"John is a fighter," Heinz Kerry said of her husband, a Vietnam War combat veteran, in . "He earned his medals the old-fashioned way — by putting his life on the line for his country."
Heinz Kerry, who married the nominee-to-be in 1995, said, "For him, the names of too many friends inscribed in the cold stone of the Vietnam Memorial testify to the awful toll exacted by leaders who mistake stubbornness for strength.
"In America," she said, "the true patriots are those who dare speak truth to power."
Heinz Kerry said her husband is tested by war, but "knows the importance of getting it right." A Navy officer, Kerry was awarded Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat "V" and three Purple Hearts for Vietnam War service.
Heinz Kerry made the biggest speech of her life at a time when she is feeling the renewed glare of the campaign spotlight, after telling a Pennsylvania reporter to "shove it" during a delegation party Sunday.
"By now I hope it will come as no surprise to anyone that I have something to say," she said. "And tonight, as I have done throughout this campaign, I would like to speak to you from my heart."
Heinz Kerry closed the convention's second night program, following to the FleetCenter stage a succession of fresh and familiar faces, including newcomer Barack Obama, who delivered the , and liberal icon .
Kennedy, the 72-year-old patriarch of the country's most enduring political dynasty, blasted President Bush for embarking on a "misguided war" in Iraq, and said Kerry offered the "hope of real victory against terrorism and true security at home."
In his speech, Obama, who is seeking to become just the third black elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction, offered his own life as an example of uniquely American possibilities. The 42-year-old son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, he said people don't expect government to solve all their problems but do want help for "a decent shot at life."
"They sense, deep in their bones, that with just a change in priorities we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all," said Obama.
A first-generation American who grew up in Mozambique, Heinz Kerry spoke of her personal journey, which brought her to university in apartheid South African and — ultimately — into the heart of one of the United States' wealthiest families.
"I have a very personal feeling about how special America is, and I know how precious freedom is," said Heinz Kerry, who joined anti-apartheid marches. "It is a sacred gift, sanctified by those who have lived it and those who have died defending it."
Heinz Kerry began her speech by greeting the crowd in the five languages she can speak fluently: Spanish, French and Italian, in addition to English and her native Portuguese, which still flavors her speech.
The 65-year-old heiress was introduced by Chris Heinz, 31, the youngest of her three sons with GOP Sen. John Heinz III, who died in a 1991 plane crash.
"Thank you, Christopher," his mother said. "Your father would be proud of you and your brothers.
Heinz Kerry has been called a "loose cannon" on the campaign trail, often speaking on issues that more typical political wives would avoid: Botox, prenuptial agreements, the vice presidential candidate's good looks.
Conventional wisdom varies on whether voters will find Heinz Kerry's candor refreshing or unseemly.
A recent poll found those voters evenly divided about her, if they had any opinion at all. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found her favorable rating at 27 percent and unfavorable at 26 percent. Nearly half of those polled had no opinion at all.
The candidate, meanwhile, campaigned in Virginia and Pennsylvania en route to his arrival in the convention city on Wednesday. "I will and I can fight a more effective war on terror than George Bush is," Kerry said at a Philadelphia rally.
Kerry's vice presidential running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, was already in town, anticipating his appearance before the delegates and a prime-time television audience on Wednesday night.