UNO Acquires John Kerry's Vietnam Journals

Douglas Brinkley says the journals will help launch a new direction for the Eisenhower Center -- and a new book about Kerry.



A year before he is expected to officially launch his bid for the White House, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry is donating his extensive materials related to both his military service in Vietnam and his efforts protesting the war to the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at University of New Orleans, says Eisenhower Center director Douglas Brinkley.

"He's given me all his journals when he was in the U.S. Navy," Brinkley says. "It's very fascinating, he kept detailed recordings of what occurred in Vietnam. Then when he became a leading voice against the Vietnam war, he kept notes about that, too."

Kerry had been said to be contemplating writing a book about his Vietnam experiences, as well as about his ongoing legislative work to help veterans. But Brinkley confirms that part of the discussions with Kerry include Brinkley's authorship of a "small book" with the working title Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War. Brinkley expects the book to be published next September on a to-be-determined press.

"Kerry's been unable to just fade away from Vietnam," says Brinkley, whose previous books include The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House. "He felt that he had a moral obligation after serving to protest, and to work for his fallen comrades. Plus, he led the charge to normalize, to make a new bond for U.S.-Vietnam relations."

In Vietnam, Kerry served as a Swift Boat officer in the Mekong Delta. Among his honors were a Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat V, and three Purple Hearts. "In one instance, the Viet Cong on the shore of Bay Hap River ambushed Kerry's boat, blew out the windows, and Kerry turned the gunboat toward fire. He went into the bank and Kerry leapt from the boat and chased him, and killed the guy. It was real Rambo stuff," says Brinkley.

When Kerry returned to the United States, he co-founded Vietnam Veterans of America and, on April 23, 1971, testified in front of the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations. "We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them," Kerry said, dressed in Navy fatigues. "We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum. We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of Orientals. ... How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

By appearing before the Senate, Kerry put a new face on the Vietnam protest movement, notes Brinkley. Said journalist Morley Safer: "[Kerry's] articulate call to reason rather than anarchy seemed to bridge the call between the Abbie Hoffmans of the world and Mr. Agnew's so-called 'Silent Majority.'"

Brinkley says Kerry's journals help illuminate the decision to progress from soldier to protester to politician. "Kerry's journals are very intimate writing, everything from observations of what it felt like to kill somebody, to life in Saigon, to the value of camaraderie," says Brinkley. Brinkley adds that Kerry's journals will be a cornerstone of a growing collection at the Eisenhower Center of oral histories and other materials related to Vietnam. "It's taking us in a different direction at the Eisenhower Center. It's not so unambiguous as World War II, and we'll be looking at both the Vietnam war and the anti-war movement. In Kerry, they both segue together in an interesting American story."

Kerry, a Democrat, was first elected to the United States Senate in 1984 and last week easily won reelection to his fourth term, garnering 81 percent of the vote. In 2001, he opened the Citizens Soldier Fund, a PAC to finance Democratic candidates and fund his own emerging presidential bid. "[Kerry] tapped the fund to make sizable donations to the state Democratic parties in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, all early primary and caucus states in the 2004 campaign," reported The Boston Globe. The PAC name repeats a theme of "citizen soldiers" that Kerry has employed in speeches across the country -- it also echoes the title Citizen Soldiers: The U.S Army From the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945, by Eisenhower founding director Stephen Ambrose. Ambrose, who died earlier this year, is best known for his writings about World War II, but also was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam war.

New Orleanian of the Year
Gambit Weekly
is seeking nominations for its annual New Orleanian of the Year, a designation given to one local resident who has made outstanding contributions to the metro area this year. Elected officials are not eligible.

With all nominations, please include a brief biographical sketch and the reasons you believe this person deserves recognition. Mail nominations to Shala Carlson, Gambit Weekly, 3923 Bienville St., NOLA 70119. Entries also may be sent via fax (483-3116) or email ( No phone calls, please. The deadline for nominations is Monday, Dec. 16; the New Orleanian of the Year will be announced in our Jan. 7 issue.

CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS: In the "Bouquets and Brickbats" of our Oct. 22 issue, we incorrectly reported that the Annie E. Casey Foundation had recommended that the state shut down the Swanson Correctional Center for Youth ­ Madison Parish Unit, known as Tallulah. While the foundation's study advocated closing down a juvenile facility, it did not specify a particular facility. Also, last week's review of Winnie's Artsy Cafe, in which the decor is described as appearing to be a product of "vintage, antique and consignment" shops, neglected to point out that the restaurant also features work by a number of local artists, including the proprietors of Winnie's. In addition, the reviewer's statement that she has seen cockroaches in finer restaurants should not be interpreted to mean that she had encountered any roaches at Winnie's. Gambit Weekly regrets any confusion.

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