DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON - The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday that John Kerry "deserved" his combat medals for heroism in Vietnam, which some vets have disputed.
Sen. John Warner, an ex-Navy secretary under President Richard Nixon, particularly defended the process by which Kerry won his highest honor, the Silver Star.
"I'd stand by the process that awarded that medal, and I think we best acknowledge that his heroism did gain that recognition," Warner (R-Va.) told CNN's "Late Edition."
Kerry was awarded a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Hearts as a Navy Swift boat commander in the Mekong Delta in February and March 1969.
"We did extraordinary, careful checking on that type of medal [the Silver Star], a very high one, when it goes through the secretary," Warner said. "I feel that he deserved it." Like Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Nixon - both Navy vets of World War II whose war service was later questioned - Kerry has had to face recent allegations in TV ads from others serving near him in Vietnam claiming that he lied about his combat heroism.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a Vietnam prisoner of war, has condemned the ads - but President Bush has not.
Last week, Bush told CNN'S Larry King that Kerry served nobly in America's longest war, adding only that his Democrat opponent "is justifiably proud of his record in Vietnam and he should be."
Bush's strategy has been to portray himself as a "Sept. 12th" President who better understands the post-9/11 world than Kerry, who he implies would lead America with a Cold War, or "Sept. 10th," mentality.
Yesterday, Bush-Cheney counselor Mary Matalin became one of the highest-ranking campaign advisers to lend credence to the claims by Kerry's unhappy shipmates who believe he served dishonorably.
"Kerry ought to stop this. He's running his campaign predicated on four months of service 35 years ago in the middle of the Cold War," Matalin told "Fox News Sunday."
Originally published on August 16, 2004