John Kerry: Swift Boat Veteran

While patrolling the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam war, John Kerry and his crewmates were ambushed by a Vietcong guerrilla firing rockets from the riverbank. Kerry made an instantaneous decision to turn his boat into enemy fire and beach it. He then leapt ashore, chased the man down, and killed him.

"I didn't want to let him get away," he later recalled. "I didn't want him to run away and turn around with an active B-40 [rocket-propelled grenade launcher] and take us out. There but for the grace of God... The guy could have pulled the trigger and I wouldn't be here today."

Navy men were not supposed to leave their ships during combat, and his commanding officer later quipped that he was torn between recommending Kerry for the Silver Star and having him court-martialed for insubordination. Kerry got the Silver Star.

["On another occasion Kerry was sharply reprimanded for having stepped ashore. On a narrow tributary of the Duong Keo River, he and his crew came upon what looked like a deserted village. Then someone thought he saw a man running away. There was no response to a call for surrender, and Kerry took his gun and went to have a look. As he approached, forty-two Vietnamese -- women, children, and old men -- appeared with empty hands raised. They were in desperate shape, hungry and sick, and although Kerry received radio instructions to leave them and get on with the business of killing enemy combatants, he herded the villagers onto boats and took them to the nearest American base to receive food and medical care. 'For an afternoon,' he told (historian Douglas) Brinkley, 'it felt good to really be helping the Vietnamese instead of destroying their villages.'?]

[After the war, Kerry occasionally had nightmares so intense that he would wake up screaming, leap out of bed, and slam into walls. He once smashed a lamp in a guest bedroom at the home of filmmaker George Butler.]

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