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John Kerry in Vietnam
As he was about to graduate from Yale, John Kerry volunteered to serve in Vietnam - because, as he later said, "it was the right thing to do." He believed that because he had had a lot of privileges in life - for example, attending a great university like Yale - he had a responsibility to give something back to his country. His two great heroes - his father and John F. Kennedy - had served during World War II. John Kerry wanted to follow both their example and that of some of his best friends, who also went to Vietnam.

John Kerry enlisted in the Navy in 1966. After completing Naval Officer Candidates School, he began his first tour of duty on the USS Gridley, a guided-missile frigate in the waters adjacent to Vietnam. In 1968, John Kerry began his second tour of duty, and volunteered to serve on a Swift Boat, one of the most dangerous assignments of the war. Swift Boats patrolled the narrow inlets and canals around the Mekong Delta "to draw fire and smoke out the enemy," according to the The Boston Globe.

To the men who served with him, John Kerry was "one of the most daring skippers in the US Navy, relentlessly and courageously engaging the enemy," according to The Boston Globe. William Zaladonis, who served under Kerry on a Swift Boat, said that he was more interested than some other commanding officers in his crewmates' lives, hopes, and dreams. John Kerry put his crewmates at ease, telling them to "call me John - you don't have to call me sir." When "we were out on patrol," Zaladonis recalls, "we were a family."

Lt. John Kerry's leadership, courage, and sacrifice earned him a Silver Star, the Navy's fifth highest medal, a Bronze Star with Combat V, and three Purple Hearts, awarded for wounds received in combat. John Kerry was awarded a Bronze Star for rescuing a Green Beret, who had gone overboard during a mission. According to his Bronze Star citation, "Lt. Kerry directed his gunners to provide suppressing fire, while from an exposed position on the bow, his arm bleeding and in pain, with disregard for his personal safety, he pulled the man aboard. Lt. Kerry's calmness, professionalism, and great personal courage under fire were in keeping with the highest traditions of the US Naval Service."

John Kerry left Vietnam in 1969. But to this day, he carries with him the lessons he learned while he was there. On that Swift Boat, there were people who came from places as diverse as South Carolina, Iowa, and Arkansas. They were literally all in the same boat and they came together as one. No one asked the others' politics. No one asked where the others came from or who their fathers were or where they went to school. They were simply a band of brothers who all fought under the same flag and all prayed to the same God. And that is the America John Kerry wants today - an America where we all come together to build a better country.

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