ABC News' Charles Gibson interviewed U.S. Sen. John Kerry on "Good Morning America."
The following is an unedited transcript of the interview that aired on April 26, 2004.
ABC NEWS' CHARLES GIBSON: Now joining us from West Virginia is himself Sen. John Kerry. He is in the town of Glen Easton, West Virginia, today. Senator, good to have you with us.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Charlie, I'm glad to be with you. I really am.
GIBSON: [From] 1984, Senator, to the present, you have said a number of times — as recently as Friday with the Los Angeles Times, you've said a number of times that you did not throw away the Vietnam medals themselves. But now this interview from 1971 shows up in which you say that it was the medals themselves that were thrown away.
KERRY: No, I don't. That's wrong, Charlie.
GIBSON: Can you explain the discrepancy?
KERRY: Absolutely. That is absolutely incorrect. Charlie, I stood up in front of the nation. There were dozens of cameras there, television cameras. There were, I don't know, 20, 30 still photographers. Thousands of people. And I stood up in front of the country, reached into my shirt, visibly for the nation to see, and took the ribbons off my chest, said a few words and threw them over the fence. The file footage, the reporter there from The Boston Globe, everybody got it correctly. And I never asserted otherwise. What I said was, and back then, you know, ribbons, medals were absolutely interchangeable. Sen. Symington in asking me questions in the committee hearing, looked at the ribbons and said, "What are those medals?" The U.S. Navy pamphlet calls them medals. We all referred to them as the symbols, they were representing medals, ribbons. Countless veterans threw the ribbons back, Charlie. Everybody did. Veterans threw back dog tags. They threw back photographs. They threw back their DV214s. There are photographs of a pile of all of those things collected on the steps of the Capitol.
GIBSON: But —
KERRY: So the fact is that I have, I have been accurate precisely about what took place. And I am the one who later made clear exactly what happened. I mean, it's just, this is a controversy that the Republicans are pushing, the Republicans have spent $60 million in the last few weeks trying to attack me, and this comes from a president and a Republican Party that can't even answer whether or not he showed up for duty in the National Guard. I'm not going to stand for it.
GIBSON: Well, Senator, I was there 33 years ago. I saw you throw medals over the fence and we didn't find out till later that those were …
KERRY: No, you didn't see me throw. Wrong.
GIBSON: Those were someone's medals.
KERRY: Charlie, Charlie, you're wrong. That is not what happened. I threw my ribbons across. And all you have to do is go back and find the file footage.
GIBSON: And someone else's medals? And someone else's medals, correct?
KERRY: Later, after, excuse me. Excuse me, Charlie. After the ceremony was over, I had a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart given to me, one Purple Heart by a veteran in the VA in New York and the Bronze Star by an older veteran of World War II in Massachusetts.
GIBSON: But, but …
KERRY: And I threw them over 'cause they asked me to. I never, never —
GIBSON: But, Senator, let me, let me come back to this, the thing you just said which is that the military makes no distinction —
KERRY: This is a phony, Charlie, this is a phony controversy.
GIBSON: — that the military makes no distinction, that the military makes no distinction between ribbons and medals, but you're the one who made the distinction. In 1984 —
KERRY: No. We made no distinction back then, Charlie. We made no distinction in 1971.
GIBSON: But, but 1984, Senator, I don't want to argue with you —
GIBSON: I just want to ask the question. In 1984, when you were running for the Senate, that was the first time that you called someone in from labor because they were upset that you had thrown ribbons away.
KERRY: No, someone from labor —
GIBSON: You called them in and you made the distinction and said, I didn't throw my medals away, I just threw the ribbons away. You made the distinction.
KERRY: I was asked specifically in greater detail about what took place. And I answered the question truthfully. Which was exactly consistent with what happened in 1971. I mean, Charlie, go back and get the file footage. There were millions of people watching on television. I stood up in front of the nation and I took my ribbons off my chest just as other veterans did. This is a phony controversy. This is being pushed yesterday by Karen Hughes of the White House on Fox. It shows up at a several different stations at the same time. The Republicans are running $10 million this week to attack my credentials on defense. This comes from a president who can't even show or prove that he showed up for duty in the National Guard. And I'm not going to stand for it.
GIBSON: I understand.
KERRY: I'm not going to stand for it.
GIBSON: I understand you're feeling that politics is behind this. But I ask you, is it not fair —
KERRY: I know politics is behind this, because —
GIBSON: Is it not fair to draw the inference that when trying to appeal to the antiwar people in 1971, you said, as in that interview, it was the medals, and then when the people who supported the war were giving you political problems, you then said, no, I didn't throw the medals away 13 years later?
KERRY: Charlie, that's the most, with all due respect, that's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. Because I stood up in front of the country, in front of cameras, Tom Oliphant of The Boston Globe got it correct. He wrote about the medals, but he knew they were my ribbons. Everybody understood what we were doing. I even said in that interview that we threw away the symbols of what our country gave us for what we had gone through. And if I was, you know, back then, incidentally, trying to appeal to somebody, I stood up against Richard Nixon, stood up against the war, took a position. It wasn't popular, it was polarizing. I didn't have to do it. If I was trying to hide something, I would have never stood there in front of everybody and thrown them over the fence. 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 have something to hide, I'm the one who made it known exactly what happened. To me, it's one in the same. And I'm proud of it.
GIBSON: Let me ask you, too, about two other things that you have said subsequent to that.
GIBSON: In 1985, you said to The Washington Post, "It is such a personal thing, I did not want to throw my medals away." Then, in 1996, you said to The Boston Globe, I didn't bring my own medals to throw because I didn't have time to go home and get them. Which one was it? Did you want to throw the medals away or not?
KERRY: That's accurate. I've expressed that there was great, sort of, sense of wrenching about the whole thing. Many of us, we had a long argument the night before, Charlie, it's a matter of record, as to how we were going to do it. And the vote was taken. I was not in favor of throwing them over the fence. I thought we ought to lay them on a table and put them in front of people in a way that, you know, wouldn't be as challenging to many Americans. Other veterans felt otherwise. They took a vote. The vote was made. They voted to throw. I threw my ribbons. I didn't have my medals. It's very simple. And what the Republicans are trying to do is make this into an issue because they have no record to run on. They can't go out and talk about jobs or health care or the environment. So they're going to attack 35 years ago. Last week in an unprecedented attack, they sent congressmen to the floor of the Senate, of the House, to attack me on the anniversary of my speech. George Bush has yet to explain to America whether or not, and tell the truth, about whether he showed up for duty. I'm not going to get attacked on something that I did, that is a matter of record, that the press saw, that I did in front of the entire nation, and everyone then understood. There was no distinction. 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.
GIBSON: All right. Senator, I appreciate your being with us this morning. I'm glad to have you here. Thank you.
KERRY: Thank you.