In Congress, Kerry brought a district attorney's zeal, and an appetite for headlines, to scandals involving the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, the drug-dealing of Panamanian President Manuel A. Noriega and the issue of American soldiers missing in Southeast Asia. Along with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Kerry played a crucial role in 1995 in pushing for normalized U.S. relations with Vietnam.

There is much more to Kerry's life and political career than Vietnam, of course. He has a strong record in support of gay civil rights, small business, environmental causes and campaign-finance reform. In the presidential race he has outlined programs to promote public service, boost alternative energy and expand medical coverage while seeking to contain health-care costs. He calls for repealing Bush's upper-income tax cuts in favor of a payroll tax "holiday" that would give more money to low- and middle-income earners and, Kerry says, put more than 1 million people back to work overnight.

But Vietnam is what sets Kerry apart, much as it did McCain, another war hero who ran for president chiefly on his resume.

Kerry weaves it into casual conversation — "I haven't seen things this screwed up since I got back from Vietnam," he says, kicking it around with the boys at the firehouse in Ottumwa, Iowa — and trumpets it from the stage at town hall meetings. "I can bring a voice to our party that is different from any other candidate," he tells a Friday night crowd of 200 in nearby Burlington, "because I know what it means to fight in a war."

The implicit message is that only a Democrat with unquestioned military credentials can hope to beat the nation's terrorist-fighting commander in chief. Or as Kerry puts it, less subtly, "It takes more than landing on an aircraft carrier with a Navy pilot to make up for a failed economic policy." He knows a few things about such landings, Kerry says to partisan whoops, "having worked with aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin." (His quip in April calling for "regime change" in Washington struck many as less amusing.)

Kerry is no hawk, although he has been less shy than many Democrats about promoting a muscular foreign policy. He voted to support the war against Iraq, but he says it should have been a last resort after a more intensive diplomatic effort. To critics, that is having it both ways, another of the charges that has dogged Kerry throughout his political career.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Kerry's chief tormentor on the campaign trail, asks how the senator can carry the banner against Bush in 2004 when he has voted to back the president on Iraq and supported the USA Patriot Act and Bush's education program.

Before an appearance in Chicago, feet on a hotel coffee table, Kerry ticks off his responses: Bush bungled the diplomacy leading to the war. He reneged on the education funding he promised Democrats. The parts of the anti-terrorist Patriot Act that most offend civil libertarians will expire in a year.

Kerry's irritation with Dean is barely suppressed. He speaks of the compromises forced by the legislative process and how nuance gets lost in the "blam, blam simplicity of American politics."

"One of the reasons I am running for president is precisely to hold this president accountable" on issues like education, Kerry says.

If he reaches the White House, he will have to do so without the help of his rescuer back in Framingham, Mass.

After spotting Kerry and his fellow helicopter passengers, Jerome Anderson recalled in a recent interview, he drove them to his home and served drinks while they waited for a cab back to Boston. Kerry sent "a lovely note" of gratitude, said the doctor's wife, Susan, who saved it, thinking someday he might be president. She's a Democrat. Her husband is a Republican. He's backing Bush.

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John Forbes Kerry

Born: Dec. 11, 1943, in Denver.

Parents: Richard J. Kerry, Army Air Corps pilot and Foreign Service officer, and Rosemary F. Kerry, volunteer and homemaker.

Education: Yale, B.A., 1966; Boston College, J.D., 1976.

Spouse: Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Children: Two daughters, Alexandra, 29, and Vanessa, 26; three stepsons, John, 37, Andre, 34, and Christopher, 30.

Residences: Boston and Washington, D.C.



Current job: U.S. senator.

Previous jobs: Lieutenant governor of Massachusetts; prosecutor, Middlesex County, Mass.; lawyer.

Military service: Skipper of Navy patrol boat; two tours of duty in Vietnam; received Silver Star, Bronze Star, three Purple Hearts.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times