Retired Rear Adm. William L. Schachte Jr. has come forward to dispute John Kerry’s contention that his first Purple Heart resulted from enemy fire.
Schachte, who spoke to columnist Robert Novak, says he was in command of the small boat, a “skimmer,” when the incident occurred on Kerry’s first combat mission.
That assertion conflicts with the accounts of two enlisted men who appeared with the senator on the podium at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month.
Kerry defender Lanny Davis has used the versions of Patrick Runyon and William Zaladonis, who say they didn’t know Schachte, to argue “Unfit for Command,” the best-seller by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, is not credible.
But Schachte told Novak: “I was absolutely in the skimmer,” code-named “Batman,” in the early morning on Dec. 2, 1968, when Kerry was involved in the incident that led to the first Purple Heart.
“Kerry nicked himself with a M-79 [grenade launcher],” Schachte told the columnist in a telephone interview from his home in Charleston, S.C.
In his journal, quoted by “Tour of Duty” author Douglas Brinkley, Kerry said the incident took place near “the shore off a Viet Cong-infested peninsula north of Cam Ranh.”
Kerry wrote he and his comrades were “scared s—less” that night, thinking fishermen in sampans might be Viet Cong.
When some of the sampan occupants began unloading something on the beach, Kerry lit a flare, causing the startled men on shore to run for cover. That’s when Kerry says he and the other Americans began firing.
Said Kerry in “Tour of Duty”:
My M-16 jammed, and as I bent down in the boat to grab another gun, a stinging piece of heat socked into my arm and just seemed to burn like hell. By this time one of the sailors had started the engine and we ran by the beach, strafing it. Then it was quiet.
Schachte said he was “astonished” by Kerry’s version of the Dec. 2 event in “Tour of Duty.”
He told Novak it “was not possible” for Kerry to have gone out alone so soon after joining the swiftboat command in late November 1968.
Two other former officers contacted by Novak confirmed that Schachte was always aboard the skimmer, a Boston Whaler, for these missions, designed by Schachte himself to flush out enemy forces on the banks of the Mekong River so the larger swiftboats could move in.
Lt. Cmdr. Grant Hibbard, Schachte’s superior officer at the time, told Novak, “I don’t think [Kerry] was alone” on his first assignment.
Hibbard told Kerry to “forget it” when he asked for a Purple Heart.
Tedd Peck, another swiftboat commander, told Novak he remembered Schachte telling him Kerry’s claim of an enemy-inflicted wound “didn’t happen.”
It would be “impossible” for Kerry to have been in the skimmer without Schachte, Peck said.
The retired admiral said he initially didn’t want to get involved in the effort to counter Kerry’s war claims, but changed his mind when he saw his credibility challenged, beginning with Davis on CNN’s “Crossfire” on Aug. 12.
He insists he has had no contact with any Republican organization and regards himself as a political independent.
Schachte told Novak he saw Kerry about 20 years after the 1968 incident 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.”
Schachte told Novak they “talked about having lunch” but never did it.
After WorldNetDaily’s report last week of a discrepancy in Kerry’s personal account of his first Purple Heart, his presidential campaign says it’s “possible” the wound resulted from enemy fire.
WND reported that nine days after Kerry claims he was hit by hostile fire in 1968, he wrote in his journal as he set out on a subsequent mission, “A cocky feeling of invincibility accompanied us up the Long Tau shipping channel because we hadn’t been shot at yet, and Americans at war who haven’t been shot at are allowed to be cocky.”
With three Purple Hearts, Kerry was allowed according to Navy regulations to leave Vietnam after only four months of his 12-month tour.