View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Kerry on Boorda 

Kate O'Beirne of National Review seems to be one of the few who remembers Admiral Jeremy "Mike" Boorda, the Chief of Naval Operations who took his own life in 1996. The first enlisted man to rise to that position, Admiral Boorda killed himself when Newsweek began to investigate the propriety of two "V" decorations, awarded for valor in combat, that he had worn on an off for several years. Admiral Boorda died believing he had mistakenly worn the award. Two years later, the Navy issued an opinion stating that he was not in error, that he did in fact deserve the "V"s.

When Admiral Boorda killed himself, it was only natural for the two Boston papers to seek out the opinions of their own local, decorated Vietnam Navy veteran, Sen. John Kerry:

"Is it wrong? Yes, it is very wrong. Sufficient to question his leadership position? The answer is yes, which he clearly understood," said Sen. John Kerry, a Navy combat veteran who served in Vietnam. - Boston Herald, May 18, 1996

"The military is a rigorous culture that places a high premium on battlefield accomplishment," said Sen. John F. Kerry, who received numerous decorations, including a Bronze Star with a "V" pin, as a Navy lieutenant in Vietnam.

"In a sense, there's nothing that says more about your career than when you fought, where you fought and how you fought," Kerry said.

"If you wind up being less than what you're pretending to be, there is a major confrontation with value and self-esteem and your sense of how others view you."

Of Boorda and his apparent violation, Kerry said: "When you are the chief of them all, it has to weigh even more heavily."
(Emphasis added) - Boston Globe, May 18, 1996

Ironically, it now appears that Kerry has been erroneously claiming a "V" of his own, associated with a Silver Star. The "V" appears never to have been applicable to the Silver Star, although it can be awarded in conjunction with a Bronze Star.

Kerry clearly understands exactly what the stakes are here. I don't think anyone is expecting Kerry to follow Admiral Boorda's own, unfortunate example. We don't have a tradition of hari-kiri in this country, and Kerry himself felt it necessary to add that he didn't think it was worth Boorda's life. But we might think about holding Kerry to the standard he held Boorda to at the time.

Let me be clear: so far, there has been no firm evidence that Kerry's decorations weren't awarded properly, or that they weren't earned. But he has clearly lied about his combat experience, exaggerated (at least) the conditions for his first Purple Heart, and at a minimum failed to correct an error on his DD 214. We may never know the actual conditions of the Bronze Star or the Purple Hearts. But there are those who clearly and honestly believe that he didn't earn them.

I think it's a mistake to assume that the Swifties are only or even primarily, upset at Kerry's post-combat testimony about alleged war crimes. There's no question that that has ticked them off to no end. But respect is different from resentment. It's one thing to get clobbered by someone whom you respect. It's quite another to get blindsided by a former comrade who wound up being less - a lot less - than he was pretending to be.

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