Over the past few months many readers have written us regarding the status of John Kerry’s discharge from the Navy. We have refrained from addressing the issue absent hard information. Today’s New York Sun carries Thomas Lipscomb’s page-one account: “Mystery surrounds Kerry’s Navy discharge.” Lipscomb’s is the first serious journalistic effort to shed some light on the fundamental question regarding the nature of Kerry’s discharge from the Navy. (Thanks to the many readers who emailed us this timely story.)
UPDATE: See also “Was Kerry’s discharge less than honorable?” at BeldarBlog and “Kerry’s discharge” at PoliPundit. Reader Craig McLauglin seems to me to strike the appropriate cautionary notes:
It is important to note the distinctions in the types of discharge that can be given and under what circumstances. The Sun article throws the term dishonorable discharge around much too lightly. It is a term of art. A dishonorable discharge, DD, or duck dinner, can only be given as a sentence of a General Court-Martial. And can’t be given to officers at all. For commissioned officers the appropriate sentence would be Dismissal. Both are very serious, are the result of a federal felony conviction and would, I believe, preclude the recipient from the practice of law. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely in Mr. Kerry’s case.
The most severe type of discharge which can be given administratively, i.e. without convening a court-martial, is an OTH, other than honorable. But the service member is entitled to an administrative hearing and to be represented by council. In my ten years in the Navy as an officer I never saw one given. And as Legal officer I had many occasions to try. I’m not even sure an OTH can be given to an officer…
Whatever happened with Senator Kerry’s discharge, it is likely much ado about nothing much. But, if He’d release his records we wouldn’t have to speculate. Would We?
I spoke with Mr. Lipscomb this morning and believe he is aware of the issues raised in this message; it is my understanding that he believes Kerry may have originally received a general discharge. I am persuaded that his necessarily speculative reconstruction of events is based on solid reporting including interviews with knowledgeable people. For an intuitive, skeptical take on Lipscomb’s reconstruction, however, see Hugh Hewitt.
UPDATE 2: Reader Roger Mitchell offers an alternative reading of the documents that also merits consideration:
Red herring, folks. I’m no fan of Kerry, but. . .
Reading the other documents on his website, you find that Kerry was separated from active duty in the U.S. Naval Reserves into inactive duty effective 1600 hours on January 2, 1970. My take is he remained a member of the USNR (inactive) until the Navy performed a review in 1977 or 78 of personnel still on inactive duty status and determined that he was no longer needed by the Navy in the event of a call-up (this was about the time of the big Carter downsizing of the military). Since, technically he was still in the USNR, and had not requested separation, the cover letter explaining his involuntary separation was generated (and thus the references to the Title 10 sections on involuntary separation). Read paragraph 2 of the letter in question – you’ll note that the board mentioned as unusual in the Sun article was convened to “…examine the official records of Officers of the Naval Reserve on inactive duty and determine whether they should be retained on the rolls of the Reserve Component or separated from the naval service…” You will also see the letter from the Naval Reserve Personnel Center in New Orleans in July of 1978 indicating acceptance of the discharge and requesting that Kerry return his USNR identification card to them for disposal.
While it is possible that Kerry stayed in the USNR as long as he did in order to assure that he would be discharged under a more favorable political climate (he very well may have been targeted by the Nixon White House had he requested a discharge in 1972), the point is rather moot. He was discharged in 1978 after a routine review by the Navy of inactive duty personnel deemed him unneeded.
Now, let’s just hope that the rest of America deems him unneeded.