The Skimmer Story
Tom Lipscomb examines the story
behind Kerry's first Purple Heart.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.
In fact, the one mission Schachte didn't lead was led by veteran Swift boat skipper Tedd Peck, two nights after the Kerry mission, to the same place, with Peck as leader with two other officers, Stephen Hayes and Mark Janes. In advance of the mission, according to Peck, "Schachte made us go down and have a gunner's mate train us with the M-60 machine gun which was not part of the Swift boat arsenal at the time, but was the main armament of the skimmer. It took two hours and we finished it just before we left on the mission."
Peck, of course, was a genuine hero whose exploits John Kerry tried to appropriate
as his own.Kerry and his men describe a magical mystery tour - that same night and that same time in a parallel universe - in a traffic-jammed Nha Trang Bay that apparently had scheduled a starlight sampan regatta that evening. According to Kerry's account to Brinkley, "Most of the night had been spent being scared shitless by fishermen whom we would suddenly creep up on out of the darkness..." In Brinkley's summary, "For the next four hours Kerry's Boston Whaler, using paddles, brought boatloads of fisherman they found in sampans... back to the Swift. It was tiring work."
"Tiring work?" If you ever tried to paddle an almost 15-foot long Boston Whaler with three in crew, loaded with arms, ammunition, and a bunch of jabbering Vietnamese fishermen crammed onboard, 2 ½ miles out to a Swift boat a number of times in monsoon seas you would enthusiastically agree and want to shoot the idiot who refused to use the engine.
But wait a minute... . Didn't Kerry point to the phony "photograph of the skimmer being towed behind his Swift boat, insisting that it could barely fit three people, himself and two others"?
How many Vietnamese fishermen can you put on an armed skimmer with a three-man crew and still paddle miles out to a Swift boat without swamping it in a heavy monsoon chop? According to my interview with Bill Zaladonis, "three to four." Why do this? According to Zaladonis's interview with Lisa Myers, "I assume they were interrogating them - turning them loose or whatever." "Whatever," indeed.
I've tended to believe Zaladonis on the basis that he refused to lie for Kerry regarding Christmas in Cambodia, but this does make his story sound pretty ridiculous. Lipscomb interviewed many of the people involved in the incident and presents a compelling case that Kerry lobbied for a medal that he didn't deserve and eventually got it.