John Kerry

John Kerry: Biography, Military service, Electoral history


John Kerry Forbes , born December 11, 1943 in Aurora (Colorado), is an American politician, United States Secretary of State from February 1, 2013 to January 20, 2017 during the presidency of Barack Obama.

A veteran of the Vietnam War, he became an influential figure within the Democratic Party through his mandate as United States Senator for Massachusetts, which he obtained in 1985. Chairman from 2009 to 2013 of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee , Kerry was his party’s nominated candidate for the 2004 presidential election, in which he was defeated by incumbent President Republican George W. Bush.

He later became United States Secretary of State in the Obama administration, succeeding Hillary Clinton. On November 3, 2020, President-elect Joe Biden announces the appointment of John Kerry as Special Envoy in charge of the fight against global warming within his administration

John Kerry Biography

John Kerry was born at Fitzsimmons Military Hospital in Aurora, Colorado, near Denver where his father, Richard Kerry, was being treated for tuberculosis. Shortly after John’s birth, the family returned to their home state of Massachusetts. He received a Catholic education there.

Family environment

John Kerry’s paternal grandfather, Frederick Kerry (born Fritz Köhn), is of Austro-Hungarian descent. Born in Horní Benešov in Austria-Hungary, he grew up in Mödling (a small town near Vienna in Austria). His paternal grandmother, Ida Loewe, was born in Budapest, Hungary. Both of Jewish origin, Fritz and Ida converted to Catholicism in 1901, changed their name to Kerry and left Europe in 1905. John Kerry did not learn his grandfather’s true identity until late. Frederick and his wife raise their children, including Richard, the father of John Kerry, in the Catholic religion.

John Kerry’s father was born in Massachusetts in 1915. A lawyer, he works for the United States Department of State, among others. During World War II Richard Kerry was a test pilot in the Army Air Corps. John’s mother, Rosemary Forbes Kerry, was born in Paris, but of Scottish-American descent. She grew up in France and was a nurse in Paris in 19402. The Forbes family still owns a house in Brittany at Saint-Briac-sur-Mer. Richard meets Rosemary while visiting this village in 1937.

John Kerry’s maternal grandfather, James Grant Forbes, was born in Shanghai, China, where the Forbes family built their fortunes in opium and trade with China. J. G. Forbes married Margaret Tyndal Winthrop, from an old New England family.

John Kerry has a brother, Cameron, an attorney with the United States Department of Commerce, who converted to Judaism and recently worked in Israel in support of his brother’s presidential campaign among expatriate Americans. He also has two sisters, Diane and Peggy.

Childhood and adolescence

During his childhood, John Kerry and his parents often spent the summer holidays in France in the family home of Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, “Les Essarts”, where he spent a long time seeing his first cousin Brice Lalonde, a French politician, son of Rosemary Forbes’ sister. Destroyed by the Germans who had made it one of their headquarters during the Second World War, the property was rebuilt in 1954. These long stays in France allowed John Kerry to speak French fluently.

With the Kerry family moving often, John knows a lot of schools. At the age of eleven, while his parents were living in Canada, John left to study at a boarding school in Japan [ref. necessary] and in Switzerland3.

In 1958, while his parents were in Montreal, he enrolled at Saint Paul School in Concord in New Hampshire, thanks to the financial support of his aunt Clara Winthrop, who covered his tuition fees as well as his salary. of his father does not allow him to take charge. It was there that he obtained his diploma in 1962. During these four years, he developed his talents as a speaker and discovered a pronounced taste for politics. In his spare time, he played hockey and lacrosse with a classmate, Robert Mueller, who would become director of the FBI. He also plays bass in the school band, The Electras, which released an album in 1961. Only 500 copies were produced and in 2004 one of them sold on eBay for $ 2,551.

In 1959, Kerry created the John Winant group in Saint Paul. The aim of this group is to organize debates on current events. This group still exists today. It seems that it was at this time that he began to take an interest in John Fitzgerald Kennedy, even signing his articles “J.F.K. “. It was in November 1960 that he gave his first political conference, in support of Kennedy’s election to the White House.

In 1962, John Kerry volunteered for Edward Kennedy’s senatorial campaign. His current girlfriend, Janet Jennings Auchinloss, is Jacqueline Kennedy’s half-sister and invites him to spend some time at the Kennedy homestead, where he meets President John F. Kennedy for the first time.

Yale University (1962-1966)

In 1962, Kerry entered Yale University. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science there in 1966. He also played football, hockey, lacrosse and team fencing, he also took aviation lessons. To earn extra income during the summer, he loads trucks to a grocer and sells encyclopedias door to door.

During his first year at Yale, John Kerry became president of the Yale Political Union, which gave him the opportunity to get involved in the civil rights movement and Kennedy’s New Frontier program, among others. Under the leadership of Rollin G. Osterweis, history teacher and debate coach, Kerry won numerous competitions across the country. In March 1965, with the Vietnam War in full swing, he won the Ten Eyck Award for Best Speaker for a critical speech against American foreign policy. Thanks to his talent, he was chosen for the end-of-year speech of his promotion.

In April 1965, John Kerry joined the Skull and Bones society at the invitation of his friend John Shattuck. The two presidents George Bush and G.W. Bush are also members of this very private group, of which one can only be a member by invitation.

Military service (1966-1970)

Service records and decorations

After his request for postponement of service for studies in Paris was refused, John Kerry volunteered to do his military service on February 18, 1966. He began his service on August 19 and enlisted in the American armed forces to fight. in Vietnam in 1967. Commanding a patrol boat (Swift Boat) in the Mekong delta, he came back armed with medals. Three Purple Heart, for minor injuries, whereas usually the Purple Heart is awarded only to “seriously injured”. For his first wound, on December 2, 1968, medical reports mention that Kerry received a “small fragment of an American M-79 grenade in the arm”, wound which involves the installation of a modest bandage and does not prevent John Kerry to leave immediately on his patrol boat. He receives the Silver Star Medal for a risky action following a maneuver where, ambushed by the Vietcong, he got off his patroller in order to kill a sniper who was threatening his unit with his rocket launcher. He is awarded the Bronze Star Medal for saving Jim Rassman, a fallen green beret. Under heavy fire from the Vietcong, Kerry turned around to pick him up and bring him back on board.

In March 1969, shortly after his third injury, the army signed John Kerry’s return to the United States. He returned to the country in April of the same year and was officially discharged from his military obligations in March 1970. He was a reservist until 1978.


John Kerry’s service record in Vietnam was the source of a long controversy during the 2004 US presidential campaign. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT) 4 group, made up of around 200 Vietnam veterans Nam, published in 2004 the book Unfit for Command, written by John O’Neill (born 1946), John Kerry’s successor as commander of the Swift Boat (en) PCF 94.

O’Neill engages in a demolition of the Democratic candidate, laying out dozens of serious accusations (supposed lies and even assertion of his participation in acts of treason, for which Vietnam would have implicitly thanked him by placing his photo in a section “Heroes of the Vietnamese resistance” at the Hanoi War Museum (fr)). Kerry’s defenders, especially his wartime crew, refute the allegations made in this book by pointing to the SBVT’s political ties to President George W. Bush. Although many of the charges have been denied by support from written sources, controversy continued to punctuate the presidential campaign.

Against the Vietnam War (1970-1971)

John Kerry returns from Vietnam resolutely opposed to the war. In 1970, he joined the group of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW, acronym for Viet Nam Veterans Against the War). The members of the VVAW, having experienced the war from within and, better yet, having served their country, enjoyed genuine respect from the population. They were seen as capable of providing the point of view of the ordinary soldier and could afford to expose official deception. Other veterans, however, especially those who formed the SBVT in 2004, viewed the activities of the VVAW with a very negative view, considering that it did not care about their service.

Fulbright Commission

On April 22, 1971, Kerry was the first Vietnam veteran to testify before a special Senate committee on proposals to end the war in Southeast Asia. In fatigues and wearing his medals, he spoke for nearly two hours with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In his speech, under the name of Fulbright Hearing (after Senator JW Fulbright, director of debates), he expresses his opinion on the fact that the war in Vietnam is essentially civil, and that Vietnam does not represent no threat to the United States. John Kerry is convinced that the war continues for political reasons: “Men must die so that President Nixon is not, and these are his own words, the first president to lose a war”. He concludes with this sentence: “How can you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake? “

The day after this testimony, Kerry takes part in a demonstration with nearly 800 veterans, during which they throw their medals on the steps of the Capitol to mark their opposition to the war. Kerry declares, in explanation of her gesture: “I am not doing this for reasons of violence, but for peace and justice and to try to wake up this country once and for all”.

Operation POW

In 1971, he participated in Operation POW (from Prisoners of War, name chosen in honor of prisoners of war but also to signify the fact that the Americans were prisoners of the Vietnam War) organized by the VVAW. On the last weekend of May, veterans walk from Concord to Boston Commons. The purpose of this march is to awaken the spirit of the War of Independence of the United States and Paul Revere by spending several nights at the sites of the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill, ending with a public reading of the United States Declaration of Independence on Memorial Day. On March 29, 1971, Kerry was arrested and released on payment of a $ 5 bond.

Despite her activism within the VVAW, and her desire to evolve her actions within a framework of non-violence and legality, Kerry fails to prevent the radicalization of the organization and leaves it for a difference of opinion. The circumstances of his departure from the VVAW also fuel the controversy surrounding the 2004 presidential campaign.

Weddings and family

Kerry married Julia Thorne (in) in 1970, they had two children: Alexandra (born September 5, 1973) and Vanessa (born December 31, 1976). Alexandra Kerry graduated from film studies in 2004. Vanessa, a graduate of Phillips Academy and Yale, continued her medical studies at Yale. She is very active in her father’s campaign for the 2004 presidential election.

In 1982, Julia Thorne, who suffered from a nervous breakdown, filed for divorce, which was pronounced on July 25, 1988. The marriage was officially declared void by the Catholic Church in 1997. She wrote, in her book on depression, You are not alone: ​​“After 14 years as a politician’s wife, I only associated politics with anger, fear and loneliness”. Julia Thorne marries Richard Charlesworth, an architect, for a second time, and lives in Montana, where she is involved in local environmental groups. She formally showed her support for Kerry’s presidential candidacy in 2004. She died in 2006 after a long illness.

Between her first and second marriage, Kerry is often seen in the company of actresses, including Morgan Fairchild and Catherine Oxenberg.

Kerry remarried on May 26, 1995 to Teresa Simões-Ferreira Heinz (en), moderate Republican and United Nations interpreter, widow of Pennsylvania Senator John Heinz. Introduced to each other at a political conference in 1990, Kerry and Heinz reunite after John Heinz’s death in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Teresa, born October 5, 1938 in Mozambique to Portuguese parents, was naturalized American in 1971. Having like Kerry studied all over the world (South Africa, Switzerland, United States …) she is fluent in 5 languages ​​(English , Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian) and was a considerable asset in John Kerry’s campaign in the 2004 presidential election, especially among the Hispanic community. She abandoned the Republican Party for the Democratic Party in 2003.

Entry into politics (1972-1985)

Early chess (1970s)

From the beginning of the 1970s, Kerry wanted to extend his political action beyond simple protest. Unlike many political activists campaigning against the Vietnam War, he chose to run for election to the House of Representatives. Having occupied the front of the media through his work in the VVAW, he enjoys national public recognition, but has no connection with a district in Massachusetts that allows him to claim a position. In Waltham, where he lives, he is supplanted by Father Robert Drinan, a Jesuit priest, within the anti-war electoral committee which has agreed to support a single candidate. Kerry therefore works for the election of Drinan who wins the seat.

In 1972, he ran for the Democratic primary in the district of Lowell against 9 other candidates. Despite the scandal caused by the arrest of his brother Cameron, discovered in the basement of their campaign PC [unclear] where the telephone lines are and accused by Anthony R. DiFruscia (one of Kerry’s opponents, whose the offices were in the same building) for wanting to endanger his campaign, he won the primaries. Charges against Cameron Kerry were dropped a year later.

In the general election, Kerry runs against Republican candidate Paul W. Cronin, and independent Roger P. Durkin. The Lowell Sun, the district’s most popular newspaper, is taking a stand against him, accusing him of opportunism because he had only moved to the area a few months earlier. The lack of support of the population and the defection of Durkin in favor of Cronin, make him lose the election and begin what will be his “crossing of the desert” in politics.

Desert crossing and return (1982-1985)

Disappointed by his political failures, Kerry decides that the best way to continue a public career is to study law. In 1973, he joined Boston College Law School in Newton, Massachusetts. He graduated in 1976, passed his bar exam and joined the office of Middlesex County Attorney John J. Droney.

In 1977, he was promoted to first assistant prosecutor. He distinguished himself by winning several important trials and launching several projects intended to deal more effectively with the problems of crimes and testimony.

In 1979, he resigned from the prosecutor’s office and set up his own cabinet with one of his colleagues. The firm is named Kilvert & Forbes, after the last names of their respective mothers. At the same time, he opened a cookie and muffin store in the Quincy Market district of Boston, which he sold in 1988.

Although his private adventure was a success, John Kerry was still interested in public activity, and decided to run for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1982. He won the Democratic primary and the seat, while Michael Dukakis won the governor’s seat. The post of lieutenant governor implies few responsibilities, but Dukakis delegates many files to Kerry, in particular on the environment. When Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas announced in 1984 that he was resigning for health reasons, Kerry decided to run for the post. He narrowly won the primaries, and although the country had shifted towards Republicans following the re-election of Ronald Reagan, he won the seat of senator. During his induction speech in 1985, Kerry pointed out that his victory meant that Massachusetts “rejects the politics of selfishness and the notion that women can be treated as second-class citizens.”

Term of senator (1985-2013)

Meeting with Ortega

On April 18, 1985, a few months after his arrival in the Senate, John Kerry left for Nicaragua with Tom Harkin, senator from Iowa, to meet the president, Daniel Ortega. Although Ortega was democratically elected, his ties to the USSR and Cuba make him a controversial figure in the United States, and the trip is criticized. Opposition to the Sandinista government is led by the Contras, a paramilitary group supported by the CIA. Kerry and Harkin address both sides and mediate Ortega, who through them offers a ceasefire in exchange for abandoning US support for the Contras. The offer was declined by the Reagan government and labeled a “propagandist move” to influence the impending House of Representatives vote of $ 14 million in aid for the Contras, but Kerry said he was “ready to take it.” the risk “. Aid is not voted on by the House, but the day after the result, Ortega accepts a loan of $ 200 million from the Soviet Union. Six weeks later, the United States voted to allocate 27 million dollars in aid to the Contras.

Iran-Contra case

In April 1986, John Kerry and Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd proposed that a commission of inquiry be set up into the implications of the Contras in the trafficking of cocaine and marijuana.

On the sidelines of the commission, Kerry and his relatives began their own investigation and published on October 14, 1986 a report denouncing the illegal activities of Lieutenant-Colonel Oliver North and a network involving the NSC (National Security Council) and the CIA intended to deliver arms to Nicaraguan rebels. Kerry accuses North and some members of the presidential administration of providing financial support to the Contras and delivering weapons to them illegally, without Congressional permission. Kerry’s report led to a series of investigations spanning several years that culminated in the scandal of the Iran-Contra so-called Irangate affair.

Other inquiries

In its tracks, Kerry broadens his field of investigation and is interested in the involvement of the United States in Cuba, Haiti, the Bahamas, Panama and Honduras. In 1989, he published a report denouncing the laxity of the Reagan administration in the fight against drugs for the benefit of other foreign policy objectives. The report denounces, among other things, the ostrich policy practiced by the American government in the 1980s in the face of corruption and the drug-related activities of the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who supports the Contras. Kerry is labeled a “conspiracy theorist,” but ten years later, the CIA Inspector General released reports confirming his claims.

BCCI scandal

During their investigation into the Noriega case, Kerry and his relatives find reason to believe that the Pakistan-based Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) is facilitating Noriega’s drug trafficking and aiding in money laundering which results from this traffic. Subsequently, an investigation was carried out and the BCCI was closed in 1991.

In December 1992, Kerry and Republican Senator Hank Brown of Colorado published The BCCI Affair, which chronicles the scandal and proves that the BCCI was linked to terrorist organizations, and confirms the involvement in the case of the Department of Justice, the Treasury , Customs and the Federal Bank, as well as influential pressure groups and the CIA.

In their report, Kerry and Brown condemn the administration of George H. W. Bush as well as the director of the FBI Robert Mueller then attorney general for his lack of speed in the treatment of the case. Kerry is also criticized from all sides for not having denounced more virulently the Democrats involved in the affair, and by the Democrats for having denounced some of their members7.

Legislative participation

John Kerry endorsed and proposed hundreds of bills, including those relating to SMEs, education, veterans and prisoners of war or missing in action, terrorism and the protection of marine resources.

Defeat in the 2004 presidential election

John Kerry chaired the Democratic Party Senate Campaign Committee from 1987 to 1989. He was re-elected to the Senate in 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008.

In 2003 and 2004, John Kerry won against many of his Democratic rivals, including Senator John Edwards, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and General Wesley Clark. He thus won the primaries within the Democratic Party to run against George W. Bush. On July 6, 2004, he officially announced the choice of John Edwards as running mate.

Controversy erupts during the campaign over Kerry’s support for the pro-choice movement. Of Catholic faith, an American bishop threatens to deprive him of the sacraments. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI declared on this subject that such political representatives excommunicated themselves from the Church8.

The day after the November 2 election, John Kerry admits his defeat to George W. Bush while there are provisional ballots to be checked in Ohio, believing that these will not be enough to reverse the result of the election. vote. George W. Bush describes his gesture as “elegant”. John Kerry thus avoids reiterating the criticism leveled against the United States following the counts carried out in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

In 2006, Kerry led an active national campaign to support Democratic candidates in the midterm elections. Supporter of a timetable for the withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq, he refuses to support Joseph Lieberman during the Democratic primary in Connecticut before giving his support to his opponent, the anti-war Democratic candidate Ned Lamont (finally defeated by Lieberman in November 2006).

On January 24, 2007, he announced that he would not seek the Democratic nomination for the next presidential election in 20089. On January 10, 2008, he supported Barack Obama for the Democratic primaries of the 2008 presidential election.10 John Kerry therefore does not support John Edwards, who is his running mate on the Democratic ticket in 2004.

United States Secretary of State (2013-2017)

On December 21, 2012, John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State by President Barack Obama, replacing Hillary Clinton11. After being confirmed by a Senate vote on January 29, 2013 by 94 votes in favor and 3 against, he took office on February 1, 2013. On the same date, he ceased to exercise his mandate as senator from Massachusetts. Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, appoints Mo Cowan to replace Kerry in the Senate.

His tenure as head of American diplomacy is marked by renewed tensions with the Russian Federation, in particular because of the Syrian civil war and the Donbass war.

John Kerry is illustrated by surprisingly interventionist positions for a Democrat12. He is also recognized for his diplomatic activism, particularly in his desire to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict13.

Presidential Envoy for Climate (since 2021)

In January 2018, during a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, he said he was considering running for the 2020 presidential election against outgoing President Donald Trump14. But in June 2019, in an interview with the Sky News channel, he finally declared that he was not a candidate for the election.

In 2020, President-elect Joe Biden appoints him to a post of special envoy in charge of climate, member of the cabinet. He takes office in 2021, after Joe Biden is sworn in as head of state.

Electoral history

Massachusetts Class II Senator Results

198454,99 %44,99 %____
199057,06 %42,87 %____
199652,20 %44,72 %2,74 %0,28 %__
200280,03 %___18,43 %1,24 %
200865,86 %30,99 %__3,13 %_


John Kerry is 1.94m (6 ′ 4 ″) tall. He enjoys windsurfing, surfing, hockey, hunting, rock and plays bass. He speaks French fluently and has a solid knowledge of German17. He also addressed the French in French in order to affirm the solidarity of the United States to France, following the attack against Charlie Hebdo, on January 7, 2015, as well as in a statement. at the Paris City Hall on January 16, 201518.

His favorite movies are Casablanca and Giant, he loves cookies and has a canary whose name is “Sunshine”. In 2003, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the treatment of which was successful.

To date [When?] Kerry and his wife’s fortune is estimated at nearly $ 1 billion, making John Kerry the richest senator in the United States. He is indeed the heir of several members of the Forbes family, and Teresa of that of the Heinz (of Heinz ketchups).

A member in good standing of the Skull and Bones Society of Yale University Alumni, 19 Kerry also co-authored a book on the environment with his wife that appeared in the United States in mid-March 2007.


American Decorations

For his military achievements, John Kerry is the recipient of the following decorations:

  • Silver Star
  • Bronze Star
  • Navy & Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon.

Foreign decorations

  • Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Handed over on 5 December 2016 by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Minister for Foreign Affairs) 20.
  • Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor (Awarded on December 10, 2016 by Jean-Marc Ayrault, French Minister of Foreign Affairs) 21.


  • (en) Every Day Is Extra, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2018.

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