August 27, 2004

Schachte speaks
Posted by McQ

Retired Rear Adm. William L. Schachte Jr claimed that he "definitely" was in the "skimmer" (Boston whaler) with Kerry on the night he wounded himself with an M79 grenade.

In an exclusive interview with Robert Novak he says:

"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 which 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."

He also said it was he, Kerry and an enlisted sailor, but he doesn't remember that sailor's name.

This obviously contradicts the claims by Bill Zaldonis and Patrick Runyon who both claim to have been on the skimmer that night with Kerry. They related their rememberances to the Boston Globe thusly (from Chap 3, "Unfit for Command")

The two men serving alongside Kerry that night had similar memories of the incident that led to Kerry's first wartime injury. William Zaldonis, who was manning an M-60, and Patrick Runyon, operating the engine, said they spotted some people running from a sampan to a nearby shoreline. When they refused to obey a call to stop, Kerry's crew began shooting. ''When John told me to open up, I opened up,'' Zaldonis recalled. Zaldonis and Runyon both said they were too busy to notice how Kerry was hit. ''I assume they fired back,'' Zaldonis said. ''If you can picture me holding an M-60 machine gun and firing it-what do I see? Nothing. If they were firing at us, it was hard for me to tell.''

Runyon, too, said that he assumed the suspected Viet Cong fired back because Kerry was hit by a piece of shrapnel. ''When you have a lot of shooting going on, a lot of noise, you are scared, the adrenaline is up,'' Runyon said. ''I can't say for sure that we got return fire or how [Kerry] got nicked. I couldn't say one way or the other. I know he did get nicked, a scrape on the arm.''

So somebody (or maybe all of them) has it wrong. But note they do agree on one thing ... both Zaldonis and Runyon cannot, in anyway, verify return fire.

Back to Schachte:

Schachte, who also was then a lieutenant junior grade, said he was in command of the small 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.

Two reasons why Schachte's story has some credibility. One is you'd rarely if ever, send a green officer out alone on his first combat mission.

Grant Hibbard, who as a lieutenant commander was Schachte's superior officer, confirmed that Schachte always went on these skimmer missions and "I don't think he (Kerry) was alone" on his first assignment.

But that's not the only reason to believe Schachte's account:

Schachte described the use of the skimmer operating very close to shore as a technique that he personally designed to flush enemy forces on the banks of Mekong River so that the larger Swift boats could move in.

[...]

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.

In other words, all skimmer missions were all Schachte's missions. It was his technique and it was only used, per Schachte, when he was aboard the skimmer. The Swift boat which was in support and which had towed the skimmer in was commanded by Lt. Voss.

So who's zoomin' who here? And why? We've already seen Alston's "memories" of Kerry's Silver Star event to have been false, as well as Alston's attribution of the actions of Ted Peck to Kerry. Is this just another in a long line of mistaken rememberances?

If we assume Schachte was always on the skimmer a number of possiblities ensue.

A) One of the two enlisted sailors wasn't on the skimmer.
B) Both were on the skimmer, but for some reason neither remembers Schachte
C) Shachte's rememberance of the number of sailors on the skimmer is faulty

Kerry has always supported the one officer (Kerry), two enlisted version in his rememberances as have, obviously, the two saliors, Zaldonis and Runyon. Schachte supports three in the boat, but with one of them being him.

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.

So who's right? Is it possible that Runyon or Zaldonis have perhaps mixed up a different skimmer mission with this one? If so, and if Schachte was on everyone of them, wouldn't one of them remember Schachte? Wouldn't Kerry?

Lots of interesting questions.

But let's remember one thing while contemplating the questions. According to Kerry, he went on exactly one of these missions not long after he first reached VN. This is how Schachte describes Kerry wounding himself that night:

At about 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 M-79 does indeed have a distinctive "thunk" when it fires. Absolutely no mistaking it (like you can't mistake the fire of an AK-47 for an M-16). But more importantly, note the code name of the skimmer. Then consider this conversation related by Schachte:

The next time he saw Kerry after the first Purple Heart incident, Schachte said, was "about 20 years" later on the U.S. Senate subway in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building. "I called, 'Hey, John.' He replied, 'Batman.' I was absolutely amazed by his memory." He said they "talked about having lunch" but never did.

What does that say to you? What it says to me is Kerry identified Schachte with the skimmer mission. There is no other reason to refer to him as "Batman" otherwise.

It says to me that in all likelyhood, William Schachte was indeed on that skimmer the night of the incident. Note I'm not then suggesting that Zaldonis or Runyon weren't. Its entirely possible they were and Schachte's memory is faulty in that regard. Its entirely possible that all three have forgotten the other was on there.

But, based on the Kerry reaction to Schachte 20 years later and the fact that the skimmer missions were all Schachte's and he was on every one of them, I have to come down on the side of the Schachte version here. If it was his technique, he'd be the responsible party for employing it. Regardless of who was in the boat, all of them either remember there was "no fire" or don't know if there was any fire, and that puts the Purple Heart awarded for that incident in deep doubt.

TrackBack

Comments

Let me be the first to bring this up before MK Ultra or his buds do. ;)

Tom Maguire has a concern about whether the good admiral is a non partisan.

While he stated he is is an independent he did give money to a bunch of republicans.

He did however give money to one

SPRATT, JOHN MCKEE JR ID: H2SC05052
INCUMBENT

Office Sought: House
State: South Carolina
District: 05
Party: DEM (Democratic Party)

so there may be truth to his statement, however expect that as the main attack on his statements as a way of completely discounting the eyewitness testimony of the good admiral.

Posted by: capt joe at August 27, 2004 12:14 PM

Schachte could have given an interview to the NY Times and the Washington Post and given his version wider coverage. Who told Schachte to wait and who leaked Schachte's readiness to talk to to Novak?

A big problem with this saga, like rightward blogs, is that it is so self-referential. Letson hadn't recalled Schachte until he heard from someone else and when Schachte called to help him keep his story straight. Odell, Elliot, Thurlow, Gardner, French, Peck all say they are testifying in part to others' testimony. How many Swifts are actually testifying here? A half dozen? The rest are just repeating what the indoctrination session told them. With additional accounts backing up Kerry in some of these cases, what's the real count so many people like to recite? 15 support Kerry, 6 don't? It's a far, far cry from 250 witnesses.

"In other words, all skimmer missions were all Schachte's missions. It was his technique and it was only used, per Schachte, when he was aboard the skimmer." So in all of Vietnam, there was only one skimmer mission at a time. It must have been a difficult technique for a trained crew not to employ without Schachte. What were they being trained for?

Plus Schachte refuses to name the third crewman. Runyon says he was manning the engine. Zaldonis says he opened fire on Kerry's order. What was Schachte doing this whole episode? Manning the engine? Giving orders? Firing his weapon? It sure would be helpful if he could account for more than the talking points. Who told him what to say?

Runyon says he was contacted by the private investigator and submitted his story. It was returned edited for signing. How many affidavits have been similarly edited? How many people are testifying to edited accounts of others? Are there any unvarnished original accounts?

Posted by: Wm D at August 27, 2004 07:13 PM

The definitive deconstruction of the Swiftboat Vet accusations is at: http://swiftvets.eriposte.com/

Here we find that Mr. French, who just happens to be an Oregon D.A., was forced to admit that he committed perjury because his affidavit was based on hearsay rather than personal information and belief.
Mr. Cordier, who was forced to resign from the Bush/Cheney veteran outreach program, not only did not serve on a swiftboat he served in the Air Force.

To date every single accusation boils down to the swiftboat vets versus U.S. Navy records. In the latest accusation from Admiral Schachte he claims he was on every skimmer mission. Wouldn't that put him aboard on one of the other instances when Kerry was awarded a medal? Or maybe Schachte was only aboard the missions when Gardner was the third man, who also was never a witness to any of the missions in which Kerry was awarded a medal.

Did Kerry receive all of his other awards from his missions on PCF-94? It seems like Schachte and Gardner were only aboard PCF-44 with Kerry. If that's true and Schachte is correct that crews were always two officers and an enlisted man, then Kerry, Schachte and Gardner must have been on an awful lot of other missions as a three man crew.

Posted by: Gary Boatwright at August 29, 2004 06:08 AM

If you're going to ask questions, Gary, you need to keep up.

A skimmer is not a swift boat. Swift boats are 50 feet long. A skimmer is 15 feet long. Swift boats have a crew of 6. Skimmers had a crew of 3.

Only Schachte ran skimmer missions. Kerry was on exactly one of them while he was in training soon after getting to VN. Schachtewas on all of the skimmer missions since he was in charge of the skimmer and it was required by his commander, Hibbard, that he do so.

He always configured the crew on the skimmer with two officers and one enlisted. The only medal in question here is Kerry's first Purple Heart which, per Schachte, was a result of Kerry's negligence and NOT hostile fire.

Posted by: McQ at August 29, 2004 10:44 AM

Do I need to keep up to ask questions or should I ask questions to keep up?

I'm sorry McQ, but I've been following this fairly close and your response still left me confused. Does that mean that Kerry never commanded a swiftboat? PCF-44 and PCF-44 are both skimmers or are they both swiftboats? This is the first time I've run across a distinction between skimmers and swiftboats, I'm only too glad to accept your superior expertise and welcome enlightenment.

My very possibly false impression was that PCF-44 and PCF-94 were both three men crews. Were they both six men crews? Then the skimmer mission where he has "awarded" his first purple heart was the only three man crew he "sub-commanded"?

I guarantee McQ, if I'm not keeping up then the media certainly isn't either. Did you see or hear about the CNN bimbo who was filling in for Paula Zahn and asked a couple of swiftboat vets a question about Kerry's first "purple star"?


Posted by: Gary at August 29, 2004 04:55 PM

Does that mean that Kerry never commanded a swiftboat?

No.

PCF-44 and PCF-44 are both skimmers or are they both swiftboats?

I assume you mean 44 and 94. Both are swift boats.

This is the first time I've run across a distinction between skimmers and swiftboats, I'm only too glad to accept your superior expertise and welcome enlightenment.

No problem, Gary. A swift boat is a 50 foot boat with a crew of 6 and twin diesel engines. A skimmer was a 15 foot boat (a Boston Whaler) with a crew of three and an outboard motor. Vastly different. The way it was deployed was by being towed into position by a swift boat and deployed with the crew of 3.

My very possibly false impression was that PCF-44 and PCF-94 were both three men crews. Were they both six men crews?

Yes.

Then the skimmer mission where he has "awarded" his first purple heart was the only three man crew he "sub-commanded"?

Yes. And "sub-commanded" is correct. Schachte was in command of the skimmer.

I guarantee McQ, if I'm not keeping up then the media certainly isn't either. Did you see or hear about the CNN bimbo who was filling in for Paula Zahn and asked a couple of swiftboat vets a question about Kerry's first "purple star"?

No doubt Gary ... I've blasted their lack of expertice concerning military affairs for years.

"Purple Star" ... good grief.

Posted by: McQ at August 29, 2004 05:17 PM

Thanks for the clarification McQ. I'm going to have to bookmark the threads I post comments to. I'm having trouble navigating this web site.

I've got another discussion going with Jon over at Busting the McCain Myth and he says this is a neo-libertarian site. Do you have some links to articles or think tanks that I could peek at? I'll be frank, I was about half way through "America Alone" when "Running on Empty" arrived so I'm switching back and forth. I've got a rather dim view of neo-con foreign policy and the Bush administrations fiscal policy.

I'll be casting an institutional vote for gridlock. The republicans will fillibuster Kerry's spending programs and Kerry will veto extensions of Bush's tax cuts.

It's difficult to see how Kerry could do a worse job of implementation on foreign policy. The kindest view I can muster for Bush is John Stewart's comparison of Bush to an aluminum siding salesman. You can't blame him for selling you siding you may not have needed. That's what aluminum siding salesmen do. You can hold him accountable for the shoddy installation.

I'm not sure if the neo-cons mucked up the execution or if they got exactly the results they wanted; a permanent military presence in the middle east. I heard on the radio that we have 18 bases there now. I haven't confirmed that, but it doesn't look like we have an exit strategy that includes leaving anytime soon.

Posted by: Gary at August 29, 2004 07:47 PM

I have a question.
I was reading the discussion between Gary and McQ and noticed this statement;
"No problem, Gary. A swift boat is a 50 foot boat with a crew of 6 and twin diesel engines. A skimmer was a 15 foot boat (a Boston Whaler) with a crew of three and an outboard motor. Vastly different. The way it was deployed was by being towed into position by a swift boat and deployed with the crew of 3."
Does that mean that the skimmer in the incident in question was towed? If so maybe the OIC on that PCF could clarify who was on the skimmer. Just a thought, which you may have already thought of but no harm asking.
Thanks

Posted by: vwall7 at August 30, 2004 04:22 PM

vwall7: terrific question. I asked it in another post. If I'm not mistaken the skipper of the PCF which towed them out was a Lt. Voss. Haven't heard a thing from or about him. Don't know if he survived the war or not. But that would help settle it (and the crew of that PCF might do so as well).

Posted by: McQ at August 30, 2004 04:50 PM

I have noticed that only Rassman of Kerry's band of brothers is allowed to venture out on his own to say anything. None of the others are allowed to speak unless it is cleared through the campaign.Why aren't reporters asked them anything? Now we find out that Alston who talked like he was there when Kerry got the Silver Star was not even on the boat with Kerry until the March 13th incident and was with Kerry for only one or two weeks before Kerry left. And, the impression given by the testimony at the DNC was that Kerry's boat did not flee that day.
As far as the truth, we may not find out, but I know that the naval record is not a factual document although it is viewed as such. What is known is that the reports are often embellished and numbers inflated, so why should we believe that document over eye witness testimony. Even Kerry in an interview said as much about navy documents and citations.
Also, the naval record does not support Kerry in his Sampan incident involving the woman and child and family, and differs from his own account.

Posted by: vwall7 at August 30, 2004 04:52 PM