Friday, August 27, 2004

Swiftvets - Kerry's First Purple Heart

One of the Swiftvet charges is that Kerry's first Purple Heart was awarded for an unitentionally self-inflicted wound. Kerry fired off a grenade too close to the boat he was on and was hit by a piece of shrapnel. The Kerry campaign subsequently backtracked, admitting that the wound might have been self-inflicted. Now the charge is bolstered by the testimony of retired Rear Adm. William L. Schachte Jr. as reported here by Robert Novak (the entire transcript of Admiral Schachte's comments is here). Back in 1968, Schachte was a lieutenant in Kerry's unit and claims that he was onboard with Kerry when the incident happened.
"I was absolutely in the skimmer" in the early morning on Dec. 2, 1968, when Lt. (j.g.) John Kerry was involved in an incident that led to his first Purple Heart.

"Kerry nicked himself with a M-79 [grenade launcher]," Schachte said in a telephone interview from his home in Charleston, S.C. He said, "Kerry requested a Purple Heart."

Schachte, a lieutenant, said he was in command of the small boat called a Boston whaler or skimmer, with Kerry aboard in his first combat mission in the Vietnam War. The third crew member was an enlisted man, whose name Schachte did not remember.

Schachte, in fact developed the operation Kerry was on, which involved the use of a small boat, a Boston whaler with an outboard motor, operating very close to shore to flush out enemy forces so that the larger swift boats could move in.
Around 3 a.m. on Dec. 2, Schachte said, the skimmer -- code-named "Batman" -- fired a hand-held flare. He said that after Kerry's M-16 rifle jammed, the new officer picked up the M-79 and, "I heard a 'thunk.' There was no fire from the enemy," he said.

The Kerry campaign, and by his silence on the issue, Kerry himself, had previously held that Schachte was not present, but testimony from other members of the unit does not support that.
Patrick Runyon and William Zaladonis are the two enlisted men who said they were aboard the skimmer and did not know Schachte. However, two other former officers interviewed Thursday confirmed that Schachte was the originator of the technique and always was aboard the Boston whaler for these missions.

Grant Hibbard, who as a lieutenant commander was Schachte's superior officer, confirmed that Schachte always went on these skimmer missions and said, "I don't think he [Kerry] was alone" on his first assignment. Hibbard said he had told Kerry to "forget it" when he asked for a Purple Heart.

Ted Peck, another swift boat commander, said, "I remember Bill [Schachte] telling me it didn't happen" -- that is, Kerry getting an enemy-inflicted wound. He said it would be "impossible" for Kerry to have been in the skimmer without Schachte.