Kerry was serving in the United States Navy at the time, as lieutenant in charge of Swift Boat No. 94, which was charged primarily with patroling in the Mekong Riverdelta. Kerry was already injured himself, and his boat (already damaged from a mine explosion) was under heavy fire, when Kerry heard "man overboard" ordered that the crew turn the boat around and return to pick up Rassmann, whose own vessel had sunk. Rassmann, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Fifth Special Forces Group (Airborne) at the time, was unable to clamber aboard by himself, so Kerry pulled him from the water. The incident earned Kerry a Bronze Star Medal for bravery and his third Purple Heart.
James Rassmann reappeared and became a public figure just before the 2004 Iowa caucus. After having not seen Kerry for more than 30 years, he contacted the Kerry campaign and asked how he could help. He expressed that he had attempted to contact Kerry, whom he credits with saving his life, in 1984, but Kerry said he did not receive any message from Rassmann. Rassmann, a registered Republican, declared his support for Kerry in the Presidential race and the Kerry campaign engineered a meeting. The surprise reunion is credited with rousing veteran support for Kerry and propelling him to a victory in the Iowa caucus and beyond.
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