Kondracke echoed discredited Swift Boat Vets charge

››› ››› GABE WILDAU

Echoing a widely discredited allegation by the anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke (a FOX News Channel contributor) falsely claimed on the August 23 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume that Senator John Kerry (D-MA) did not properly earn his third Purple Heart, awarded for an injury sustained during a combat incident on March 13, 1969.

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has alleged that Kerry attributed two unrelated injuries sustained on the same day to a single combat incident so that their combined severity would appear to merit the Purple Heart. In fact, though the "personnel casualty report" (pdf) that led to Kerry's Purple Heart mistakenly reported that both of Kerry's injuries occurred during the same incident, there's no evidence that Kerry was responsible for the error and, in any case, either injury could have qualified Kerry for a Purple Heart by itself.

Kondracke's co-panelist -- Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly -- tried to cut in, but Kondracke continued. From the August 23 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume:

KONDRACKE: Now, there's questions about the third Purple Heart as well. Because in this exhaustive Washington Post analysis of that incident, this March 13, 1969, incident, where [then-Kerry crewmate Jim] Rassmann got knocked overboard. Part of the story is that the shrapnel that Kerry took in his buttocks was from a grenade that he -- that he threw himself. And therefore, that would not qualify for ...

CONNOLLY: But that's a ...

KONDRACKE: Just a minute. He also got -- he also had a contusion, didn't break the skin apparently. A contusion on his arm, and the Purple Heart was awarded for the two of them combined. Now, if it turns out that the -- that the shrapnel in his buttocks, which did bring blood, was self- inflicted, then he didn't deserve that Purple Heart.

The truth is that Kondracke is ignorant of the relevant requirements for awarding a Purple Heart. Annenberg Public Policy Center's Political Fact Check pointed out that the buttock wound alone -- which Kerry sustained while blowing up a cache of rice that was a source of food for the Viet Cong -- could* have qualified Kerry for a Purple Heart, even without the arm injury Kerry subsequently sustained in full-fledged combat later that day. A "friendly fire" injury can qualify for a Purple Heart "as long as the 'friendly' projectile or agent was released with the full intent of inflicting damage or destroying enemy troops or equipment," according to the website of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. All agree that rice was being destroyed that day on the assumption that it otherwise might feed Viet Cong fighters."

An August 21 Washington Post article to which Kondracke referred noted that, although Kerry also earned a Bronze Star for the combat incident resulting in his arm wound that day, his Bronze Star citation (pdf) lists only the arm injury -- not the buttock injury -- suggesting that Kerry did not engage in calculated deception to win the awards.

*Correction: A reader has pointed out that Purple Heart regulations state that a wound caused by friendly fire must have occurred "in the heat of battle" to merit a Purple Heart. This additional requirement suggests that Kerry's buttock wound alone might not have made Kerry eligible for a Purple Heart, as this item originally stated. Even so, Kondracke's statement ("if it turns out ... that the shrapnel in his buttocks ... was self-inflicted, then he didn't deserve that Purple Heart") is false, since the fact that a wound apparently resulted from friendly fire does not by itself disqualify that wound from meriting a Purple Heart. Moreover, though it mistakenly attributes Kerry's two distinct injuries to a single incident, the "personnel casualty report" still proves that the U.S. Navy awarded Kerry a Purple Heart for the latter incident, which resulted in the arm injury, not the buttock wound. And it's still true that the arm injury alone would have been sufficient to merit a Purple Heart. While the arm injury "did not break the skin," the Purple Heart criteria make clear that severity of the injury is not relevant to whether it merits a Purple Heart. [return to article]

Stories/Interests
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, 2004 Elections
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