GMA: Transcript of Bob Kerrey Interview

ByABC News via logo
April 26, 2001, 3:38 PM

April 26 -- Following is an unedited transcript of ABCNEWS' George Stephanopoulos interview with former Sen. Bob Kerrey about his experiences in Vietnam. The interview took place Wednesday, April 25.

ABCNEWS' GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Your Bronze Star citation the night of Feb. 25, 1969, describes two firefights; and the end results were 21 Viet Cong killed, two hooches destroyed, and 2 enemy weapons captured. But that's not what happened that night, is it?


STEPHANOPOULOS: What did happen?

KERREY: First of all, we filed an operation report to file what happened. The Bronze Star citation was not written up by me nor requested by me. It was written by somebody else and received by me after I got home, until, you know, still in the hospital care for another 7 or 8 years, so it's not like I wrote myself up.

We went in that night in an area that was extremely dangerous. We had reliable intelligence that there was going to be a district level meeting of the VC in that particular village. I'd flown the area the afternoon before in a fixed wing aircraft. The Navy intelligence flies out often; it had every reason to believe that there were not civilians in the area.

We went in at night, six men (including myself, 7 men total); and we found some people in the first hooch that were we believed outpost and we killed them. We went on, we took fire from the area that we thought we were expected to have this meeting occur and we returned fire. And we returned a lot of fire.

And by the time the firefight was all over, we had I don't know what the total number was a group of people. They were all women and children; they were all civilians.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Every one of them civilians?

KERREY: Yes. Now, that theater where we were, there is no such thing as everyone being a civilian; there was no doubt in my mind they were at least VC sympathizers. They were in a free-fire zone where they are not supposed to be the district chief had said there wasn't going to be civilians there anybody who was there is considered to be enemy.

And the truth of the matter it's very difficult to distinguish under the best of circumstances and this was hardly the best of circumstances.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about the Bronze Star citation? How did the government get it wrong?

KERREY: How did the government get it wrong? The government almost always gets it wrong when it comes to citations. The only medal that I am certain I deserved is the Purple Heart. Citations are written by other human beings. God only knows why they write them. [inaudible]

STEPHANOPOULOS: But when you thought knew it was wrong.

KERREY: I'm in a hospital for God sakes, trying to get my life back together, trying to get back into civilian life. In that particular time there were protests in the street for [inaudible] Even going over there.

People of the United States of America sent us over to Viet Nam to fight a war and then decided midstream they didn't want us to do it. So no, I'm stacking my arms, putting my uniform away, trying to get back to civilian life, and I'm not sitting there making moral judgments about whether or not I should or should not receive a medal, that's the least of my worries in 1969 and 70.

STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, another member of your squad, Gerhardt, has been talking to news organizations, giving quite a different account of what happened that night. Do you know what he is saying?

KERREY: I have a pretty good idea of what he's saying. He said we rounded up a bunch of civilians and we shot them in point blank range which did not happen.

Look, Gerhardt and I are platoon-mates. I selected him for my platoon. He had more experience than I did, he had a tour over to Viet Nam once before, a 20-year veteran [inaudible] All in all, and he and I agree on a number of things. My guess is one of them was night, the second is free-fire zone, the third is we expected to find enemy and fourth is we took fire, so there's a lot of things we agree on. I regret he's got a different memory because it's not the memory that I've got. It's not the memory that other members of the squad have either.