Purple Heart Number One:
The Boston Globe – June 6, 2003 — Kerry experienced his first intense combat action on Dec. 2, 1968, when he “semi-volunteered for, was semi-drafted” for a risky covert mission in which he essentially was supposed to “flush out” the enemy, using a little Boston Whaler named “Batman.” A larger backup craft was called “Robin.”
Unfortunately, Robin had engine trouble, and Batman’s exit was delayed until the boats could depart in unison. The Batman crew encountered some Viet Cong, engaged in a firefight, and Kerry was slightly wounded on his arm, earning his first Purple Heart on his first day of serious action.
“It was not a very serious wound at all,” recalled William Schachte, who oversaw the mission and went on to become a rear admiral.
Purple Heart Number Two:
The Boston Globe – June 6, 2003 — On Feb. 20, 1969, Kerry earned his second Purple Heart after sustaining a shrapnel wound in his left thigh. According to a previously unreported Navy report on the battle, a two-boat patrol spotted three men on a riverbank who were wearing black pajamas and running and engaged them in a firefight. While not criticizing this engagement, the Navy report did challenge the decision of unnamed skippers to fire at other “targets of opportunity” in the area.
“Area seemed extremely prosperous and open to psyops action, minimum number of defensive and no offensive bunkers detected,” the report said. The naval official who wrote the report concluded: “Future missions in this area should be oriented toward psyops rather than destruction.”
The destruction included 40 sampans, 10 hut-style hootches, three bunkers, and 5,000 pounds of rice. The crews from two swift boats had expended more than 14,000 rounds of.50-caliber ammunition. No enemy casualties were reported.
Purple Heart Number Three
The Boston Globe June 6, 2003 –. . . On March 13, 1969, a mine detonated near Kerry’s boat, wounding Kerry in the right arm, according to the citation written by [Navy Admiral Elmo “Bud”] Zumwalt. Guerrillas started firing on the boats from the shoreline. Kerry then realized that he had lost overboard a Green Beret who is identified only as “Rassman.”
“The man was receiving sniper fire from both banks,” according to Kerry’s Bronze Star citation from that day. “Lt. Kerry directed his gunners to provide suppressing fire, while from an exposed position on the bow, his arm bleeding and in pain, with disregard for his personal safety, he pulled the man aboard. Lt. Kerry then directed his boat to return and assist the other damaged craft and towed the boat to safety. Lt. Kerry’s calmness, professionalism and great personal courage under fire were in keeping with the highest traditions of the US Naval Service,” Zumwalt’s citation said.
The Boston Globe June 6, 2003 — Kerry had been wounded three times and received three Purple Hearts. Asked about the severity of the wounds, Kerry said that one of them cost him about two days of service, and that the other two did not interrupt his duty. “Walking wounded,” as Kerry put it. A shrapnel wound in his left arm gave Kerry pain for years. Kerry declined a request from the Globe to sign a waiver authorizing the release of military documents that are covered under the Privacy Act and that might shed more light on the extent of the treatment Kerry needed as a result of the wounds.
“There were an awful lot of Purple Hearts — from shrapnel, some of those might have been M-40 grenades,” said [George] Elliott, Kerry’s commanding officer. “The Purple Hearts were coming down in boxes. Kerry, he had three Purple Hearts. None of them took him off duty. Not to belittle it, that was more the rule than the exception.”
The Boston Globe – June 6, 2003 — . . . The National Archives provided the Globe with a Navy “instruction” document that formed the basis for Kerry’s request. The instruction, titled 1300.39, says that a Naval officer who requires hospitalization on two separate occasions, or who receives three wounds “regardless of the nature of the wounds,” can ask a superior officer to request a reassignment. The instruction makes clear the reassignment is not automatic. It says that the reassignment “will be determined after consideration of his physical classification for duty and on an individual basis.”
Because Kerry’s wounds were not considered serious, his reassignment appears to have been made on an individual basis.
Moreover, the instruction makes clear that Kerry could have asked that any reassignment be waived.
The bottom line is that Kerry could have remained but he chose to seek an early transfer . . .