The Purple Heart hunt

Martin Fackler:


I served as a combat surgeon in DaNang, (U.S. Naval Support Hospital) from Dec. 10, 1967, through Dec. 11, 1968. While there, I evaluated and treated hundreds of severely wounded combatants.
During my year in DaNang, a few combatants urged me to verify small abrasions as "wounds" so they could get a Purple Heart. Each freely admitted trying to acquire Purple Hearts as rapidly as possible to take advantage of the policy allowing those with three Purple Hearts to apply to leave Vietnam early. I refused them. But some went shopping for another opinion. Unfortunately, we had some antiwar physicians in Vietnam who were happy to become accomplices in these frauds. Most with valid Purple Hearts didn't need to apply to leave Vietnam: The seriousness of their wounds demanded it.
Lt. John Kerry's collecting three Purple Hearts within 100 days — all for wounds too minor to require hospitalization — recalls the distasteful memories of having to deal with those few miscreants in DaNang. More disturbing is the revelation that crewmen on Mr. Kerry's boat denied they had received any gunfire from shore at the time when Lt. Kerry claimed such gunfire had caused his wound. The doctor who disapproved Lt. Kerry's application for his first Purple Heart for that wound agreed that the tiny metal splinter sticking in the skin of his arm was inconsistent with enemy gunfire from shore. His crewmates claimed that Lt. Kerry, himself, had fired a grenade launcher from the boat striking a rock on the nearby shore — and his wound was from a metal splinter from the grenade that ricocheted back, striking him in the arm.
Is there any way we can determine who was telling the truth about this first Purple Heart? Yes, there is. The type of wound can reveal much about the weapon that caused it. The tiny sliver of metal and its very superficial penetration is typical of fragments from explosive devices — like grenades. It would not have resulted from the most likely gunfire from shore — small arms rifle fire. The AK 47 rifle, used by the enemy, fires a 30-caliber bullet, which is 50 times or more as heavy as the sliver of metal sticking in Lt. Kerry's skin. Such a bullet would have passed through any part of his body it struck, and certainly no part of it would have remained sticking in his skin.
In the absence of the medical records that Mr. Kerry apparently declines to make public, the only details we have about his second and third Purple Hearts are that he also based them on wounds too minor to require hospitalization. My reason for refusing to verify insignificant wounds as the basis for a Purple Heart was the regulation covering Purple Heart awards. In Part B, Paragraph 2, of the Army Purple Heart Regulation (600-8-22 of 25 February 1995), we find "the wound for which the award is made must have required treatment by a medical officer."
I have seen interviews with Kerry about these "wounds" and he seems very defensive and embarrased by what he did. He restricts his comments to saying "walking wounded."


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