Some critics of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry have questioned the circumstances surrounding the first of three Purple Hearts Kerry won in Vietnam. Those critics, among them some of Kerry’s fellow veterans, have suggested that a wound suffered by Kerry in December 1968 may have made him technically eligible for a Purple Heart but was not severe enough to warrant serious consideration, even for a decoration that was handed out by the thousands. Whatever the case, Kerry was awarded the Purple Heart, and, along with two others he won later, it allowed him to request to leave Vietnam before his tour of duty was finished.
Kerry was treated for the wound at a medical facility in Cam Ranh Bay. The doctor who treated Kerry, Louis Letson, is today a retired general practitioner in Alabama. Letson says he remembers his brief encounter with Kerry 35 years ago because “some of his crewmen related that Lt. Kerry had told them that he would be the next JFK from Massachusetts.” Letson says that last year, as the Democratic campaign began to heat up, he told friends that he remembered treating one of the candidates many years ago. In response to their questions, Letson says, he wrote down his recollections of the time. (Letson says he has had no contacts with anyone from the Bush campaign or the Republican party.) What follows is Letson’s memory, as he wrote it.
I have a very clear memory of an incident which occurred while I was the Medical Officer at Naval Support Facility, Cam Ranh Bay.
John Kerry was a (jg), the OinC or skipper of a Swift boat, newly arrived in Vietnam. On the night of December 2, he was on patrol north of Cam Ranh, up near Nha Trang area. The next day he came to sick bay, the medical facility, for treatment of a wound that had occurred that night.
The story he told was different from what his crewmen had to say about that night. According to Kerry, they had been engaged in a fire fight, receiving small arms fire from on shore. He said that his injury resulted from this enemy action.
Some of his crew confided that they did not receive any fire from shore, but that Kerry had fired a mortar round at close range to some rocks on shore. The crewman thought that the injury was caused by a fragment ricocheting from that mortar round when it struck the rocks.
That seemed to fit the injury which I treated.
What I saw was a small piece of metal sticking very superficially in the skin of Kerry’s arm. The metal fragment measured about 1 cm. in length and was about 2 or 3 mm in diameter. It certainly did not look like a round from a rifle.
I simply removed the piece of metal by lifting it out of the skin with forceps. I doubt that it penetrated more than 3 or 4 mm. It did not require probing to find it, did not require any anesthesia to remove it, and did not require any sutures to close the wound.
The wound was covered with a bandaid.
Not [sic] other injuries were reported and I do not recall that there was any reported damage to the boat.