Bob Kerrey

From Academic Kids

Senator Bob Kerrey
Senator Bob Kerrey

Joseph Robert Kerrey (born August 27, 1943) was a U.S. Senator from Nebraska (19892001) and a Democrat. As of 2005 he is president of New School University.



Kerrey was born in Lincoln, Nebraska and attended the local public schools before graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1966. Afterwards, he served in the United States Navy SEAL special forces unit, 1966–1969, lost the lower part of one leg in the Vietnam War, and received the Medal of Honor.

Returning to Nebraska, he operated a chain of restaurants and fitness centers from 1972 to 1982 before running for Governor against incumbent Charles Thone, winning, and serving as Governor of Nebraska from 1983 to 1987. Elected to the United States Senate in 1988, he was reelected in 1994 and served as the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 104th Congress before retiring in 2001. An attempt to gain the 1992 Democratic nomination for president failed due to a lack of fundraising and poor results in early primaries.

In 2001, Kerrey confessed to anguish and guilt over an incident that occurred in the Vietnam War. On February 25, 1969, he participated in a raid on the isolated peasant village of Thanh Phong, Vietnam. Based upon intelligence that Viet Cong were holding a district-level meeting at the site, his SEAL team attacked. He was awarded the Bronze Star for this action and the citation reads "The net result of his patrol was twenty-one Viet Cong killed, two hootches destroyed and two enemy weapons captured." However, Kerrey, in an interview with CNN, related it this way:

We expected it to be a very difficult mission, and we met some people we believed were the outpost and we killed them. And then (we) went on and took fire where we expected this meeting to occur and we returned very lethal fire and when the firing was over, all we had was women and children that are dead.

Another member of Kerrey's SEAL team that night, Gerhard Klann, told the New York Times that Kerrey ordered the squad to round up and kill civilians. Kerrey denies this, saying that both Klann and he agree it was a free fire zone.

Kerrey is a member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (popularly known as the "9/11 Commission"), where he has accused persons like Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, and Donald Rumsfeld of pursuing US interests with insufficient aggression.

At New School University, Kerrey opposed the attempt of the United Auto Workers to unionize the largely adjunct (part-time) faculty, agreeing to negotiate with them only after several rulings against the administration by the National Labor Relations Board.

Kerrey presided over an ambitious program of reorganization at the university, overhauling several divisions and bringing in the respected Arjun Appadurai as Provost. On April 14, 2005, Kerrey announced that the university was changing its name back to The New School, and rebranding its eight divisions as specialized, separate entities serving different constituencies.

On April 17, 2005, The New York Times reported that Kerrey was interested in becoming a Democratic candidate for Mayor of New York City, joining such candidates as Fernando Ferrer and C. Virginia Fields in opposing the re-election of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. According to the Associated Press however, he does not intend to do so, but rather continue leading the New School University.


Medal of Honor Citation

His Medal of Honor citation reads:

Missing image
Medal of Honor

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. Acting in response to reliable intelligence, Lt. (jg.) 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, Lt. (jg.) 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 Lt. (jg.) 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, Lt. (jg.) 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. Lt. (jg.) 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. Lt. (jg.) 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.

Preceded by:
Charles Thone
Governor of Nebraska
1983 – 1987
Succeeded by:
Kay A. Orr
Preceded by:
David K. Karnes
Senator from Nebraska
1989 – 2001
Succeeded by:
Ben Nelson

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Further reading

  • Kerrey, Robert. When I Was a Young Man: A Memoir. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2002.

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