Thomas Lipscomb continued to give John Kerry the rematch he demanded on the Swift Boat debate, this time by addressing one of Kerry’s rebuttals about the first Purple Heart medal. Lipscomb revisits the skimmer mission that resulted in his eventually winning the medal after first having it denied by his commanding officer and later caused Kerry to call an admiral a liar:
According to Kerry’s accounts in both Michael Kranish’s Boston Globe reporting, the Brinkley account of TOUR OF DUTY, and the Zernike Times piece, Kerry, an officer stationed at Coastal Division 14 at Cam Ranh Bay, still in training before being assigned a Swift boat, who had never been in combat before, “volunteered for a special mission on what the Navy called a skimmer but he knew as a Boston Whaler.” Coastal Division 14 operations officer Bill Schachte, who says he was glad to have Kerry volunteer, agrees so far. …
Schachte says he designed the missions for two officers and one enlisted man to run the boat. He commanded forward with an M-60 7.62 machine gun, the other officer would carry an M-16 with a starlight scope scanning the shoreline or an M-14 with an infrared scope if it was cloudy. He wanted two officers because as an intelligence-generated mission he wanted to make sure two men on the boat had been cued in at the 4PM operations meeting on what to look for in the area to be explored. Enlisted men did not attend that meeting.
Schachte’s regular call sign on the radio was “Bacardi Charlie,” but when he ran the occasional skimmer missions Schachte took on a distinctive new call sign “BATMAN” and the supporting Swift boat, whoever was in command, was “ROBIN.”
Schachte says he personally led seven out of the eight skimmer missions he ran at Cam Ranh, and the one he didn’t lead was not led by what Hibbard terms “a ‘rookie’ who knew nothing about the concept or tactics involved to command the skimmer.” Schachte points out that if he had risked the lives of two enlisted men with a green officer on a difficult night mission like this he should have been reprimanded. Kerry, after all, was an “officer in training” at Coastal Division 14. Kerry had never had a command and had not yet been released to a first command of his own. His job was to go on missions with veterans and learn.
Admiral William Schachte has always insisted that he went out on the skimmer with Kerry on that engagement, and that Kerry’s description of the event greatly exaggerated what happened. The mission, according to the admiral, turned out to be a bust. The only weapons discharging were American — specifically Schachte’s M-60 and Kerry’s M-16, and an M-79 grenade launcher. The mission had counted on secrecy, and all of the gunfire had blown their cover, so Schachte ordered the boats to fall back to the protection of the swift boat, captained by Mike Voss.
Voss, not coincidentally, has contradicted Kerry’s assertion that Schachte lied about being aboard the skimmer that night. Since this mission was conducted by CosDiv 14, Schachte had to have ordered it himself, and would have known who went out on the water. Schachte ordered eight such missions in that area, and he went out on all but one of them himself; the only skimmer mission at CosDiv 14 that he did not personally command was one with Lt. Tedd Peck, over whose Swift Boat Kerry would take command on January 30, 1969.
If something happened that matched Kerry’s story more than Schachte’s, one would have expected the men to have contemporaneously made a report detailing the attack of the enemy on their position. However, as Lipscomb points out, that’s hardly what happened:
Poor Schachte, who had had a boring evening ending in a blown mission – somehow in the same time and place in that parallel universe to Kerry’s “frightening” magical mystery tour – got debriefed by the Coastal Division 14 commander Hibbard, filed no after action report since there was no enemy action, told Hibbard Kerry wanted a Purple Heart, and hit the sack, mildly disgusted.
Kerry got back in the same time and same place, and filed no after action report. Neither did Mike Voss, despite an action as described by Kerry that certainly merited one and would have guaranteed him an automatic purple heart with no problems with either Hibbard or Schachte had he filed one. In fact, according to Hibbard, it would have been the only after action report filed on one of Schachte’s skimmer missions which weren’t as effective as he and Schachte had hoped. Schachte disagrees and is convinced there must have been “one or two.” …
No reasonable explanation has yet been offered for the grant of Kerry’s first purple heart. Tedd Peck dissolves into laughter recalling a dispirited Schachte heading into the officers’ club for a drink the day after the mission muttering that Kerry was threatening “to write his Congressman if he didn’t get his purple heart,” knowing the bales of quadruplicate paperwork that would ensue.
If nothing else, this clearly demonstrates that Kerry has badly miscalculated in his attempt to restart the entire Swift Boat controversy. He knows that he cannot avoid it if he wants to run again for the presidency, but he seems to think that he can simply assert that he has convincing evidence to support his stories and that everyone will trust him enough not to ask to see it. If that is his strategy — and the article in the New York Times leaves one with no other impression, since he produced no evidence for the story — then once again he will demonstrate why his initial campaign failed so badly. In the end, it isn’t the Swift Boat veterans that defeated Kerry, but Kerry himself, and he looks well on his way to doing it again.