Kerrey Struggles With The Past

A Grievous Wound

Two weeks after Thanh Phong, Bob Kerrey's unit had another mission, on an island off the coast of Nha Trang. The target: a group of Viet Cong soldiers.

Lt. Kerrey's unit scaled 300-foot cliffs at night. And after what happened at Thanh Phong, Kerrey says, he wanted to take the enemy soldiers prisoner. This time, he split up his unit. There was crossfire, and Kerrey was wounded, and lost his leg. After he got out of the hospital, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Nixon.

Kerrey's men got together in Washington on the 30th anniversary of his receiving that medal. They didn't talk much, if at all, about Thanh Phong. From what we've been told, Kerrey never told them he had received a separate award - a Bronze Star - for the operation in Thanh Phong - the operation he now calls an atrocity.

"There was nothing warranted on that whole night that anybody should have received a decoration, let alone accepted it," says Klann, who says he didn't know about the Bronze Star.

The Citation
The Bronze Star is given to servicemembers who have "distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service … while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States…"

Click here to read the citation for the Bronze Star awarded to Bob Kerrey.

Kerrey says he feels conflict over the medal. "I didn't send it back. But I've never worn it. I've no idea where it is. Send me a bronze, I didn't wear a Congressional medal of honor, for almost 20 years afterward. So, I mean, I don't, I don't have any difficulty pointing to many examples over the last 20 years of public life and, before that private life, when I'm asked about it, to tell people, don't presume that because I'm wearing a medal, that I'm a perfect hero. Introduce me as a hero if you want to, but understand not only am I a hero one night and a coward the next, but we're trained to do horrible things."

Kerrey says now that the Bronze Star was "inappropriately awarded."

Can Two Stories Be Reconciled?


Klann told 60 Minutes II that Kerrey was trying to convince him to change his story.

"That is not true," Kerrey says. "God bless Gerhard, that is not, if I was gonna change Gerhard's story, I would have contacted him three yeas ago."

Kerrey says he wants to get together with Klann so they can reconcile their stories. They owe it to each other, he thinks.

"We haven't been intimate for 31 years, but I mean on the night I was injured and Gerhard Klann put the morphine in my thigh. Gerhard Klann held me in his arms like a baby. While I smoked a cigarette and waited for the Medevac helicopter to come and pick me up, I can't presume anything bad about him."

Living with that horror, Kerrey firmly believes, has been so difficult because Vietnam veterans have been treated differently from veterans of other wars - wars that weren't questioned, that the United States didn't lose. Kerrey mentions World War II Gen. Curtis LeMay.

"Curtis Lemay said in his memoirs that if after having designed a firebombing campaign in Japan that killed 100,000 civilians in Tokyo, in a single night... if we lost the war, that he would have been tried and executed as a war criminal. And that may be true. No, we would not be talking about it in the same way, had this been in World War II."

For three decades now, their Vietnam experience has haunted Kerrey and his men. Kerrey says he has lived and re-lived what happened on that night in February in 1969.

Kerrey says that he has nightmares. "Oh, yeah. I mean, I couldn't shut my eyes without seeing red for quite a while after I got him. So yeah, I was afraid to go to sleep. It was just violent, horrible things happening to me and to others. I mean that's what hell is. You know, when, when you think about hell and you imagine what hell is, you imagine horrible things happening. Well, hell's not an imaginary thing. It's a, it's a real place and you can experience it on Earth and I experienced it on that night."

Memories Of A Massacre: Part I




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