An official Navy document on Senator Kerry’s campaign Web site listed as Mr. Kerry’s “Honorable Discharge from the Reserves” opens a door on a well kept secret about his 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 Mr. Kerry’s discharge as being subsequent to the review of “a board of officers.” This in it self is 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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. The review was likely held to improve Mr. Kerry’s status of discharge from a less than honorable discharge to an honorable discharge.
A Kerry campaign spokesman, David Wade, was asked whether Mr. Kerry had ever been a victim of an attempt to deny him an honorable discharge. There has been no response to that inquiry.
The document is dated February 16, 1978. But Mr. 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 Mr. Kerry’s discharge would have been at the end of his 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 Mr. Kerry show a great deal of interest in Mr. Kerry by Nixon and his executive staff, including, perhaps most importantly, Nixon’s special counsel, Charles Colson. In a meeting the day after Mr. Kerry’s Senate testimony, April 23, 1971, Mr. Colson attacks Mr. Kerry as a “complete opportunist…We’ll keep hitting him, Mr. President.”
Mr. Colson was still on the case two months later, according to a memo he wrote on June 15,1971, that was brought to the surface by the Houston Chronicle. “Let’s destroy this young demagogue before he becomes another Ralph Nader.” Nixon had been a naval officer in World War II. Mr. Colson was a former Marine captain. Mr. Colson had been prodded to find “dirt” on Mr. Kerry, but reported that he couldn’t find any.
The Nixon administration ran FBI surveillance on Mr. 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 America was still at war, Mr. Kerry had met with the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong delegation to the Paris Peace talks in May 1970 and then held a demonstration in July 1971 in Washington to try to get Congress to accept the enemy’s seven point peace proposal without a single change. Woodrow Wilson threw 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 President Harding.