John Kerry Discusses Service in Vietnam

ByABC News
July 29, 2004, 7:53 PM

July 29, 2004 -- While serving in Vietnam, John Kerry had to kill "out of necessity," and he says the experience forever changed him.

When ABC News' Peter Jennings interviewed Kerry several months ago, the Massachusetts senator discussed his Vietnam story and how his experiences there altered his life.

Kerry enlisted in the Navy after graduating from Yale University. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam and won a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.

He acknowledged that he was scared "terrified at times" and that he had to kill "out of necessity," an experience that impacts all soldiers. "I mean, talk to any of these guys coming back from Iraq today," he said. "They'll be different forever, as were soldiers in World War II and every war."

He said he changed after returning from the war "in many of the same ways as all of them … you've been to a dark place, and you feel privileged, lucky, blessed to be alive. And it gives you a sense of responsibility at least it gave me a special sense of responsibility about how to use those days afterwards."

Despite that, Kerry said he never considered not serving, as did many members of his generation.

"First of all, it was 1965," Kerry said. "The Tonkin Gulf, supposedly, had just taken place. Lyndon Johnson had issued his call for an additional 500,000 troops. And I don't think that there was a clarity, moral or otherwise, at that point in time to our involvement in Vietnam.

"It wasn't until two years later, in 1967, when the first draft card was burned it wasn't until then that the march on the Pentagon took place, and I was in uniform," he said. "So I think there was a transition that took place in our generation and in America, from the time that I raised my hand and was sworn in and made the decision until the time in 1968 … when I was a much less committed soldier. But I was nevertheless a soldier with a sense of duty and responsibility."