Navy Secretary John Dalton says only a Navy board can determine whether Adm. Jeremy "Mike" Boorda, who committed suicide two years ago, had the right to wear decorations for valor from the Vietnam War.

"It's not a question of what I think or what another senior naval official thinks. The process requires one to go through this board," Dalton told reporters during a visit this week to London.Boorda, the only enlisted man to become chief of naval operations, took his life in 1996 just before he was to be quizzed by Newsweek reporters about the Combat Vs - tiny bronze letters standing for "valor."

In a suicide note "to my sailors," he said he felt disgraced.

Boorda had been awarded the decorations for his service on a destroyer, the USS Craig, off the coast of Vietnam in 1965 and as executive officer aboard another destroyer, the USS Brooke, in 1973.

In 1995, on the advice of the Navy's Office of Awards and Special Projects, he removed the decorations from his ribbons.

But four months ago, Dalton put in Boorda's service record a letter from Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., who was chief of naval operations during the war, acknowledging the admiral was entitled to wear the Combat Vs.

"I knew that Admiral Zumwalt had written such a letter and wanted to make his comments a part of the record," Dalton said Wednesday. "I thought from the standpoint of history that his grandchildren and great-grandchildren would like to know that those things existed."

Dalton also wrote a memo that he put in Boorda's file saying the citations justifying the awards "plainly state they were awarded for service including combat operations."