Ribbons Are General -- Medals Are Specific

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", April 26, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN KERRY, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I stood up in front of the country, reached into my shirt, visibly for the nation to see and took the ribbons off my chest, said a few words, and threw them over the fence. The file footage, the reporter there from "The Boston Globe," everybody got it correctly, and you I never asserted otherwise. What I said was -- and back then, you know, ribbons, medals were absolutely interchangeable.


BRIT HUME, HOST: That was John Kerry this morning with my old friend Charlie Gibson (search) on ABC News. He explained he met no deception when he said after throwing away his Vietnam War ribbons that he had -- that he had thrown away medals during an anti-war protest. That he said is because they represented the same thing. Well, did they?

For answer we turn to Fox News military analyst Bill Cowan ... former Marine colonel who served in Vietnam, and indeed, was decorated for his service there.

First of all, let's talk a little bit about when you get a metal what you get. I think we may be able to illustrate this a little bit. But I gather you don't just get a medal with a ribbon hanging off of it.


Here is a Silver Star (search). John Kerry won a Silver Star in Vietnam. So what do you...

COWAN: And what you are seeing right there what you get in your presentation box that comes with it, Brit. You have the medal there hanging on a ribbon. You have a ribbon, which stands by itself. We see pictures of General Myers now with all of his ribbons. And you have that small pin...

HUME: Now that one up in the right-hand corner. That's the thing you see on you a soldier's uniform.

COWAN: Exactly.

HUME: And they are arrayed in a group.

COWAN: Exactly.

HUME: A block on your breast, right?

COWAN: Precisely and that's on your standard everyday uniform. The other small one is a little lapel pin there, which you may or may not wear. Of course, we see Senator Bob Dole all the time wearing his Purple Heart lapel pin from the wounds he received in World War II.

HUME: Now, John Kerry says when he had some medals that others had given him that in a second pass at the -- during that protest he threw them away. But when he was walking up and throwing away medals, he says that in fact, he threw away the ribbons. And that they were basically in the -- at least in parlance of that day interchangeable. You remember that day. What about that?

COWAN: Well, first off, you know this story has changed about whether he threw his medals or ribbons. And there is a difference. He just suggested on this interview from this morning that there wasn't any difference. Indeed there is a difference because you only get your medal one time. You are at an awards ceremony for heroism.

His Silver Star, as an example, or Bronze Star is an example. He was given that in an awards ceremony. Some senior officer and his people were there to get it. Whereas for ribbons, you can go down to the PX any day and buy as many ribbons of whatever characters you want to, so you only get one medal. Of course, now on eBay you can buy others...

HUME: Wait a minute. I know but you can't buy a -- by virtue of buying a ribbon, have it be a legitimate one.

COWAN: Oh, no. Absolutely. Exactly right. You can go down and Brit, we could have you so decorated tomorrow you wouldn't imagine it. But that's because we can go down and buy ribbons and put them anywhere we want. The ribbons are general in nature. The medals are very specific.

HUME: And so even at that time, it wasn't considered the same thing then. I mean...

COWAN: No. No. If he threw his medals, that was a significant event.

HUME: But throwing his ribbons away would not be? I mean...

COWAN: Well, it's still...

Let me say this. In terms of throwing his ribbons away, there's a difference in terms of getting them and how you get them. But they represent the same thing, and I'm -- to follow on...

HUME: So on that point at least...

COWAN: On that point, throwing his ribbons still shows disrespect for all the wards he's received.

HUME: All right. Let's go ahead and talk a little bit about Purple Hearts. Purple Hearts are awarded -- if you are injured in a combat situation, you are automatically entitled to a Purple Heart, correct?

COWAN: The regulations say if it draws blood, if blood is drawn, that you are authorized to have a Purple Heart awarded to you. Now, a lot of people got wounded in Vietnam that drew so little blood that they didn't even want to mention it. It wasn't important. Others got wounded terribly.

HUME: How do you -- now, obviously you don't have a medals committee standing around with your eye on all the combat that's going on, to decide -- determine who gets a medal and who doesn't. So how does the medals process work?

COWAN: Well, typically if you look at something like a Silver Star, as an example, people around an individual who wins a Silver Star would have noted his actions under combat. They would get together. They would all write up what it is that they saw. That would go up to the battalion administrative office, some people would review it and it would get passed up the line a little higher.

In essence, there's a board that reviews these things somewhere within the battalion or higher, and comes back and says, yes, that's worthy of you Silver Star or it's worthy of something.

HUME: Well, the Purple Heart, however, if blood is drawn, it's almost automatic is it?

COWAN: It's almost automatic. I mean some people elected not to take them at times. But really, if there was blood drawn, a corpsman saw it; somebody else saw it, somebody could verify that that indeed happened, then it could be entered into the process for the award of the Purple Heart.

HUME: So John Kerry got three Purple Hearts. There seems to be no dispute that he had been in combat situations and that blood have been drawn. There have been gripes that it was only a minor scrape. and that he, therefore, shouldn't have put in for them even though he was technically entitled. What about that argument?

COWAN: You know what? It's hard to say because different units had different criteria for which they awarded. And not knowing the way his unit was, it would be hard to categorically say it shouldn't have been done. I think it always goes back to the moral character of the individual.

Is this wound -- when you look around and see some of your comrades who have been terribly wounded, who are getting a Purple Heart. Then you have to look at yourself and say, well, does this minor scratch, this minor wound, this little bit of shrapnel deserving of the same medal that my friend has just gotten?

HUME: Bill Cowan, helpful information. Thanks very much.

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