John Kerry Biography


Born John Forbes Kerry, December 11, 1943, in Denver, CO; son of Richard (a foreign service officer) and Rosemary (a homemaker and community service volunteer); married Julia Thorne, 1970 (divorced, 1988); married Teresa Heinz, 1995; children: Alexandra, Vanessa (from first marriage). Politics: Democrat. Religion: Catholic. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1966; Boston College, J.D., 1976.

Addresses: Office —U.S. Capitol, 304 Russell Bldg., Third Flr., Washington, DC 20510; One Bowdoin Sq., Tenth Flr., Boston, MA 02114. Website —;


Served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, 1967-69; ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress, 1970 and 1972; organized Vietnam Veterans Against the War's march on Washington and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 1971; assistant district attorney, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, 1976-79; private law practice, 1979-82; elected lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, 1982; elected to the U.S. Senate, 1984; appointed to the Foreign Relations Committee, 1986; Democratic nominee for U.S. president, 2004.


John Kerry, the Democratic party's nominee for president in 2004, became a nationally prominent figure almost overnight in 1971, when he testified before the United States Senate as a spokesman for

John Kerry
Vietnam veterans who opposed the Vietnam War. Though his 1972 campaign for Congress ended in defeat, Kerry took a more patient path to the political power he always longed for, becoming a prosecutor, then lieutenant governor of Massachusetts before getting elected to the Senate in 1984. After 20 years developing a reputation as an authority on foreign policy, he ran for the presidency in 2004, but lost to incumbent George W. Bush.

Kerry was born December 11, 1943, in Denver, Colorado, at an Army base where his father, Richard, a test pilot for the Army Air Corps, was recovering from tuberculosis. He grew up in Massachusetts, where his father and mother, Rosemary, were from, but by the time Kerry was seven, they were living in Washington, D.C., and politics was often part of family conversation. His father became a foreign service officer when Kerry was eleven, so Kerry was educated in boarding schools, first in Switzerland, then in New England.

Politically liberal from an early age, Kerry volunteered for Edward Kennedy's campaign for the United States Senate in the summer of 1962, just after he graduated from high school. He briefly dated Janet Auchincloss, the half-sister of President John F. Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline, and one day in August of 1962, Auchincloss invited Kerry to the family estate, where Kerry met the president and went sailing with him. That fall, Kerry enrolled at Yale University, where his father had gone to college. While there, he joined the debate and soccer teams, and his political ambitions grew. He told his debate team partner that his dream was to become president of the United States.

The 1963 assassination of President Kennedy deeply upset Kerry. As a result, it left an impression when William Bundy, an assistant secretary of state under Kennedy, came to Yale to defend the Vietnam War, visited his nephew (Kerry's roommate), and implored Kerry and his friends to go to Vietnam as officers. When Kerry's 1966 graduation neared, he decided to enlist in the Navy—realizing he might well be drafted anyway, and aware that military service had helped the career of his idol, President Kennedy. Yet when he was chosen to give the class oration at graduation, he used it to criticize American foreign policy, including the Vietnam War.

For his first six months in the war, starting in December of 1967, Kerry served uneventfully on a guided-missile frigate. Then, after five months in port in California, Kerry spent December of 1968 to April of 1969 captaining a small patrol boat, known as a "swift boat." At first, the swift boats patrolled the Vietnamese coast, but soon after he signed up for the duty, the boats' mission was changed to patrolling the Mekong River Delta and drawing fire from the enemy so that the boats could counterattack. While commanding the boat, Kerry received three Purple Heart medals for combat wounds. He was also awarded a Silver Star, which honors bravery in action, for a fight in which he ordered his boat's pilot to steer into enemy fire and land. Kerry jumped out of the boat and shot and killed a young Viet Cong guerrilla who was carrying a grenade launcher. He also earned a Bronze Star for pulling a member of his crew out of the water after he had fallen off the boat, even though enemy snipers were shooting at the man and Kerry had just been wounded in the arm by shrapnel from a mine. After that incident, since a rule allowed soldiers to return home after three Purple Hearts, Kerry applied successfully for a transfer to New York, where he became an admiral's aide.

Fighting in Vietnam left Kerry feeling certain that the war was wrong. He and several dozen other boat captains had even confronted the American commander of the war in January of 1969, protesting the policy of "free fire zones," which authorized naval forces to shoot anyone violating a curfew, civilians as well as guerrillas. Also, five of Kerry's friends, including a Yale classmate, had died in the war. Kerry received an early discharge in January of 1970 to run for Congress in a district in Massachusetts, but he was not well-known, and he dropped out after he saw another anti-war candidate would win. That year, he married Julia Thorne, his best friend David's sister, who he had met and started dating six years earlier. He soon joined the protest group Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and argued that it should attract attention by staging a rally in Washington. He became the organizer of the rally, and since his educated, clean-cut image helped refute the then-common stereotype that anti-war protestors were hippie radicals, Kerry quickly became a leading spokesman for the group.

In April of 1971, the day before the rally, Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. According to the Boston Globe 's Michael Kranish, Kerry said, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" He also asserted that some American soldiers in Vietnam had committed atrocities during the war, citing soldiers' testimony during a conference his group had held on the subject. The speech immediately made him a celebrity. He spoke the next day at the rally, which drew 250,000 people to the Mall in Washington. Weeks later, Kerry was profiled on the television program 60 Minutes. "Do you want to be president of the United States?" the interviewer asked him, according to Kranish. "No," Kerry said, but he added, "That's such a crazy question when there are so many things to be done and I don't know whether I could do them." He began traveling the country to speak at protests, including an appearance with singer John Lennon in New York City.

However, when Kerry ran for Congress again in Massachusetts in 1972, his success stalled. Before the election, he moved twice in two months, looking for the best congressional district to run in. He won the Democratic primary in the district he settled on, but a conservative newspaper there attacked Kerry's patriotism and questioned his loyalty to the area's voters. Kerry lost to the Republican in the general election.

The year 1973 marked a turning point in Kerry's life. He enrolled in Boston College Law School days after his wife gave birth to their first daughter, Alexandra. After graduating in 1976 (the same year their second daughter, Vanessa, was born), he became a prosecutor in Middlesex County. The district attorney, John Droney, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, quickly made Kerry his first assistant, shocking the veteran lawyers on his staff. Droney let Kerry run, expand, and modernize the office. As a prosecutor, Kerry fought organized crime and created a crisis unit for rape victims. When Droney's health improved in 1979, and he took back some of his old responsibilities, Kerry started a private law practice. But his years as a prosecutor positioned him well politically, and when the office of lieutenant governor of Massachusetts opened up in 1982, Kerry ran for it and won. (He and his wife separated the same year; they finally divorced in 1988.) He spent much of his time in the office fighting acid rain, which again won him national attention.

Issues of war and peace were still Kerry's greatest passion, though. So when U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts announced in 1984 that he would not run for re-election, Kerry ran to replace him. Kerry made a freeze on building nuclear weapons a major campaign issue, which helped him in liberal, anti-war Massachusetts, and he won. In the Senate, he specialized in foreign policy; he was appointed in 1986 to the Foreign Relations Committee, where he had testified 15 years earlier. He also made his mark as an investigator; he and his staff uncovered some of the early evidence that President Ronald Reagan's administration was illegally sending aid to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Later, Kerry chaired a committee that investigated the fates of American soldiers still missing in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The task was politically dangerous because at the time, because rumors and conspiracy theories were circulating that soldiers who had fought in the Vietnam War were still being held prisoner there. But Kerry's committee refuted the suspicions, which allowed the United States to normalize its relations with Vietnam in 1995.

On the domestic side, Kerry successfully pushed to include funding for 100,000 more police in a 1994 crime bill and helped write several environmental laws. Though his voting record was mostly liberal, he also defied many fellow Democrats by becoming an early supporter of the landmark Gramm-Rudman-Hollings bill that forced spending cuts to control the federal deficit. Kerry found it harder to make a major impact after the Democrats lost control of the Senate in the 1994 elections, but he developed a reputation for working well with Republicans on some issues. Meanwhile, in 1995, Kerry remarried. His second wife was Teresa Heinz, widow of another senator, Pennsylvania's John Heinz, who had left her his fortune of about $500 million. The next year, Massachusetts' governor, William Weld, tried to unseat him and put up a tough fight, but Kerry beat him by seven percentage points.

In late 2002, Kerry declared that he would run for president in the 2004 election. He was expected to be the Democratic front-runner, but throughout 2003, former Vermont governor Howard Dean attracted more attention, passion, and support. Dean was running as a clear opponent of the war President George W. Bush had started with Iraq in March of 2003. Kerry was stuck in the middle on the issue; he had voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq in 2002 but was critical of the president's decision to go to war without more allies. After a disappointing year, Kerry fired his campaign manager in November of 2003 and started giving tougher speeches. In January of 2004, Kerry surprised political observers by beating Dean in the Iowa caucuses. Days later came a win in the key New Hampshire primary. By March, Kerry had clinched the Democratic nomination.

Kerry campaigned on a domestic policy that included cutting the budget deficit, increasing access to health care, and changing the tax code to discourage companies from moving jobs to other countries. He continued to criticize the president for going to war in Iraq without a stronger coalition of other nations involved, but Kerry's attempts to claim a middle ground on the Iraq issue continued to haunt him, especially his 2003 vote against an $87 billion funding package for the occupation of Iraq, which he explained as a protest vote against a failed policy.

At the Democratic convention in July of 2004 Kerry relied heavily on his service in Vietnam to assert that he could defend the country from terrorists, a major concern of Americans since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But afterward, a group of Vietnam veterans attacked his war record and his anti-war protests of the 1970s in television commercials. The press declared that the veterans' ads were misleading, but the Kerry campaign was slow to respond. Speakers at the Republican convention in August and September also attacked Kerry's national security record. Polls, which had shown Kerry and Bush in a close race for most of the year, showed Kerry behind in September.

The campaign tightened again after the presidential debates in September and October. Kerry showed off his debating skills and command of foreign policy in the first debate, and commentators and polls overwhelmingly judged him the winner. Kerry's performances in the next two debates were also strong, though Bush held his own better. Polls began to show the candidates nearly tied again. As Election Day approached, it appeared to be a very close election. But on November 2, 2004, Bush beat Kerry 51 to 48 percent in the popular vote and 286 to 252 in the electoral vote. Kerry won all the states in the Northeast and on the West Coast, plus some of the upper Midwest, but Bush dominated the South and West.

Still a senator, Kerry sent an e-mail to his supporters in late November asking them to rally against parts of Bush's second-term agenda and promising to introduce a bill in January of 2005 to extend health care coverage to all children in the United States. Aides say Kerry is considering running for president again in 2008.



Boston Globe, June 15-16, 18-21, 2003.

Newsweek, November 15, 2004, pp. 42-53.

Washington Post, July 25, 2004, p. A1; July 26, 2004, p. A1; November 20, 2004, p. A2.


"Biography," John Kerry for President, (November 29, 2004).

"Biography," John Kerry's Online Office, (November 29, 2004).

"The Race for President," New York Times, (November 29, 2004).

—Erick Trickey

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