When F. Scott Fitzgerald said there were "no second acts in American lives," he had clearly not met John Forbes Kerry: diplomat's son, decorated soldier, prosecutor, lieutenant governor, senator, special envoy. He was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for president in 2004, a defeat that might have ended lesser political careers. Nine years later, Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he had recently chaired and accepted its ringing endorsement to become the 68th secretary of State.
Forty-two years earlier, Kerry had stood before the same committee, then headed by Sen. J. William Fulbright, and testified as a young veteran against the war in Vietnam. "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Kerry famously wondered.
Similar weighty matters of war and conflict have consumed Kerry's brief tenure as secretary of State. He has shuttled between the Middle East, Europe, and Russia trying to forge a diplomatic resolution to the civil war in Syria, which is threatening to destabilize the entire region. Despite dim prospects for success, he has attempted to restart long-stalled talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry has already visited a rising China and Asian allies threatened by a bellicose North Korea; he has crisscrossed the Middle East to intensify Iran's diplomatic isolation; and he flew to Afghanistan to ensure that U.S. plans to withdraw all combat troops by the end of next year are still on track.
Although he can seem aloof as a politician, Kerry, 70, was in many ways born to the role of America's chief diplomat. As the son of a Foreign Service officer, he spent much of his upbringing overseas, including in Berlin. Shortly before graduating from Yale University, Kerry enlisted in the Navy and served two tours of duty, including a combat tour as a swift-boat skipper patrolling the rivers of South Vietnam's Mekong Delta (where he earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts). After receiving his law degree from Boston College, Kerry worked as a prosecutor, before being elected lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1982. He won a U.S. Senate seat in 1984.
As the country learned in 2004 when Kerry became the Democratic presidential nominee, he is married to Teresa Heinz Kerry, and their blended family includes two daughters, three sons, and three grandchildren. During that campaign Kerry was ridiculed by some right-wing commentators for speaking French. Those language skills are serving Kerry better in his new job.