The John Kerry website has taken a bit of botox to his military records, cautiously tip-toeing past the fact that he was a commissioned officer in the Naval Reserve during his anti-war days in 1970-1972, and remained in the Reserves until 1978. His bio page now tells us this:
A graduate of Yale University, John Kerry entered the Navy after graduation, becoming a Swift Boat officer, serving on a gunboat in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. He received a Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat V, and three awards of the Purple Heart for his service in combat.
By the time Senator Kerry returned home from Vietnam, he felt compelled to question decisions he believed were being made to protect those in positions of authority in Washington at the expense of the soldiers carrying on the fighting in Vietnam.
A page titled "John Kerry's Service Record" includes a timeline titled "John Kerry's Vietnam Service Record". Fair enough - maybe his days in the Reserve on inactive status are not that interesting. But here is how the timeline ends:
January 1, 1970 – Kerry promoted to (full) Lieutenant
January 3, 1970 – Kerry requests discharge
March 1, 1970 – Kerry’s date of separation from Active Duty
April 29, 1970 – Kerry listed as Registrant who has completed service
Telling us that he requested a discharge (with the wrong date) and that he was listed as a registrant who completed service is not quite the same as telling us he was out of the Navy.
At one time the Kerry folks were not quite so coy about his service- this archived note on his website, from March 22, 2004, tells us that:
John Kerry is a Decorated Combat Veteran of the Vietnam War: Kerry volunteered for the United States Navy after college and served from 1966 through 1970 rising to the rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade. Afterwards, Kerry continued his military service in the United States Naval Reserves from 1972 through 1978.
John Kerry, a Veteran of the Vietnam War, Knows Combat First Hand: John Kerry joined the United States Navy after college and served from 1966 through 1970 rising to the rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade. Afterwards, Kerry continued his military service in the United States Naval Reserves from 1972 through 1978.
So there was a time when the Kery campaign acknowledeged his service in the Naval Reserve, even though the dates struck some as odd - what happened from 1970 to 1972, when he was active as an anti-war protestor and meeting members of the North Vietnamese delegation in Paris?
Confusion about Kerry's status after Jan 1970 is common. Recently, the NY Times and the LA Times got it wrong; the Boston Globe had it wrong a year ago, and the Harvard Crimson was confused (or misled) back in February 1970. Douglas Brinkley, author of "Tour of Duty" also gets it wrong, telling us that Kerry was honorably discharged in 1970 (sorry, no page reference).
Let's do the boring work of grinding through Kerry's records - the truth is in there.
A logical starting place is the Request for History of Service, which purports to be a comprehensive summary of a person's service record. Dated May 1986, this tells us that on Jan 3, 1970, Kerry was released from Active Duty and transferred to the Naval reserve, (inactive status). He was transferred to the Standby Reserve (inactive) in July 1972, and received an Honorable Discharge in 1978. The Service Record tells a similar story.
His Enlistment Contract shows him signing up for six years starting in February 1966, so we would expect him to be in the service until 1972. The Officer Candidate Agreement explains how the six years will be divided amongst active, reserve, and standby status.
John Kerry becomes a commissioned officer in the Naval Reserve in December 1966, according to his Reserve Office Appointment from February 1967.
Here is a tempting title - his Acceptance of Discharge of Naval Reserve shows that he formally resigned from the Naval Reserve in July 1978.
Honorable Discharge From Reserve is also dated 1978.
The Record of Discharge provides a moment of confusion, telling us that he was discharged in 1966! False alarm - he was discharged from Officer Candidate School to go into active service.
His Release From Active Duty, dated January 2, 1970, tells us that on Jan 3 he will regard himself as released from all active duty, and transferred to inactive duty in the Naval Reserve. On p. 2 he is advised that his release from active duty does not terminate his status as a member of the Naval Reserve.
An interesting puzzle is presented on pages 15-17 of Temporary Orders and Ranks - John Kerry is given a temporary appointment as Lieutenant in Dec 1970; his acceptance is received in January 1971. This is strong evidence that he was still aware of his status, but why the appointment is temporary is not clear.
The Transfer to Standby Reserve took place in 1972.
The only flicker for Kerry that I can find in all this is the document cryptically titled DD214. This repeats the Honorable Discharge from OCS in 1966; it also shows his release from active status and transfer to inactive status in 1970, and characterizes his status as "honorable". Conceivably, someone looking at this record with no other context could have become confused.
However, there was a time when the Kerry camp was quite happy to mention their candidate's service from 1972 to 1978 in the Standby Reserve, from which he was Honorably Discharged in 1978. I can find nothing in these records suggesting that Kerry was not in the Reserves from 1970 to 1972.
Comments on these or other Kerry records welcome, natch.