Revealed: how 'war hero' Kerry tried to put off Vietnam military duty
By Charles Laurence in New York (Filed: 07/03/2004)
Senator John Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential candidate who is trading on his Vietnam war record to campaign against President George W Bush, tried to defer his military service for a year, according to a newly rediscovered article in a Harvard University newspaper.
Senator Kerry on the campaign trail in Iowa
He wrote to his local recruitment board seeking permission to spend a further 12 months studying in Paris, after completing his degree course at Yale University in the mid-1960s.
The revelation appears to undercut Sen Kerry's carefully-cultivated image as a man who willingly served his country in a dangerous war - in supposed contrast to President Bush, who served in the Texas National Guard and thus avoided being sent to Vietnam.
The Harvard Crimson newspaper followed a youthful Mr Kerry in Boston as he campaigned for Congress for the first time in 1970. In the course of a lengthy article, "John Kerry: A Navy Dove Runs for Congress", published on February 18, the paper reported: "When he approached his draft board for permission to study for a year in Paris, the draft board refused and Kerry decided to enlist in the Navy."
Samuel Goldhaber, the article's author who is now a cardiologist attached to the Harvard School of Medicine, spent 11 hours trailing Mr Kerry and still remembers that the subject of the Paris deferment came up during long conversations about Vietnam.
"I stand by my story," he told The Telegraph. "It was a long time ago, and I was 19 at the time, so it is hard to remember every detail. But I do know this: at no point did Kerry contact either me or the Crimson to dispute anything I had written."
Sen Kerry's campaign headquarters in Washington refused an opportunity to deny the report. Despite repeated telephone calls from The Telegraph, a spokesman refused to comment. Another Democrat official said merely: "In Vietnam, John Kerry proved his patriotism beyond question. Everyone knows that."
A senior Republican strategist, who asked not to be named, said: "I've not heard this before. This undercuts Kerry's complaints about Bush and it continues to pose questions as to his credibility among ordinary Vietnam veterans."
He said it would fuel concerns over the way Sen Kerry made a name for himself by leading anti-war protests in Washington and Boston in the late 1960s and early 1970s after he had completed his service in the US Navy, even while his former comrades continued to fight and die.
A newly-published biography of Sen Kerry by Douglas Brinkley, A Tour of Duty, makes no mention of the requested deferment or planned year in Paris. At the time, it was still unclear just how long America would remain in Vietnam, and it might have seemed that a year's deferral of service could render enlistment unnecessary.
According to the Democratic Party's version of Sen Kerry's military history, he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Harvard through eagerness to do his duty, and sailed with the Navy for combat as soon as he graduated in 1966.
Sen Kerry won a gallantry medal for his service as a gunboat captain on the Mekong Delta, and was honorably discharged with three "purple heart" medals after sustaining three wounds. He has consistently presented himself as a leader who argued against the war only after fulfilling his duty in the field. Supporters argue that his war record makes him a more trustworthy leader than President Bush, who served sporadically in the National Guard at home.
"This means that Kerry didn't jump into all that heroic service until he was pushed, and it is a very nice piece of information," said Lucianne Goldberg, a prominent Republican campaigner.
Republican strategists for President Bush were already investigating Sen Kerry's record of three wounds sustained in Vietnam. "We find that he had only one day off sick - with three wounds? What exactly were these wounds?" she asked.
Mr Goldhaber recalled that, during a day spent with Sen Kerry and one assistant during his congressional campaign, he had described his involvement, service and decision to oppose the war in great detail.
"I am not at all surprised that he wants to be president, because he exuded ambition from the word go," said Dr Goldhaber. "At the time, the idea that he tried to persuade the draft board to let him spend a year in Paris was just a detail."
A spokesman for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign declined to comment.