Kerry, Pressed, Says Medals/Ribbons Were the Same Thing

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:30 PM EDT

( - Did John F. Kerry throw away his Vietnam War medals or didn't he? In a newly surfaced 1971 interview with a Washington, D.C., television station, the young Kerry said he threw away "six, seven, eight, nine" medals. He said nothing about ribbons -- mentioning only "medals" in that 1971 interview.

But on Monday morning, Kerry vehemently denied throwing away his medals -- contradicting what he said in the 1971 interview. He explained the contradiction by saying that back then, medals and ribbons were the same thing.

"There was no distinction," he said on Monday. Medal, ribbons, even dogtags and photographs -- all were "symbols" of the Vietnam War he told ABC News.

During the Monday morning interview with ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson, Kerry repeatedly answered before Gibson even finished asking his questions. Kerry said he's been very clear about what he did in 1971, and he accused Republicans of manufacturing a controversy where none exists.


ABC News obtained a copy of the 1971 WRC-TV interview with Kerry and aired it on Monday morning, reigniting the controversy over Kerry's anti-war past.

In the 1971 interview, Kerry told Washington's WRC-TV he "gave back...six, seven, eight, nine" medals. He answered a questions specifically about "medals." He said nothing about giving back ribbons only. He made no distinction then, as he does now.

Flash forward to Monday

In a somewhat heated interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday, Kerry insisted, "I stood up in front of my nation and took the ribbons off my chest" -- in front of TV cameras, he noted -- and then threw those ribbons over a fence.

"I never asserted otherwise," Kerry said on Monday -- moments after ABC played part of the 1971 intervew in which Kerry indicated he threw his medals over a fence.

"And back then, ribbons, medals were absolutely interchangeable...We all referred to them as the symbols..." Kerry continued. "So the fact is that I have been accurate precisely about what took place. And I am the one who later made clear exactly what happened."

Kerry said the controversy is one that "the Republicans are pushing...This comes from a president and a Republican Party that can't even answer whether or not he (George W. Bush) showed up for duty in the National Guard."

"Good Morning America" anchor Charlie Gibson said he was there 33 years ago when Kerry threw medals over the fence. "I saw you throw medals over the fence, and we didn't find out until later (interrupted) that those were someone else's medals," Gibson said.

Kerry, not listening to the end of Gibson's statement, said, "Charlie, Charlie, you're wrong. That is not what happened. I threw my ribbons across. And all you have to do..." [Gibson tried to clarify that Kerry threw someone else's medals over the fence, but Kerry would not give him an opportunity.]

Kerry eventually clarified that he did throw two medals (not his) over the fence at the request of two veterans.

Kerry did not let anchor Gibson finish his questions and he continued talking over Gibson. "This is a phony controversy," Kerry said, as Gibson tried to ask another queston.

Gibson pressed Kerry on why he didn't make a distinction between medals and ribbons in 1971, but did so in 1984 when he was running for Senate -- and continues to do so today.

Kerry said in 1984 he was asked in greater detail about what he did, and that's when he distinguished between ribbons and medals.

"This is a phony controversy," Kerry said for the second time in the interview. "This comes from a president who can't even show or prove that he showed up for duty in the National Guard. I'm not going to stand for it."

Asked whether he was trying to appeal to the anti-war people in 1971 -- and now is trying to appeal to people who supported the war -- Kerry said it was a "ridiculous" suggestion.

"Everybody understood what we were doing," Kerry said. "I even said in that interview that we threw away the symbols of what our country gave us for what we had gone through."

Kerry said what he did in 1971 was unpopular and polarizing: "I threw my ribbons over; I threw the medals of two veterans who asked me to throw them over -- after the ceremony, completely separate. And I'm the one -- if I had something to hide -- I'm the one who made it known exactly what happened. To me, it's one and the same [ribbons, medals] -- and I'm proud of it."

At the end of the interview, Kerry said he didn't want to throw medals or ribbons over the fence to begin with. "I thought we ought to lay them on a table and put them in front of people in a way that wouldn't be as challenging to many Americans. Other veterans felt otherwise. They took a vote...they voted to throw. I threw my ribbons. I didn't have my medals."

Kerry then attacked Republicans for attacking him on something that happened 35 years ago. Kerry said he won't be attacked for something that is a matter of record.

"We threw away the symbols of the war. I'm proud I stood up and fought against it -- proud I took on Richard Nixon. And I think to this day there's no distinction between the two [medal/ribbons]."

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie commented on Kerry's Good Morning America appearance on Monday: "The problem is not what John Kerry did or didn't do 30 years ago," said Gillespie. "It's what he's saying today, which once again turns out to be wrong."

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