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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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The boats were manned by two officers and one enlisted person. Officers because officers were briefed daily. We had daily intelligence briefings seven days a week, with the latest intelligence from the area. Or in the patrolling boat--officers would come back and debrief their area. So, the officers had a good feel for everything that was going on in our area of operation and our sectors.
The enlisted person operated the motor. Now, this was my idea. And I went on each one of these--in command of each one that we did up to and including the night with Lieutenant (j.g.) Kerry.

If Schachte is correct, then Zaldonis, the gunner who says he was with Kerry that night, wasn't on the boat.

"You seem to be saying that John Kerry lied then and is lying today," Myers asked Schachte. "That's a very serious charge. What proof do you have?"

And Schachte replied: "The only thing that I can tell you--several things--number one, no after-action report, which would have been required. I was in command of those missions and I was in the boat that night. We always had two officers in the boat that night--in the boat when we did those operations, and an enlisted man on the moter. I saw no muzzle flashes or anything else. Now that's what I saw. And it's not for me to judge what other people are going to think about that. That's up to other people."

But Schachte's logic seems problematic. He suggests that the absence of an after-action report proves his case. And yet, since no after-action report was filed, there is no way to disprove his claims, either. Like a lot of the anti-Kerry Swifties' accusations, this one boils down to a he-said/he-said fight. Except here it is a he-said/three-other-people-said fight. No documentation means the only evidence the Swift boat vets have for the charge that Kerry's wound was self-inflicted is Schacte's story. Indeed, Schachte says there will never be any evidence uncovered that backs his case. He never wrote any.

(On the question of whether there was any enemy fire at the time, however, all parties think it possible there was no such fire.)

MAYBE SOMEONE should tell the Kerry campaign that. Because when discussion turns to how Kerry won his first Purple Heart, campaign surrogates have done little to bolster their candidate's case. They simply reject all the Swift boat vets' claims as "smears." And the senator isn't helping any, either. Kerry refuses to talk about the issue of his Vietnam service with journalists--including even comedian Jon Stewart. He refuses to clear the release of all his military service records. And he refuses to make his war diaries and other materials available to journalists and scholars who aren't named Douglas Brinkley.

Each new question is met with obfuscation. One such tactic is to respond to reporters' inquiries with lessons in metaphysics. The other day Fox News's Major Garrett asked John Hurley, the Kerry campaign's veterans coordinator, about the Purple Heart controversy. Garrett, his hair blow-dried, his suit immaculately pressed, his face wrought with seriousness, looked at Hurley, and said, "Is it possible that Kerry's first Purple Heart was the result of an unintentionally self-inflicted wound?"

And Hurley, squinting, gave his reply:

"Anything's possible," he said.

Matthew Continetti is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.