This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Aug. 19, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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BRIT HUME, HOST: Who would have thought the 2004 presidential election would end up being so much about whether one of the candidates really deserved his Vietnam War (search) medals? But that is where the matter stands at the moment. And it raises the issue of how medals and citations for that war were issued.
Joining me to discuss that is Fox News military analyst, Bill Cowan, a Marine veteran who saw his own share of action in the waters around Vietnam.
LT. COL. BILL COWAN (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS: Nice to be with you, Brit. Thank you.
HUME: Let me ask you, first of all, about this curious development where it turns out that one of the citations, associated with one of John Kerry's medals, was written by and signed by the Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan, you know, 17 years after the fact. Any idea why that would
be there? There it is, John Layman's signature, secretary of the Navy. Nobody doubts that's who signed it.
COWAN: Pretty unusual, Brit. I'm closing in on 45 years here of active duty retired time. I know thousands upon thousands of men and women who have received medals. I have never heard of somebody going back in 15 or 20 years after the fact, and having a citation rewritten. And certainly not signed by the secretary of the Navy.
HUME: Well, now I suppose -- it certainly seems possible that if Kerry had one way or another lost his citations and wanted to get them reissued, that the Navy...
COWAN: Not unusual.
HUME: That happens.
COWAN: Nothing unusual. I had to do that myself. There's nothing unusual about that.
HUME: But what you usually end up with is simply a copy, a true copy of the earlier one.
COWAN: Exactly what I got when I lost my citations, a true copy of my originals.
HUME: But nothing -- nothing -- nothing extra.
COWAN: Nothing re-signed. And nobody signed anything new. Nothing new done to it, just here's copy of what you got...
HUME: Because it appears that not only was it -- this citation written much as the earlier ones had been written, but there was a little added language praising the conduct.
COWAN: It was changed. No question about it. We've got both copies right here and it was changed. It got away from the broader scope and focused more on the actions of John Kerry, not including many of the things that were around him in the earlier citation.
HUME: I suppose it's fair to note here that it would not be the first time, I suppose, that the Pentagon in its desire to get along well with a member of the Senate might have added a little extra something.
COWAN: Right. Probably wouldn't be the first time. You're exactly right. And they want to do what they can to appease people.
HUME: All right. Worth noting that as well.
Now, talk to me about how citations and medals are awarded. In this instance, we have got a whole bunch of guys disputing what Kerry said. You've got Kerry saying look, the official record supports me. And it certainly does. What should people think about how medals are given here?
COWAN: Well, Brit, it depended on what unit you were in. And certainly the standards for Marines, Army and others, were all a little different. But typically, what could happen is people who saw combat, saw something occur, could have gotten around after the combat, some of Kerry's comrades there and said you know, John did an exceptional job. Let's write him up for an award here. And then it makes its way up the process.
HUME: So normally, it is your comrades in arms...
HUME: ... who recommend you.
COWAN: Never you. You never put yourself in for a citation. You don't do any of that. Typically, it's the people around you who have observed your actions who are going to say this guy did exceptional work under fire. Let's write him up and send this process up.
HUME: Now, if you yourself wrote an After-Action Report about it, would that be taken into consideration, how you would have described your own behavior?
COWAN: Absolutely. But you don't typically write your own After-Action Report. An After-Action Report is typically going to be a conglomerate of all the things that happened, sources that are going to come in; everybody who was there might have had something to add to the After-Action Report. There are many participants, typically on an-after action report, but not exclusively.
HUME: So, it would be unusual if Lieutenant Junior Grade Kerry wrote an After-Action Report and he was the sole author of it or...
COWAN: It would be, Brit. But you know what's a little bit interesting in the medals story is somebody had to write that citation. Somebody somewhere had to write what was submitted up the chain. And nobody has come forward yet to say I was the petty officer who did that.
HUME: So, we don't know...
COWAN: We don't know what's happened. But we do know one thing about the records. That there were records kept of units and their daily conduct of operations and activities in Vietnam, and those records sit somewhere in archives. There are records that will tell officially what happened.
HUME: These are records beyond what's available now.
COWAN: Beyond what's available, but they're out there somewhere.
HUME: What are they called these records?
COWAN: Command Chronologies, typically is what these records were called. They were done on a monthly basis. A command would keep a record. You would have an operation center -- when all these boats were patrolling, there was a combat operations center somewhere, that they were communicating with on a regular basis that was watching where they were going. If they got in any trouble, that Combat Operation Center (search) would help get firepower to them, airplanes...
HUME: So they're in radio communications?
COWAN: Radio communications.
HUME: So radio operators are writing down this?
COWAN: Radio operators are there with a logbook saying uh-oh, PCF 34 just got in combat or got in contact with the enemy at 2:00. And they're writing down, "2:00, PCF 34 report they're in combat." So, there were official logs, so to speak, Command Chronologies kept. And at the end of a mission, people could come in and maybe add a little bit to what happened. The radio operators kept a pretty good log, but they want to know some more details.
And at the end of the month, typically those records then would get sent up the chain. So somewhere here in Washington, probably, maybe over at the Navy yard, the Historical Center, there are records of those units and those days that Senator Kerry was in action in Vietnam.
HUME: So if you were a journalist trying to get to the bottom of these claims and counterclaims from the senator, and his supporters and his critics, as to what actually happened that led to these medals, that's where you'd turn?
COWAN: I'd be into the records because that's going to tell me something. It doesn't mean they're 100 percent right but it gives a better picture.
HUME: One last question. You hear the term medal inflation about Vietnam. What about that?
COWAN: Well, you know, morale in Vietnam was tough, Brit. One way to bring morale up is to award medals to people. And I would say, generally speaking, the standards for awarding medals in Vietnam were much more lenient than they were in World War II or in the Korean War.
And I'd also add that many people who served know if you see an enlisted man with a Silver Star, that's something. That man probably did something exceptional to win a Silver Star. You see officers with Silver Stars, they're a lot more passed out. The standards may not have been as
HUME: All right. Bill Cowan, it's always a pleasure to have you.
COWAN: Thanks, Brit. Nice to be with you.
HUME: Thanks, Bill.
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