Falls Church, Va. (NNS) –Medal of Honor Recipient and former Senator Joseph (Bob) Kerrey visited the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) on February 20, 2020.
Following an introduction by Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham, Surgeon General of the Navy, Senator Kerrey spoke before a rapt audience of uniformed and civilian personnel in BUMED’s Medal of Honor Hall and give thanks to those who serve in Military Medicine.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the men and women who do that for a living,” said Sen. Kerrey.
Kerrey credits the role of Navy Medicine for saving his own life after being grievously wounded in Vietnam.
Senator Kerrey volunteered for the U.S. Navy in 1966 after reading Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny. Following Officer Indoctrination School in Rhode Island, Kerrey was accepted into Underwater Demolition Training (UDT). When training ended, Kerrey was one of 12 asked to volunteer for SEAL Team One. “Our instructors told us we could refuse the assignment. If we did, we would not be assigned to one of the UDT teams, but would be sent to a ship at sea, thus wasting all of the training we had just endured.”
Just two years later Kerrey found himself in Vietnam leading a SEAL team on a mission that would forever change his life.
It was March 14, 1969, when then Lieut.(j.g.) Kerrey led his SEAL team to capture members of the Viet Cong on an island in Nha Trang. To surprise the enemy, he and his men scaled a 350-foot sheer cliff before descending into the enemy’s camp. Hostile fire soon erupted and an exploding grenade threw him backwards onto the jagged rocks.
Despite incurring severe injuries and loss of blood, Kerrey organized a counterattack and directed his team to fire into the heart of the enemy camp. He then ordered his team to secure and defend an extraction site.
In the attack, Kerrey suffered wounds to his hand and, an injury that ultimately led to partial amputation of his right leg. He was evacuated and sent to the Naval Hospital Yokosuka and then Naval Hospital Philadelphia for treatment and rehabilitation. Over the next eight years Kerrey continued to receive treatment for his injuries.
President Richard Nixon awarded Kerrey the Medal of Honor on May 14, 1970, To date, Kerrey is only one of 16 Navy officers and sailors to receive the Medal of Honor for their actions in Vietnam; and is one of only 71 living Medal of Honor recipients.
When asked about the “heroism” that earned him the Medal of Honor, Kerry shied away from the term. He stated there are three things about medals that you need in order to get one—“First is the action. Second, the action has to be observed by someone. And third, the action has to be observed by someone who likes you.”
For Kerrey, true heroes are often the people who never get recognition. His cited his mom and dad as his favorite heroes. And also the Navy medical personnel that saved his life.
“I am generally grateful to all of you for saving my life. And I am generally grateful as a civilian today that you are continuing to go out there and put yourself at risk, not just physical risk but of emotional risk of trying, and sometimes not succeeding in saving another human being.”