Kerry’s Combat “V”

Of all the campaign stories that should go away but won’t, this one may take the cake:

The 34-Year Old “Typo” (Henry Mark Holzer and Erika Holzer, FrontPage).

The presence of the combat “V” with Kerry’s Silver Star on his DD 214 raises two extremely disquieting questions. How did the unauthorized “V” get there, and why has Kerry allowed it to remain?

The first question should not be taken lightly because we are talking about possible federal crimes. We are talking about the possibility of a forged official document. We are talking, as well, about Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001 [snipped quote].

Was the combat “V” added by a sloppy clerk or a yeoman’s typo thirty years ago? Was someone pressured or persuaded to add it? If Kerry had nothing to do with the gratuitously added combat “V,” why didn’t he have his DD 214 corrected when he was separated from the Navy?

Which gives rise to the second disturbing question: If Kerry was not a party to the unauthorized “V,” why, for all these years, has he allowed his DD 214 to remain uncorrected and to repose on his website?

(Hat tip: Michelle Malkin)

There is no such thing as a combat “V” on a Silver Star. The Silver Star is awarded for valor and only for valor. Adding a “V” device to it would be redundant. (There is no “V” device for the Medal of Honor, either.) So far as I’m aware, the only medals for which one can get a “V” device are the Bronze Star (which is awarded for meritorious service, meritorious achievement, or valor) and the Army/Navy Commendation Medal (often awarded although seldom for valor).

Obviously this was some sort of clerical error. Not only is there no way Kerry could have plausibly doctored his DD 214 but there would be no reason in the world to add a “V” to his Silver Star, which pretty well stands on its own merits. There’s really no reason that Kerry would have thought to try to have this record corrected, either.

Military records are screwed up more often than they’re right, to be honest. They’re prepared and maintained by a huge bureaucracy and getting things fixed is more trouble than it’s worth. My own Bronze Star award certificate (meritorious achievement, not valor) has the wrong name on it. It reads “Harvey H. Joyner, Jr.” rather than “James H. Joyner, Jr.” But by the time it got to me, VIIth Corps had ceased to exist and getting a new one wasn’t worth the trouble since my DD 214, which has my correct name, has the award on it. There are all manner of major errors in other parts of my records but, once I left active duty, it was never worth the aggravation of dealing with the Powers that Be to fix them.

Update: I will note that it’s rather odd that his DD 215 (the form that corrects errors or adds things to the DD 214) from March 2001 doesn’t correct this oversight. But, again, there would be no advantage to Kerry in having people think that he’d received a “V” on his Silver Star.

Update (9/5): Apparently, the Navy is going to launch a formal investigation based on a Judicial Watch action. See N.Z. Bear, Beldar, Steve Verdon, and Hindrocket. I’m a bit puzzled. Furthermore, given that President Bush is both Commander-in-Chief and Kerry’s rival for an ongoing race, the appearance of “command influence” could not be more awkward.

Update (9/6): Michael Demmons has more on Judicial Watch, which he defends against the charge that it’s a right wing organization.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004, Military Affairs, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DrSteve says:

    All the more curious that it would have gone uncorrected given Kerry’s apparent penchant for requesting revisions to his citations (please correct me if I’m wrong!). No stranger to the required forms, he.

  2. Paul says:

    I blogged this about a week ago and said much the same thing about the “V.”

    There are some other oddities in his record though that I’m not so sure about.

  3. carpeicthus says:

    Whew. Good thing he wasn’t photographed wearing a medal he didn’t earn or anything.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Paul: Yep. That’s what I mean–the story should have died off quickly.

    Carpeicthus: I saw that one yesterday. The award in question is a unit citation rather than a personal award. There would be no value to Bush in wearing it–it’s about heraldry rather than personal achievement–so I presume it’s some sort of snafu.

  5. McGehee says:

    James & Carp: if he belonged to the unit to which it had been awarded at the time of the photograph, he was absolutely entitled to wear it — and would have to stop wearing it when he was reassigned.

    At least, that’s the rule as I understood it, from when a similar question was raised only weeks ago.

  6. bains says:

    But, again, there would be no advantage to Kerry in having people think that he’d received a “V” on his Silver Star.

    For those who served, yes. There are however many folks that dont have the foggest idea what a silver star is awarded for, and for these people the V-designation is all the more impressive.

    That it was listed by Kerry’s website is curious in that it shows that his campaign is either similarly unaware, or sought to hoodwink those unaware.

  7. Boyd says:

    I would be surprised to learn that former Lieutenant(jg) Kerry would know that no V is awarded or necessary for the Silver Star. If he didn’t know, there would be no reason to try and get his 214 corrected.

    And Kevin, through my 20 years of service in the Navy (about 15 year of that either on Air Force bases or in joint service environments), I’ve never heard of anyone wearing a unit award unless they were attached to the unit for some portion of the award period. In essence, the award says the unit was outstanding back then, not today.

    I’ll allow for the possibility that the Army may do it that way (James can confirm that one way or the other), but I can state categorically that the Navy and Marine Corps don’t do it the way you suggest, and I’m highly confident that the same is true for the Air Force.

  8. Beldar says:

    Dr. Joyner, thanks for the link and the ping. I’m actually quite skeptical, however, about the suggestion that the Navy Department is doing, or has done, anything substantive yet. They haven’t appointed an investigator. The letter from the DoD-IG to Judicial Watch just said they were forwarding Judicial Watch’s complaint on to the Navy Department — not much more meaningful than a “received” stamp would be. The DoD-IG could not have done otherwise, because he has a statutory obligation to investigate, or forward for investigation, allegations of the sort Judicial Watch has made. But I think it would be a mistake to treat this like a preliminary determination of “probable cause” that there’s actually been some impropriety (something other than a clerical error) or any other implied comment on the merits.

    One of my commenters directed me to a London Telegraph story which quotes an unidentified Navy Department official as saying, “There’s a feeling that it’s time to deal with this thoroughly, once and for all.” Although anyone who’s looked at my blog can confirm that I’m no fan of Sen. Kerry and that I’ve been highly interested in, and generally supportive of, the SwiftVets’ claims, I’m not ready to get excited yet about a British reporter quoting an unidentified Navy Department source about unidentified parties’ “feelings.” But I’m willing to be proved wrong!

  9.     This “V” stuff is getting ridiculous.

        Didn’t it ever occur to any of you that Kerry may not have paid any particular attention to his form 214?  That maybe he just stuck it in the drawer without noticing the “V” designation?  Or that the people at his campaign just posted copies of whatever he gave them on his website without knowing the ins and outs of awards?

        Yeah, yeah, he’s supposed to correct any errors in his records.  Well, people are supposed to do lots of things that they somehow never get around to doing.  Kerry obviously never imagined his military service would be questioned at any point.  If he had, he’d have taken some steps to deal with the Swift Vet mess before it damaged him so much.  So the odd-on bet is that he either didn’t know or didn’t take seriously the bogus “V”.

        And here, I agree with him.  There’s lots of serious questions to ask about Kerry’s Viet Nam service generally, and that Silver Star in particular — e.g., why the three seperate citations?  Let’s concentrate on them, and leave the probable clerical error alone.

  10. Raven says:

    Walt Starr, whose post has the photograph of Bush wearing the medal, and of the records not showing the medal, took the trouble to check with the Air Force about who can wear a unit medal.   The above link includes that discussion.   Starr also quotes the regulation:

    AIR FORCE INSTRUCTION 36-2803; Chapter 4; Paragraph 4.2

    ‘Individual Entitlement. All assigned or attached people who served with a unit during a period for which a unit award was awarded are authorized the appropriate ribbon if they directly contributed to the mission and accomplishments of the unit.’

    “Merely being in the unit during the period covered by the award is not enough in the Air Force. According to the regulations, one must have contributed to the mission and accomplishments of the unit in order to qualify, which means an order is published listing all members of the unit qualified to wear the award.

    “Bush’s name appears on no such order.”

  11. Raven says:

    bains writes,

    That it was listed by Kerry’s website is curious in that it shows that his campaign is either similarly unaware, or sought to hoodwink those unaware.

    Er, no, Kerry’s website simply lists it as a “Silver Star”.

    It is only the PDF of the actual Navy record that adds “with Combat V”.

  12. inge says:

    Let’s be clear, Kerry is NOT one to overlook his own errors. He knew all along that the V was there, there were 3 citations which is unusual within itself. As he jumped the ‘chain of command’, to get a Purple Heart for self inflicted scratch – the Silverstar appears to go with it. If he couldn’t get the medal from his commander, he waited either until a new commander came, or jumped the chain. However, Kerry also was court martialed for ‘DERELICTION OF DUTY’ , one of the reasons he refuses to sign Form 180. Kerry is a claculated, cold liar, who knew since 1967 what he was doing-preparing his road to the White House. Working for the Dept of The Army, I am familiar with the excessive paperwork.

  13. James Joyner says:


    First I’ve heard of the court martial. It sounds quite unlikely. The man was honorably discharged.

  14. T Murray says:

    For what its worth – some years back (1995) I was awarded an Outstanding Unit Award (while serving active duty in the USAF). It was awarded to everyone who served in the unit. As far as my commander was concerned, the award was a team effort that required commitment by all the personel. I believe it would be considered unlikely that there would be certain individuals left out within a unit for an award of that type. The circumstances would have to be very unusual – as a matter of fact, I cant think of a set of circumstances that would fit that scenario. At least not for a unit of the type that I was in.

    As for as who is awarded it – yes you must have been part of the unit during the time that the unit was considered “outstanding”. As long as you were part of the unit during that time – you would eventually get the award, even if your assignment changed, and the award wasnt actually given until after you were reasigned to a new duty station. If I remember right, there were a few people who skated into it – they were assigned to the unit a month or so prio to the award, and didnt really contribute, yet were still awarded.

  15. Raven says:

    The problem is, Bush wasn’t part of the unit when it received that award.   And, as pointed out by Walt Starr (click link above), someone who joins the unit later doesn’t get to wear the ribbon, not even “temporarily”.