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John Kerry: Secretary of State



Secretary of State John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Updated January 31, 2013

From commander of a Navy swift boat in Vietnam, to U.S. Senator and presidential candidate, to top administrator of U.S. international affairs, John Kerry won Senate confirmation on January 29, 2013 and was sworn in as the nation's 68th Secretary of State on February 1, 2013. As fourth in line of presidential succession, Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton who had served since January 21, 2009. Kerry is also the first male to head the U.S. Department of State as Secretary of State since Collin Powell.

Early Life and College

John Forbes Kerry was born on December 11, 1943, in Aurora, Colorado, where his father was stationed while serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Shortly after his birth, Kerry and his family returned to Massachusetts.

Kerry entered Yale University in 1962, majored in political science and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1966.

Military Service

While still a senior at Yale, Kerry volunteered to serve in the U.S. Navy. During his second tour of duty in Vietnam, he volunteered for one of the most dangerous assignments of the war, serving on a Swift Boat in the heavily enemy-defended Vietnam river deltas. For his four years of combat service in Vietnam, Kerry was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Combat V, and three Purple Hearts.

After separating from the active duty Navy, but while still a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve, Kerry became active in the anti-war movement, joining the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) in 1970. Despite his outspoken stance against the continued participation of the U.S. in the Vietnam War, Kerry gained the respect of the Nixon administration to the extent that Nixon's Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird denied two requestsd from the Navy Reserve to court martial Kerry for his anti-war activities.

National Political Career

Kerry, a lifelong Democrat was elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts in 1984 and served continuously in the Senate from January 2, 1985, until taking over as Secretary of State. During his first year in the Senate, Kerry was integral in the investigation of the Nicaraguan "Sandinista" government's ties to Cuba and the USSR, and took an active role in the Iran-Contra scandal hearings. Kerry has served as the ranking Democratic member of the Senate East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee and has been active in crafting U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also worked to ensure the security of Israel and to further the Middle East peace process. In 2009, Kerry became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was appointed to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction in 2011. He also held senior positions on the Senate Finance, Commerce, and Small Business Committees.

In 2004, Kerry ran for President of the United States. Kerry and his vice presidential running mate John Edwards of Carolina were defeated by Republican George W. Bush and his running mate Dick Cheney. Kerry won 48.3% of the popular vote, while Bush collected 50.7% of the vote.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, a group of Vietnam veterans publicly questioned Kerry's military service record and the validity of his service awards. The group, known as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth included several members of Kerry's swift boat crew. The exact effect of the Swift Boat Veterans' activities on the Kerry campaign was never clearly determined and the U.S. military took no action in relationship to their claims.

Family Life

Kerry, a Roman Catholic, is married to Teresa Heinz Kerry. Their blended family includes three sons from Teresa Heinz Kerry's previous marriage, two daughters from Kerry's previous marriage and two grandchildren.

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