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The Color Purple

The continuing story of John Kerry, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and Vietnam.

8:45 PM, Aug 31, 2004 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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One wonders what the documentary evidence says about all this. Unfortunately, the answer is, Not much. The Kerry campaign hasn't posted any relevant documents on its website. And the Navy Historical Center cannot locate a copy of any after-action report for December 2, 1968. Nor can it locate the card documenting the wound for which Kerry won the Purple Heart. (The Navy archives do confirm Kerry won the award, however.) O'Neill and Corsi write that there is no documentation "because there was no hostile fire, casualty, or action." Another view, of course, would be that there was a clerical error, or a hiccup in the bureaucracy, and nothing more.

WHAT ABOUT the veterans' second charge? In the anti-Kerry Swifties' first commercial, a doctor named Louis Letson says that "I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart," because "I treated him for that injury." In fact, it is an open question whether this was the case. Letson says he used tweezers to remove the shrapnel from Kerry's arm a day after the firefight, and then bandaged the wound. And Letson's description matches what we know from the only available piece of documentary evidence--a concise medical report written one day after the firefight. The report, released by the Kerry campaign and obtained by the Boston Globe, reads: "3 DEC 1968 U.S. NAVAL SUPPORT FACILITY CAM RANH BAY RVN FPO Shrapnel in left arm above elbow. Shrapnel removed and appl. Bacitracin dressing. Ret to duty." That's it.

Here is Letson's problem. The report is signed "J.C. Carreon." Carreon, it turns out, was an orderly who has since passed away. Letson says he was Carreon's boss, and would let his orderly sign routine medical reports. Still, there is no evidence available which says Letson treated Kerry's wound or even saw Kerry that day in December.

But remember: The central claim the anti-Kerry vets make is that Kerry's wound from December 2 was self-inflicted. In other words, even if Letson had treated Kerry's wound, he still wouldn't be in a position to say whether or not the wound was self-inflicted.

Or would he? Letson told the Los Angeles Times recently that he "learned from some medical corpsmen that other crewmen had confided that there was no exchange of fire and that Kerry had accidentally wounded himself as he fired at the guerillas." In addition, the Times reported, "Letson said he didn't know if the crewmen giving this account were in the boat with Kerry or on other boats." So Letson's claim is based on what other people told him about what still other people told them--others who may or may not have been on the Boston Whaler on December 2, 1968.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Letson is reporting hearsay.

HOWEVER, late last week, there was a new twist in the Purple Heart story. Zaldonis, Runyon, and Kerry all say they were the only three people on the Boston Whaler. But O'Neill and Corsi write in Unfit for Command that a man named William Schachte was also onboard. "Schachte flatly contradicts Kerry's claim to have been wounded by enemy fire," says an article on the Swift Vets' website, "saying that after his M-16 jammed, Kerry picked up an M-79 grenade launcher and fired a grenade that exploded too close to the boat, causing a small piece of shrapnel to stick in the skin of his arm."

Schachte does not appear in any Swift Boat Veterans for Truth literature or advertising. Nor are there any direct quotes from Schachte in Unfit for Command. Nor is he a member of the Swift boat veterans' group, although he supports them. In fact, until last Friday, Schachte, who went on to become a Rear Admiral and is now a lawyer, had made only one public comment on the subject, in an interview last year with the Boston Globe. Kerry's injury that night, Schachte told the Globe, "was not a very serious wound at all." Last year the Globe identified Schachte only as the man "who oversaw the mission." Not as a member of the Boston Whaler crew.

Last week Schachte gave two--and only two--interviews. One was with Robert Novak, who wrote it up for his syndicated column. The other was with NBC's Lisa Myers. In the interviews Schachte repeated the story O'Neill and Corsi wrote in Unfit for Command. But there's a twist. If Schachte's story is to be believed, then either Runyon or Zaldonis were not in the Boston Whaler on December 2, 1968.

Here's Schachte: