Mystery Still Surrounding Kerry's Discharge from the Navy

An official Navy document on the John Kerry campaign website listed as Kerry’s “Honorable Discharge from the Reserves” opens a door on a well-kept secret about Kerry’s military service. The document is a form cover letter in the name of the Carter Administration’s Secretary of the Navy, W. Graham Claytor. It describes Kerry’s discharge as being subsequent to the review of “a board of officers.” This in itself is most unusual. There is nothing about an ordinary honorable discharge action in the Navy that requires a review by a board of officers.

According to the Secretary of the Navy’s document, the “authority of reference” this board was using in considering Kerry’s record was “Title 10, U.S. Code Section 1162 and 1163.” This section refers to the grounds for involuntary separation from the service. What was being reviewed, then, was Kerry’s involuntary separation from the service. And it couldn’t have been an honorable discharge, or there would have been no point in any review at all. This review likely was held to improve Kerry’s status of discharge from a less than honorable discharge to an honorable discharge.

This document is dated February 16, 1978. But Kerry’s military commitment began with his six year enlistment contract with the Navy on February 18, 1966. His commitment should have terminated in 1972. It is highly unlikely that either the man who at that time was a Vietnam Veterans Against the War leader, John Kerry, requested or the Navy accepted an additional six year reserve commitment. And the Claytor document indicates proceedings to reverse a less than honorable discharge that took place sometime prior to February 1978.

The most routine time for Kerry’s discharge would have been at the end of Kerry’s six year obligation in 1972. But how was it most likely to have come about?

NBC’s release this March of some of the Nixon White House tapes about John Kerry show a great deal of interest in Kerry by Nixon and his executive staff including, perhaps most importantly, Nixon’s Special Counsel, Charles Colson. In a meeting the day after Kerry’s Senate testimony, April 22, 1971, Colson attacks Kerry as a “complete opportunist. . . . We’ll keep hitting him, Mr. President.”

Colson was still on the case two months later, according to a memo he wrote on June 15, 1971 that was surfaced by the Houston Chronicle. “Let’s destroy this young demagogue before he becomes another Ralph Nader.” Richard Nixon had been a Naval officer in World War II. Charles Colson was a former Marine captain. Colson had been prodded to find “dirt” on Kerry, but reported that he couldn’t find any.

The Nixon Administration ran FBI surveillance against Kerry from September 1970 until August 1972. Finding grounds for an other than honorable discharge, however, for a leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, given his numerous activities while still a reserve officer of the Navy, was easier than finding “dirt.”

For example, while the United States was still at war, Kerry had met with the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong delegation to the Paris Peace talks in May of 1970 and then held a demonstration in July of 1971 in Washington to try to get Congress to accept the enemy’s seven point peace proposal without a single change. Woodrow Wilson had thrown Eugene Debs, a former presidential candidate, in prison just for demonstrating for peace negotiations with Germany during World War I. No court overturned his imprisonment. He had to receive a pardon from Wilson’s successor, President Harding.

Charles Colson refused to answer any questions about his activities regarding Kerry during his time in the Nixon White House. The Secretary of the Navy at the time during the Nixon presidency is the current Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner (R.-Va.). John Ullyot, a spokesman for the Senator, said, “??¢â???¬ ¦Senator Warner has no recollection that would either confirm or challenge any representation that Senator Kerry received a less than honorable discharge.”

The “board of officers” review reported in the Claytor document is even more extraordinary because it came about “By direction of the President??¢â???¬ ¦ .” No normal honorable discharge requires the direction of the President. The President at that time was Jimmy Carter. This adds another twist to the story of Kerry’s hidden military records.

Carter’s first act as President was a general amnesty for draft dodgers and other war protesters. Less than an hour after his Inauguration on January 21, 1977, while still in the Capitol building, Carter signed Executive Order 11967 empowering it. By the time it became a Directive from the Defense Department in March of 1977 it had been expanded to include other offenders who may have had general, bad conduct, dishonorable discharges and any other discharge or sentence with negative effect on military records. In those cases the Directive outlined a procedure for appeal on a case by case basis before a board of officers. A satisfactory appeal would result in an improvement of discharge status or an honorable discharge.

Senator Kerry has repeatedly refused to sign Standard Form 180 which would allow the release of all his military records. And some of his various spokesmen have claimed that all his records are already posted on his website. But The Washington Post already noted that the Naval Personnel Office admitted that they were still withholding around 100 pages of files.

If Kerry was the victim of a Nixon “enemies list” hit, one might have expected him to wear it like a badge of honor, like many others, such as his friend Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, CBS’s Daniel Schorr, or the actor Paul Newman, who also made Colson’s original list of 20 “enemies.”

There are a number of categories of discharges besides honorable. There are general discharges, medical discharges, bad conduct discharges as well as other than honorable and dishonorable discharges. There is one odd coincidence that gives some weight to the possibility that Kerry was dishonorably discharged. Kerry has claimed that he lost his medal certificates and that is why he asked that they be reissued. But when a dishonorable discharge is issued, all pay benefits, and allowances and all medals and honors are revoked as well. And five months after Kerry joined the United States Senate in 1985, on one single day, June 4th, all of Kerry’s medals were reissued.

(This article first appeared in the New York Sun.)