John Kerry (1943- ) is an American lawyer, politician and Vietnam veteran. During the Vietnam War, he was an outspoken member of the anti-war movement, drawing attention to the futility of United States involvement, as well as American atrocities against civilians. Kerry was born in Colorado, the son of a military officer and public servant. During the 1950s Kerry attended boarding school in the United States while his father was posted abroad. He later studied at Yale, majoring in politics and excelling in debating. Kerry enlisted in the US Naval Reserve in 1966 and later that year was commissioned as a lieutenant. Though not obligated to serve in Vietnam, Kerry requested a tour of duty there. In 1968 he was given command of a patrol boat monitoring harbours, ports and rivers in Khanh Hoa province, on Vietnam’s south-central coast.
In Kerry’s four months of active service, his vessel engaged the enemy several times. Kerry was wounded three times, receiving a Purple Heart for each injury, as well as a Silver Star and Bronze Star for bravery under fire. He was posted back to the United States in mid-1969. After returning home Kerry joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), an anti-war movement formed by returned soldiers in 1967. Articulate, informed and a skilled debater, Kerry became the VVAW’s most prominent public figure, speaking at numerous rallies and demonstrations against the Vietnam conflict. In April 1971 Kerry testified before the US Senate; the following day he and several other veterans gathered in front of the Capitol building and ‘returned’ their war medals by hurling them over a fence. The following month he was arrested during a sit-in in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Kerry’s campaign against the Vietnam War marked the start of his political career. He ran for Congress in 1972 but was defeated, in part due to adverse media coverage. Kerry returned to study in the mid-1970s and obtained a law degree. He became lieutenant-governor of Massachusetts in 1982 and was elected to the United States Senate two years later. In 2004 Kerry ran for the presidency against the incumbent George W. Bush but was defeated, carrying 19 states to Bush’s 31. In February 2013 president Barack Obama appointed Kerry as Secretary of State, a position he held until January 2017.
This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn & S. Thompson, “John Kerry”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/vietnamwar/john-kerry/.