts an otherwise honorable man–a perception will be created that Kerry is both dishonest and, frankly, just odd.

Update: NYT has discovered the story: 1971 Tape Adds to Debate Over Kerry’s Medal Protest [RSS]

Taegan Goddard reports that Kerry is going on the offensive:

On Good Morning America he said, “This comes from a president and a Republican Party that can’t even answer whether he showed up for duty in the National Guard.”

Of course, Bush didn’t get his nomination mentioning his activities in the early 1970s every fifteen minutes nor did he first come to prominence leading an anti-war veterans group. Bush’s bonafides as commander-in-chief are his three plus years serving as commander-in-chief. Kerry’s are based in Vietnam.

Again, Kerry should simply admit that he did something cheesy–pretend to throw away medals he was really proud of–and move on. The late night comedians will get a couple of jokes out of it and there will be a round of op-ed columns from the usual suspects. Pretending he didn’t do what he rather obviously did will be much more damaging than this petty transgression.

Update: Steven Taylor has some thoughts here and here.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Moe Lane says:

    Dishonest a politician can survive; ‘just odd’ is the kiss of death for any Presidential candidate. That entire ‘cleared to launch nukes’ thing, you understand.

  2. Boyd says:

    While I acknowledge that what we mere mortals perceive, based on what we read/see/hear in the media, is truly a caricature of the man, but I have to say that I actually do believe that Kerry is both dishonest and odd.

    That being said, he’s a successful politician, which is impossible for an honest person to achieve (and I can’t think of any exceptions on the national scene, including W). Further, being a Texan who has never lived in New England, I regard most folks from Massachusetts as odd.

  3. SwampWoman says:

    Sounds to me like a person that absolutely cannot say “Well, you know what? I screwed up!” under any circumstances. Must be uncomfortable to live with.

    I guess he really does not understand Americans. After all, most of us are fallible human beings that screw up on a regular basis. But we admit it. Perhaps one day he’ll climb down from Mt. Olympus and join us. As it is, he’s getting quite a reputation for double speaking and being caught in lies and blames it on Republicans instead of taking ownership of his own words and deeds.

  4. delta dave says:

    Its probably not going to go away because its somehow now in the MSM playbook…

    The VRWC has been hyping this for almost a year and drawn a yawn from MSM. Now suddenly MSM is on the case?

    You can tell this is not a VRWC story any more because in all the time the VRWC pushed the case for questioning his VN exploits, medals, and post-war action, it never put a label on the situation. Suddenly, we have “Medalgate” … and labeling is a demolib imprimatur.

    Also, have I detected red herring in hanoijohn recent “protests” for Bush/Cheney to stop using tactics of personal destruction? Personal destruction attacks are another imprimatur of the demolib machine. When I see hanoijohn pleading with “Bush/Cheney” to stop, is he really addressing the klintoon kartel?

    It looks like hanoijohn and the klintoon kartel are having a food fight using “Bush/Cheney” as a surrogate

    Just wondering …

  5. submandave says:

    The situation itself is mildly embarrasing but an ‘I occasionally acted foolishly in my youth’ statement would quash it within a single news cycle.

    But to infer that any anti-Vietnam war activity might have been foolish or impetuous would be suicide with a great deal of his constituency. These are the sorts of people who have excused the violent acts of groups such as the Weathermen on the premise that their goal was noble. He has to court a large number of peolpe who have defined the most important acts of their life by these “foolish” acts.

  6. Jim says:

    The problem that Senator Kerry has is very simple: he is too nuanced. The American people want a person to be straight forward and admit to what really happened. When Senator Kerry starts hedging his bets (whether about medals or SUVs) they start seeing their 5 year old trying to get out of trouble. Kerry believes that he can be all things to all people: he can’t. It is time to him to start making concrete positions or get out of the way.
    My question is how he can square away his Vietnam protests while being a reservist?