April 26, 2004 -- Contradicting his statements as a candidate for president, Sen. John Kerry claimed in a 1971 television interview that he threw away as many as nine of his combat medals to protest the war in Vietnam.
"I gave back, I can't remember, six, seven, eight, nine medals," Kerry said in an interview on a Washington, D.C., news program on WRC-TV called Viewpoints on Nov. 6, 1971, according to a tape obtained by ABCNEWS.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Kerry has denied that he threw away any of his medals during an anti-war protest in April 1971.
Calling it a "phony controversy" instigated by the Republican party, Kerry said on Good Morning America today that he has always accurately said what took place. "I threw my ribbons. I didn't have my medals. It is very simple."
He also said he — and the military — didn't make a distinction between medals and ribbons. "We threw away the symbols of what our country gave us for what we had gone through," he said.
And in an interview with ABCNEWS' Peter Jennings last December, he said it was a "myth."
But Kerry told a much different story on Viewpoints. Asked about the anti-war veterans who threw their medals away, Kerry said "they decided to give them back to their country."
Kerry was asked if he gave back the Bronze Star, Silver Star and three Purple Hearts he was awarded for combat duty as a Navy lieutenant in Vietnam. "Well, and above that, [I] gave back the others," he said.
The statement directly contradicts Kerry's most recent claims on the disputed subject to the Los Angeles Times last Friday. "I never ever implied that I did it, " Kerry told the newspaper, responding to the question of whether he threw away his medals in protest.
"I'm proud of my medals. I always was proud of them," he told Jennings in December, adding that he had only thrown away his "ribbons" and the medals of two other veterans who could not attend the protest.
The disputed incident happened 33 years ago this past weekend, on April 23, 1971, when Kerry led the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War in a protest against the war they fought.
Many veterans were seen throwing their medals and ribbons over the fence in front of the U.S. Capitol. The Boston Globe and other newspapers reported that Kerry was among these veterans.
"In a real sense, this administration forced us to return our medals because beyond the perversion of the war, these leaders themselves denied us the integrity those symbols supposedly gave our lives," Kerry said the following day.
But in 1984, when he first ran for the U.S. Senate, Kerry revealed he still had his medals. According to a Boston Globe report on April 15, 1984, union officials had expressed uneasiness with Kerry's candidacy because he had thrown his medals away. Kerry acknowledged the medals he threw away were, in fact, another soldier's medals. He reportedly invited a union official home to personally inspect his Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts, awarded for his combat duty as a Navy lieutenant.
In the 1971 Viewpoints interview, he made no mention of the ribbons or the medals belonging to another veteran.
And in 1988, Kerry again clarified his statement by saying he threw out ribbons he had been awarded for three combat wounds, but not his medals. "I was proud of my personal service and remain so," he told the National Journal.
Eight years later in 1996, Kerry said while he did throw out his ribbons, he didn't throw out his own medals because he "didn't have time to go home [to New York] and get them," he told The Boston Globe.
Kerry's campaign Web site says he "is proud of the work he did to end the war. The Nixon Administration made John Kerry one of its targets and Republicans have been smearing him ever since. John Kerry threw his ribbons and the medals of two veterans who could not attend the event, and said, 'I am not doing this for any violent reasons, but for peace and justice, and to try to make this country wake up once and for all.'"
ABCNEWS' Madeleine Sauer contributed to this report.