Name: Joseph Robert (Bob) Kerrey
Specialty: Navy SEAL BUD/S
Class: 42 SEAL
Service: 1968 – 1969
Rank: Lieutenant, Junior Grade Retired
Rank: Lieutenant, Junior Grade
Home: Lincoln, Nebraska
Assigned: SEAL Team ONE
Organization: U.S. Naval Reserve, SEAL
Conflict: Vietnam War
Location of Action: Near Nha Trang Bay, Republic of Vietnam
Date of Action: March 14, 1969
Date of Award: May 14, 1970
Retired: Medically Retired
Awarded: Congressional Medal of Honor on May 14, 1970 by President Richard Nixon, “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a SEAL team leader during action against enemy aggressor (Viet Cong) forces.”
Other Awards: Bronze Star, for action Feb 25, 1969, in Thanh Phong, Vietnam.
Bob Kerrey served with distinction as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam from January – March 1969. On March 14, 1969, Kerrey led a SEAL unit on a daring operation to capture key Viet Cong political cadre personnel. He was severely wounded in an intense firefight by an enemy grenade that cost him part of his leg. Kerrey continued to direct his men in the firefight and extraction. The captured prisoners provided critical intelligence for the U.S. Kerrey was subsequently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions.
“Acting in response to reliable intelligence, LTjg Kerrey led his SEAL team on a mission to capture important members of the enemy’s area political cadre known to be located on an island in the bay of Nha Trang. In order to surprise the enemy, he and his team scaled a 350-foot sheer cliff to place themselves above the ledge on which the enemy was located.
Splitting his team in 2 elements and coordinating both, LTjg Kerrey led his men in the treacherous downward descent to the enemy’s camp. Just as they neared the end of their descent, intense enemy fire was directed at them, and LTjg Kerrey received massive injuries from a grenade which exploded at his feet and threw him backward onto the jagged rocks.
Although bleeding profusely and suffering great pain, he displayed outstanding courage and presence of mind in immediately directing his element’s fire into the heart of the enemy camp. Utilizing his radio, LTjg Kerrey called in the second element’s fire support which caught the confused Viet Cong in a devastating crossfire.
After successfully suppressing the enemy’s fire, and although immobilized by his multiple wounds, he continued to maintain calm, superlative control as he ordered his team to secure and defend an extraction site. LTjg Kerrey resolutely directed his men, despite his near unconscious state, until he was eventually evacuated by helicopter. The havoc brought to the enemy by this very successful mission cannot be over-estimated.
The enemy soldiers who were captured provided critical intelligence to the allied effort. LTjg Kerrey’s courageous and inspiring leadership, valiant fighting spirit, and tenacious devotion to duty in the face of almost overwhelming opposition sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”
His Own Words
“I accepted the medal for the many people who got nothing,” said Bob Kerrey…There were a lot of very, very brave men and women whose actions weren’t recognized. I received the medal on behalf of them.”
Bob Kerrey was born in Lincoln Nebraska on August 27, 1943 and graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1966. He served as a Navy SEAL from 1968-1969, and deployed to Vietnam from January to March 1969. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his courageous actions wounded and under fire, leading a SEAL unit on a daring operation in which he lost part of his right leg to an enemy grenade.
Bob Kerrey went on to become a successful businessman, operating a chain of restaurants and fitness centers from 1972-1982. He is most known for his 18-year political career, which included an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Presidential Nomination in 1992. Kerrey served as Governor of Nebraska from 1983-1987, and as U.S. Senator from Nebraska from 1989-2001. Since leaving, he has been University President of The New School in New York. Kerrey was also a member of the Nat’l. Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, (“9/11 Commission”), from 2003-2004.
Bob Kerrey is often confused with fellow U.S. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, (who was the 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee), despite the different spellings of their last names. Both were born in 1943, were Naval Officers for three years, served and were wounded in the Vietnam War, and became Democratic Senators who made bids for the U.S. Presidency. John Kerry, who was not a Navy SEAL, (he was a Swift Boat operator), received a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts.
Congressional Medal of Honor Society – official website:
Wikipedia Entry for J. Robert Kerrey:
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress:
Kerrey, Robert. When I Was a Young Man: A Memoir. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2002.
Vistica, Gregory. The Education of Lieutenant Kerrey, Thomas Dunne Books, 2003