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Saturday, August 28, 2004

Questions I wish Lisa Myers had asked, or would ask, William M. Zaladonis

In my recent posts, I've complained repeatedly about the fuzziness with which the press treats the various eyewitnesses who've surfaced in the SwiftVets vs. Kerry debate.  I suppose I should back that up with a specific example of how I think it ought to be done if one's goal is not to make headlines or spin the story for one side or the other, but to actually sort out the "truth" — or if not a single objective "truth" upon which everyone can agree, at least a more clear record as to what these gentlemen actually have to say and where their statements genuinely and irreconcilably conflict with one another.

NBC's Lisa Myers conducted a telephone interview with pro-Kerry Swiftee William M. Zaladonis to follow up on Mr. Zaladonis' claims that Adm. Bill Schachte was not aboard the "skimmer" with young Lt. Kerry on the training mission on 02Dec68, as a result of which Kerry was awarded his first Purple Heart.  Mr. Zaladonis stuck to his story.  But Ms. Myers' questioning of him was, shall we say, somewhat less skeptical and vigorous than her questioning of Adm. Schachte.  Worse, it was just damned sloppy.

So I've composed a list of follow-up questions that I wish Ms. Myers had asked, or would ask, Mr. Zaladonis. 

The questions are phrased to presume a continuation by her of the original interview, and hence refer to Mr. Zaladonis' "earlier statement"; if someone else were doing it, they'd need to be modified slightly, and a fair questioner would give Mr. Zaladonis the opportunity to review the full transcript from Myers' previous interview before starting the follow-up questioning, and upon his request at any time during the follow-up questioning.

I also should note that I'm assuming that Mr. Zaladonis said in the original telephone interview with Ms. Myers that he was firing an "M-60" — not (as it's transcribed in one place) an "M-16" — because he's consistently described himself as having manned the skimmer's M-60 machine gun in all of his other public statements that I've seen, and because the two phrases sound enough alike as to have encouraged a transcription error.

Note that if I were cross-examining Mr. Zaladonis as a hostile advocate trying to discredit and impeach his statements, I'd have written a very different set of questions than these fairly open-ended (but hopefully precise) ones.  If some of them are, technically, "leading," they're only gently leading to expedite the process.  If I confined myself to purely nonleading questions, not only would this post be twice as long, but the reader would have triple the difficulty making sense of the logical path of the examination.  The same information could be developed through a longer set of questions that all begin with a "what" or a "why" or a "how," which is what any seasoned advocate would do upon hearing a "leading" objection from opposing counsel. 

Nor have I asked any questions at all on the subjects of Mr. Zaladonis' potential biases.  And I have not  asked any of the broad set of questions intended to fully "place and identify" the witness — his pre- and post-military education and career, his family, his political affiliations and sentiments, and so forth — that would also be useful to an advocate who's trying to argue whether he or Adm. Schachte is inherently a more credible and trustworthy individual.  In short, these questions pretty much take Mr. Zaladonis and his past statements at face value, but simply seek to develop those statements in much greater detail than anyone in the press has yet done, so that observers can use their own common sense to decide how much weight they're entitled to.


  • Did Lt. Kerry select you to participate in the skimmer mission on 02Dec68?  If not Lt. Kerry, who did select you?  What was your understanding of why you were selected?

  • Did Lt. Kerry give you your instructions before the skimmer mission on what the purposes of the mission were and what your role in it was to be?  If not Lt. Kerry, who did?  What instructions were you given?

  • Do you know who first conceived the idea of using skimmers for missions of the sort in which you participated on 02Dec68?  I'll represent to you that Adm. Schachte, then a lieutenant, has stated that he developed the concept for these missions and planned them.  If you assume with me that he's made that statement, do you have any first-hand or second-hand information to dispute that statement?

  • Do you know whether similar skimmer missions had been conducted before 02Dec69?  Do you know who was the officer or who were the officers participating in any of those previous skimmer missions?

  • I'll represent to you that Adm. Schachte has said that he participated in all such previous skimmer missions, and that it was his routine and unvarying habit and practice to personally command those missions.  Leaving aside for the moment the skimmer mission on 02Dec68 that you've described having been on, do you have any first-hand or second-hand information to dispute Adm. Schachte's statements about those other missions?

  • Whether it was Admiral (then-Lieutenant) Schachte or another officer, do you believe it is likely or unlikey that there were other officers stationed there with you who had previous experience in commanding skimmer missions of the type you've said you participated in on 02Dec68?

  • You described your rank as an "engineman third class," abbreviated "EN3."  Although I'm sure you had some training and perhaps some experience to qualify you, for example, to fire various weapons and perform other tasks as a Swiftee, is it fair to say that in general, EN3s' primary responsibilities were to look after engines?  Indeed, during the several weeks that you later served under Lt. Kerry's command while you and he were both assigned to a Swift Boat, PCF 44, was that your primary responsibility?

  • Was Pat Runyon, who you've said was also with you and Lt. Kerry on the skimmer mission, and who's also shown on the Swiftboat.net website as an "EN3," another engineman third class like yourself? 

  • You've said twice in your earlier statement that the mission on 02Dec68 was the only mission aboard a skimmer in which you ever participated.  Would it be fair to characterize this as a training mission for you?

  • In your earlier statement, you said, "I'm fairly sure it was the only one that John Kerry was on — and the only one that Pat Runyon was on also." To the best of your knowledge, then, was the skimmer mission on 02Dec68 the only skimmer mission in which either EN3 Runyon or Lt. Kerry participated in?

  • Was it your understanding that as of 02Dec68, Lt. Kerry had only recently arrived at your base from his Swift Boat training at Coronado Naval Base in San Diego, California?  As you understood it, as of 02Dec68, had Lt. Kerry been given responsibility for commanding his own Swift Boat?  Instead, as you understood it, was he supposed to complete some additional field training first, of which this skimmer mission on 02Dec68 was a part, before he'd be entrusted with his own Swift Boat command and the lives of crewmen like yourself on such a Swift Boat?

  • In your earlier statement, you described this as, quote, "one of the scariest nights I've had in my life," unquote.  Is it fair to say that you understood the skimmer mission to have been at least a potentially dangerous one?

  • As you understood it at the time, then, were you, EN3 Pat Runyon, and Lt. Kerry were being sent on a dangerous mission — of a type and on a type of craft that were completely new to each of you — without anyone aboard who'd ever participated in that type of mission on that type of craft?

  • At the conclusion of the skimmer mission on 02Dec68, did then-Lt. Schachte debrief you regarding the mission?  Did any other officer debrief you, and if so, who?  If no officer debriefed you about the mission, do you have any explanation as to how Lt. Kerry's performance on this training mission was expected to be evaluated by his superior officers?

  • As you understood it at the time and understand it now, shortly after the skimmer mission on 02Dec68, was Lt. Kerry put into a hostile environment potentially involving hot combat, in command of his own Swift Boat and responsible for himself, the Swift Boat, and its crew — without ever having had another senior or more experienced officer personally observe him in command of a small vessel in a potentially hostile environment, and without even having debriefed the enlisted sailors like yourself who'd personally observed him?

  • Was the skimmer a small boat or a large boat?  Did it have only one engine — or more precisely, only an outboard motor — at its back or stern?  Was it a more or less complicated motor than the large twin diesel engines you later were in charge of on PCF 44?  As EN3s, would your and Mr. Runyon's training and experience have equipped each of you to have run that small outboard motor on the skimmer and keep it running?  In your judgment, would it therefore have made good sense for the officer or officers who selected the enlisted crew for skimmer missions like this one to generally put an EN3 in charge of running the skimmer's outboard motor?

  • Was the skimmer's most powerful armament one M-60 machine gun in the front — that is, the bow?

  • Is it also fair to say that there were other sailors whose classifications — for example, gunner's mate third class or GM3 — meant that in general, they were expected to maintain and fire machine guns?  Would Steve Gardner, the GM3 who served with you aboard PCF 44 in the Swift Boat's twin .50-caliber gun tub, be an example of someone like that?

  • Do you have any explanation for why the officer or officers who selected the enlisted crew for the skimmer mission on 02Dec68 picked two EN3 and no GM3s — when there was only one motor, but also one machine gun?

  • When you were asked earlier whether you recall any enemy fire that night, you answered, quote, "I'm not sure.  I don't really remember.  But it was so hard for me to tell.  I can't say there was or there wasn't.  I believe Mr. Kerry thought that there was, but I was busy with that M-60 and I was trying to empty all my ammo out as quick as possible, and get the heck out of there.  It was a pretty scary situation — I can't say we weren't fired on, but I can't really tell if we were.  I didn't see any tracers, but that doesn't mean anything ‘cause if they were using small arms there wouldn't have been any tracers," unquote.  Can we correctly assume from the fact that you did not mention hearing any large explosions, that in fact you did not hear any large explosions? 

  • In an article from the Boston Globe by Scot Lehigh dated August 20, 2004, the following statement appears — quote, "'I am reasonably sure we didn't have an M-79,' Zaladonis said. 'I didn't see one. I don't remember it,'" unquote.  First, is Mr. Lehigh's quotation of you in the Globe substantially accurate? 

  • Mr. Lehigh's article goes on to say, quote, "Runyon says the only weapons the trio had were an M-60 machine gun, two M-16 combat rifles, and, possibly, a .45 caliber pistol. Is he 100 percent sure there wasn't an M-79 grenade launcher in the boat? 'I wouldn't say 100 percent, but I know 100 percent certain that we didn't shoot them,' replies Runyon," unquote.  Is this quotation of you, and description of what you told Mr. Lehigh, substantially accurate?

  • Who was responsible for selecting the armaments carried aboard the skimmer on 02Dec68?  Assume with me that others have said that it was routine to carry both M-16 assault rifles and M-79 grenade launchers aboard such skimmer missions.  Do you have any first-hand or second-hand knowledge to dispute that statement as to any other skimmer missions, other than the one on 02Dec68?

  • In your earlier statement, when asked whether there was enemy fire that night, you said, quote, "I believe Mr. Kerry thought that there was, but I was busy with that M-60 and I was trying to empty all my ammo out as quick as possible, and get the heck out of there."  And in Mr. Lehigh's article, it says, referring to you, quote, "He does remember Kerry having trouble with his M-16. 'His gun jammed or he ran out of ammunition — I don't know which — but he bent down to pick up the other M-16,' he says," unquote, with "he" there referring to you, Mr. Zaladonis.  Is it fair to say that you were paying more attention to your M-60 and to "getting the heck out of there" than to the condition of Lt. Kerry's weapon or weapons?

  • Did the skimmer ever turn over?  Did the skimmer or any of the gear on it sustain any blast or shrapnel damage to your knowledge? 

  • I'll ask you to assume with me that Lt. Kerry and others have described his injury as being from a small piece of shrapnel.  If you assume with me that they have said that, do you have any first-hand or second-hand knowledge to dispute that statement?

  • In your earlier statement, you said, quote, "I only remember popping a flare and the flare worked so it didn't explode or anything on the skimmer — it did its job," unquote.  Is it fair to assume that neither Lt. Kerry nor anyone else aboard the skimmer was injured by shrapnel from the flare?

  • If we assume that Lt. Kerry's injury was indeed from a piece of shrapnel, is it fair to say that you simply cannot explain where that piece of shrapnel came from, based on your first-hand knowledge — what you saw with your own eyes and heard with your own ears?

  • If we assume that Lt. Kerry's injury was indeed from a piece of shrapnel, is it fair for us to assume that something, somewhere, exploded to create that shrapnel — without your having noticed it?

  • In your earlier statement, you said that Lt. Kerry, quote, "was firing an M-16 and it either jammed or he ran out of ammo.  And he bent over to pick up another one and then he got hurt, as he was bent over.  As far as I can remember," unquote.  And then when asked how Lt. Kerry got hurt, you said, quote, "I'm not sure.  I'm not sure at all," unquote.  When asked how you knew Lt. Kerry was hurt, you said, quote, "I guess we discussed that on the way back to the swift boat," unquote.  Is it fair to say, then, that your only knowledge as to whether, when, or how Lt. Kerry got hurt is second-hand knowledge, based on what Lt. Kerry told you?

  • Whatever the scope of Lt. Kerry's injuries were, is it fair to say that after you heard about them from him on the way back to the Swift Boat, you saw no need to examine his wound or treat him yourself?  Did you have to clean any of Lt. Kerry's blood off of your own clothes or gear after the skimmer mission on 02Dec68?  Or off the skimmer or the Swift Boat?  Did anyone else, to your knowledge, other than perhaps Lt. Kerry with his own clothes?

  • In your earlier statement, when asked how badly Lt. Kerry was hurt, you said, quote, "I don't know how badly he was injured.  I knew it wasn't life-threatening," unquote.  Later, you said, quote, "I knew he wasn't going to lose his arm or anything like that."  You said that when, quote, "we got back to the swift boat," unquote, Lt. Kerry, quote "went to the pilothouse and I went to the fantail. Myself and Runyon went back to the fantail and we both smoked back then so we went back there and smoked."  Is it fair for us to assume, then, that you did not observe Lt. Kerry receive any emergency medical treatment, administered by him or yourself or anyone else, while on the skimmer?  Is it fair for us to assume as well that you did not observe Lt. Kerry receive any emergency medical treatment back on the Swift Boat?  Is it fair for us to assume that you did not accompany Lt. Kerry and observe him receive any medical treatment at Cam Ranh Bay Naval Base?

  • Assume with me that Dr. Louis Letson has said that he was the medical officer at Cam Ranh Bay as of 02-03Dec68, and that he says that he and the late Jesus C. Carreon, then a hospitalman first class, treated Lt. Kerry for his wounds.  If he has made that statement, do you have any first-hand information to dispute it?  Likewise, if he has described the nature of the wound he treated, or the nature of the piece of shrapnel he removed from Lt. Kerry's arm, do you have any first-hand basis to dispute those statements?

  • In your earlier statement, you said that while you and Mr. Runyon were smoking on the fantail of the Swift Boat after the skimmer mission, quote, "we were talking to the Swift Boat crew."  Is it possible that, since you'd just been talking with Lt. Kerry about his injury, you may have discussed that with the crew, either while you and Mr. Runyon were smoking or at another time?  Do you know whether any of the other men who you were talking to on the Swift Boat may have accompanied Lt. Kerry to see Dr. Letson and Hospitalman Carreon for treatment?  Regardless of how they claimed to have come by the information they may have relayed to him, if Dr. Letson recalls having been told something by those other Swiftees about how Lt. Kerry was injured, do you have any first-hand basis to dispute Dr. Letson's statement?

  • Do you have any knowledge as to whether an official casualty report was filled out by anyone in connection with the skimmer mission on 02Dec68?  Do you have any knowledge as to whether an after-action report was filled out by anyone in connection with that mission?  Do you know whether or not, as a matter of routine or regulations, such casualty reports should have been filled out if any American sailors were injured?  Do you know whether or not, as a matter of routine or regulations, such after-action reports should have been filled out if there had been any incoming fire from the enemy, regardless of whether any American sailors were injured?  If others say that there were neither a casualty report nor an after-action report filled out by anyone in connection with the 02Dec68 skimmer mission, do you have any first-hand or second-hand information to dispute those statements?

  • You were asked again how you knew Lt. Kerry was hurt, and you said in your earlier statement, quote, "You know, up until recently, I hadn't thought about it a whole lot," unquote.  But you also said, referring to EN3 Pat Runyun, quote, "Pat and I have shared this story a few times since we've been out of the Navy.  We've been very good friends ever since we've been — when we were in the Navy and out — and this is something that we talked about every now and then."  Is it fair to say, then, that whatever else you and Mr. Runyon have "talked about every now and then" when you "shared this story a few times," your discussions did not include the fact that Lt. Kerry was hurt?  Or how badly hurt he was? Or how he came to be hurt?  Is it correct, then, that any in your and Mr. Runyun's discussions of the 02Dec68 skimmer mission, neither of you thought Lt. Kerry's wound was important enough to prompt you to discuss it further?  Is it also correct that you've only had occasion to discuss Lt. Kerry's wound from the 02Dec68 skimmer mission with anyone since Sen. Kerry began running for President?


I'm sure I've missed some details that someone with military experience would think to ask.  But I believe if we had Mr. Zaladonis' answers to these questions, we'd be in a far better position to resolve the differences between his statements and those of Adm. Schachte.

Update (Sun Aug 29 @ 1:20am): Tom Maguire and his commenters have an interesting debate going on regarding who to believe, which includes some links to other public statements of Messrs. Zaladonis and Runyon that I hadn't seen.

Posted by Beldar at 11:36 AM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Questions I wish Lisa Myers had asked, or would ask, William M. Zaladonis and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) lyle made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 10:12:10 PM | Permalink

Brilliant. I hope Lisa Myers and other mainstream reporters read what you've written. They won't ask Mr Zaladonis the questions, of course, but maybe they'll find a moment's humility about their 'profession'.

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 10:21:57 PM | Permalink

Thanks for the compliment, Lyle, but it's really not brilliant. It's just a workmanlike job of asking questions that any competent journeyman lawyer — someone who's handled a few car crash cases — should be able to do.

(3) Kathy made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 10:55:41 PM | Permalink

I second Lyle's comment. Brilliant.

I think you should give some "help" to Lisa Myers and send these questions to her. She is surrounded by all who believe Kerry, and she can use your objective help.

Thanks again for your analysis.

(4) Narniaman made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 12:02:28 AM | Permalink

Your interogation would be useful if the reporter was really interested in the truth.

As far as I can tell for the MainStream Media, the only thing they are really interested in is putting Kerry in the White House.

However, I have no doubt that if the candidate in question was George Bush that you would be one hot property and the reporters would be on the cell to you every hour.

(5) Reg made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 1:26:57 AM | Permalink

"Brilliant" implicitly let's the MSM off the hook.

Beldar, I enjoyed the questions but I have a suggestion:

How about a FAQ on each of the major issues (Ph#1, Cambodia, etc.). Call it something like "What's true? What's false? What's arguable?"

Include sources. Include both pro and anti Kerry positions.

If it's too much work outsource the first draft to your readers. You can then edit as you wish. I'd like to see some of your sharper commentors like Patrick Sullivan take a stab at a couple of these issues.

I make this suggestion because I think the trees are starting to obscure the forest with alot of these issues. Complexity gives one the excuse of saying it's all about politics or simply missing the "jaw-dropping" fallacies that are being represented as reporting. One is already hearing, for example, that the Cambodia story has been "undermined" by O'Neil's comments 30 years ago. Today, that assertion was made on Russert's CNBC show by a senior Time magazine reporter. And of course it was simply accepted without challenge.

(6) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 1:48:46 AM | Permalink

Reg, I share your longing for such a resource, but it's beyond my capabilities to create or maintain one. It'd be a website of its own, to be done right. Meantime, I feel like Legolas trying to hang onto, and climb up, the side of one of the giant war elephants in LotR:TRotK — at least when I'm feeling heroic and energetic. (Other times I feel more like Gimli being thrown from the castle walls into the hordes of orcs.)

(7) Birkel made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 1:55:16 AM | Permalink

First off, thanks for the correction on the previous thread re: McCarthy.

Otherwise, I haven't read the post because of the length. It's quite an effort. Are you angry or just so frustrated with the situation.
I'm both, I think, but more frustrated.

Now off to read my homework above.

(8) Tom Maguire made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 8:16:32 AM | Permalink

Very good. I have some bonus questions for Zaledonis:

- Zaledonis is not identified as part of the skimmer op in either the Boston Globe 2003 story or the Brinkley book, in which Brinkley interviews Kerry for his recollections (although Zaledonis later appears in that book as a crew member on PCF-44). When did he re-identify himself to Sen. Kerry as the man on the skimmer op, and when was he publicly identified?

And Kerry did not initially remember Runyon; since Kerry served with Zaledonis on PCF-44, he presumably remembered him in that capacity. But was it Zaledonis's impression that Kerry immediately recalled Zaledonis as having been on the skimmer, or did this seem to come to news to the Senator?

(9) Reg made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 9:07:14 AM | Permalink

"...it's beyond my capabilities to create or maintain one. It'd be a website of its own, to be done right."

Beldar, I think your putting the "good" ahead of the "good enough" here. I understand totally this whole site is done on prescious spare time so let me make you an offer. Next Cambodia post I'll post a FAQ comment. If you and your readers like it then they can continue the process for other issues. If not then well we will have at lease tried.

(10) Dan S made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 10:01:13 AM | Permalink


I understand the resistance to "brilliant." But as a post, it's a doozy. And what's amazing to me is how obvious a lot of the questions are once you see them. A few are more subtle, cross-checking, but most are just clarifications and filling in blanks.

What it makes very clear is the difference between professional inquiry (lawyerly, in this case) and shoddy tradesmanship. The journalistic trade can be well executed, but we aren't see much of that in the major media in the last few decades.

It's clear that entertainment comes first, not factual reporting. Thus we have Durranty's Pullitzer still going after all these years.

(11) anon made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 10:48:22 AM | Permalink

In the long run, the LMSM is the big loser in this. The Schachte statement is significant because it is evident that either Schachte or Kerry is lying. The possibility of misapprehension or misrecollection is remote. Also, Schachte is a very credible, reluctant, witness. He is not a member of SVFT, and did not cooperate on the O'Neill book. He pretty clearly did not want to be involved in this. Of course, the conspiratorial imagination knows no limits. But to a rational person, his testimony must be very persuasive. It may not be conclusive, but it certainly demands a very serious and thorough investigation. This is particularly so in that, combined with testimony from Kerry's commanding officer, the doctor, and other officers, along with the absence of an after-action report or personnel casualty report for the incident, Schachte's account seems well-supported by the available evidence. And because it supports the allegation that Kerry deliberately sought a Purple Heart to which he was not entitled, which he then used to obtain a thrice wounded transfer out of combat, it is potentially very damaging to Kerry's integrity. And since Kerry's account depicts himself as leading the mission, if Schachte is believed we have a clear example of Kerry dramatically exaggerating his role. Finally, if Schachte is believed, we have a clear example of two of Kerry's "band of brothers" with convenient memories. All of which makes the SwiftVets' other allegations more credible.

The contrast in the way the LMSM has handled Schachte's statement, as compared for exampe to the way they treated the Chicago editor who came forward to dispute the SwiftVets accounts, is absolutely astonishing. In the long run, they as well as Kerry are going to be seriously damaged by this.

(12) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 11:45:41 AM | Permalink

Some musings re questioning techniques and what makes a witness' story persuasive:

In listening to a witness and evaluating his credibility, the audience (jurors or voters) construct mental patterns or pictures that are made up of details. The more finely drawn the details, the sharper the resulting image — even for the same witness giving the same substantive story.

I'd submit, for example, that as recounted by John O'Neill in Unfit for Command and his various later press interviews and TV appearances, Adm. Schachte's tale is substantively identical to the versions contained in Novak's column and in Lisa Myers' interview. The difference is that each version is painted with successively smaller strokes and fewer leaping conclusions.

Lots of times, it's only when the strokes are very small indeed that the audience begins to get a confident sense of whether they actually fit together well — or when they don't.

Adm. Schachte had a natural and intuitive sense of how vivid, consistent small details would add to the credibility of his account. Thus, for example, he grasped the immense significance of Kerry recognizing him in the Senate subway twenty years later and calling him by his (or perhaps the skimmer's) call-sign — "Batman." That's just a small detail that sings.

Sure, it's theoretically possible that Schachte could have made the Senate subway encounter up out of whole cloth, if he's a devious and very creative liar. He could be lying about going on every mission; he could be lying about remembering this one in particular; he could be lying about Kerry saying "Batman" and simply adding that as an embellishment to try to make his overall tale seem more credible. But to buy all of that, the audience has to advance beyond "he's confused" or "his memory is blurry" to "he's a methodical, wicked, deliberate liar" — and that's a hard conclusion to swallow, just looking at the man's career and record. (I haven't seen Schachte, but I'm guessing it'd also be a hard conclusion to swallow in the face of his likely personal demeanor. Folks generally don't rise to the levels he has by being stuttering, stumbling, and twitchy.)

Myers' skeptical questions of Schachte thus only burnished his credibility. As she kept tugging for the small details of his story, he always could supply them, and they fit together in a pattern.

Myers didn't do that with Zaladonis to nearly the same degree. On the subject of whether Schachte was on the mission, her questions to Zaladonis were pretty much reduced to "Was he there? Are you sure about that? Are you really, really sure?" Well, duh.

The set of questions I constructed for Zaladonis were intended to pull out of him the small details that would actually impeach — discredit — his own ultimate conclusions. For the most part, the questions are so discrete and modest that even a hostile witness can't quibble or fight about them, and they make heavy use of his past statements, broken down into small pieces, that he's almost certainly going to have to re-affirm, or else come across as incredibly evasive and unbelievable.

Where my questions almost invite him to quibble over a conclusion — for example, on the issue of whether the Navy would send three absolute rookies out without training or supervision for this kind of dangerous and unique-for-them mission — he's therefore "pre-impeached himself" if he tries to fight the conclusion I'm asking him to draw. He can still say, "Yeah, that's what they did alright, the damned fools!" But then the audience has to swallow the notion that the officers who designed the mission and picked its personnel were callous and incompetent, to the point that you'd have to wonder how any of these guys ever came home alive from Vietnam.

The first "rule" of cross-examination that lawyers are taught is, "Always ask leading questions." Shove words into the witness' mouth and control his answers, try to get him to agree with your phrasing. That's good advice in general, and sometimes essential if the witness is extremely combative. But it's actually far more persuasive to let the witness do his own testifying when, by careful organization of the questioning and breaking them down into very small bites, you can make the witness follow you into places he obviously doesn't want to go.

That's why I'm pretty sure this examination would be effective. If Zaladonis were still insisting at the end of it that, yes, he and Runyon were both there with Kerry, and Schachte wasn't, the listening audience would no longer be buying into that ultimate conclusion.

Oddly, without hearing how Zaladonis would actually answer all of these questions, I don't have a good explanation as to whether it was actually Zaladonis or Runyon who was on the skimmer with Kerry and Schachte. It genuinely could be either, but I seriously doubt it was both, and whoever it was, wasn't on the M-60 but (as an EN3 should be) running the motor at the stern.

(13) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 11:57:09 AM | Permalink

"EM" also could stand for Electricians Mate.

Engine men are normally "MM" Machinist Mate.

I'm not sure that there is even a rating called "Engine Man". If there was it would be called something different than EM to avoid confusion.

A minor point but it may have a bearing on some of his statements.

(14) sam made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 12:07:15 PM | Permalink

put aside that Myers failed in her journalistic responsibilities to interview with depth on both sides she deliberately tried to smear Schacte with his campaign contribution information, only revealing the money he has sent to Bush, but it has been established, through FEC reporting, that he has sent donations not only to the democrats but also to independants, albeit in smaller amounts. I was dumbfounded that a blog reader like myself could get that information the day before the interview was aired and Myers towed the LMSM biased tactic of truncated truth. The LMSM must really have a death wish.

(15) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 12:09:09 PM | Permalink

I looked it up here:


Engineman would be "EN". So EM is either a typo or amisrepresentation.

(16) Patrick R. Sullivan made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 12:18:27 PM | Permalink

First, I suspect neither Runyon nor Zaladonis were on the mission. I think they are confusing a mission they were on with the one Kerry was on with Schachte.

Not only does it not make sense for three novices to be sent out alone, but if I were Schachte and had a greenhorn like Kerry to train, I'd want the man on the motor to know what he's doing. I wouldn't want to have to be training two people at the same time.

That said, I entirely agree that this is the proper approach to all the questions about Kerry's actions in battle. It's the way a detective would approach the investigation of a crime. Meticulously document everyone's story, and check for the internal consistencies of each story, as well the complements and contradictions of the different stories.

Especially the March 13th action on the Bay Hap river. The major television networks have the resources to do this with graphics or diagrams. As I've pointed out in another thread, the story Kerry tells in Tour of Duty cannot be correct. There's no way Rassmann ends up "several hundred yards" away, "in the ambush" if the mine exploded when and where Kerry says it did.

John O'Neill, Van Odell, Larry Thurlow, Jack Chenowith ought to bring whiteboards such as basketball coaches use to diagram plays, along with them on their TV appearances, and draw pictures for the audience. It would quickly be evident whose story holds up, and whose doesn't.

(17) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 12:21:18 PM | Permalink

From Myers' interview:

Lisa Myers: What were your dates of service in Vietnam?

William Zaladonis: August 26, 1968 to August 26, 1969.

Myers: And your rank?

Zaladonis: I was an engineman third class.

On swiftboats.net, "William Martin Zaladonis, EN3" and "Patrick Runyon, EN3."

M. Simon, the mistake is mine — misremembering the letters "EM" for "EN" — and I'm fixing it in the original post and comments now. Thanks for the catch!

(18) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 12:23:39 PM | Permalink


Its an honor.


(19) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 12:32:51 PM | Permalink

Again from the Myers interview with Adm. Schachte:

Yeah, well, I guess the first thing I did when I retired – I was working for the Mayor of Charleston who was running for Governor. He's a Democrat. And I was his statewide get-out-the-vote coordinator for that election.

I'd suggest that if you're going to look for evidence of ties to a political party, serving as a statewide voting turnout coordinator ought to count for far more than passive political contributions. However vast Karl Rove's smear machine may be, I don't think it extends into very many Democratic gubernatorial campaigns. (Or maybe it does — hmmm, that could explain a lot, I guess.)

(20) anon made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 12:36:18 PM | Permalink

Beldar: What makes you think EITHER Zaladonis or Runyon was on the skimmer with Schachte and Kerry? It could have been someone else entirely. My guess is that, if they're not lying deliberately, their vague actual memories of some other experience with Kerry have been confused by recent awareness of the details of Kerry's account of his 1st PH incident.

Schachte's assertion that the skimmer always had two officers aboard in these operations, and that an inexperienced officer would never have been sent out alone, is very persuasive. The divergence of Kerry's account is easily explained as an attempt by him to portray his role in the mission more heroically. I suspect that Runyon and Zaladonis, after hearing Kerry's account, "remembered" that they had been there too. Does anyone know how/when they were first identified as Kerry's companions that night?

( I see Patrick has just made a similar point.)

(21) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 12:46:24 PM | Permalink

Patrick, the swiftboats.net website lists "10/68" as the starting dates for Kerry, Runyon, and Zaladonis. It's not clear how much time the latter two had already served on Swift Boats by the 02Dec68 skimmer mission, but they may not have been completely green members of the "Brownwater Navy."

Kerry's dates may go back to his graduation from Coronado; ToD certainly indicates that he didn't arrive at Cam Rahn Bay until after Nixon's election, and that (page 141) "of course, he went on several Swift boat patrols with other officers and their crews to ascertain just what he was supposed to be doing in Vietnam" before the 02Dec68 skimmer mission. I was guessing that one of the purposes of the skimmer mission was to have Kerry in at least nominal command of a small craft, under the observation of an experienced officer like Schachte; but it's an assumption on my part that Kerry was in command, based on inference from his own descriptions of him giving orders to the M-60 gunner and engineman on the mission. That's a follow-up question I wish someone would ask Adm. Schachte about.

(22) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 12:49:14 PM | Permalink

Yup, the "real answer" could be "neither."

(23) Patrick R. Sullivan made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 1:38:42 PM | Permalink

My source for Runyon being without combat experience is Runyon himself. That's why he claims his memory is correct, to borrow a phrase, it was seared, seared in his memory, his first combat experience.

(24) Kathy made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 2:29:16 PM | Permalink

After reading the thoughtful discussion in the comments, I think the entire posting should be sent to Lisa Myers and any others in the LMSM that could benefit from this.

Their "groupthink" has to be infiltrated.

No matter how this falls out for Kerry, good or bad, we are entitled to the truth.

Kerry started it and will not answer the questions.

(25) anon made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 3:23:30 PM | Permalink

I'd like to suggest that those who are interested in this issue (facts re Kerry's war stories) take advantage of the wikipedia to collect and organized the factual information regarding this matter. There is an article SVBT which is a start, but could be expanded extensively. Be sure to conform to the wikipedia standards for accuracy and neutrality.

(26) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 5:17:49 PM | Permalink

This one is for all you vets out there pass it on:

George Bush never called me a war criminal.


Steal this sig:

There is a big difference between William Calley and John Kerry. William Calley is a proven war criminal. For John Kerry we only have his word as an officer and a gentleman.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?
Form 180. Release ALL the records.

The Ads: Video links

(27) Todd made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 5:32:09 PM | Permalink

As a fellow litigator and trial lawyer, it is my considered opinion that Beldar is being modest when he downplays the effort and quality of his questions. They were very impressive and well thought out and, most importantly, they reflected a great deal of thinking about this particular issue, thinking which very few members of the MSM seem willing or able to do.

So I say kudos to Beldar and I look forward to more quality analysis on these Swifty issues from him.

(28) dennisw made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 5:50:10 PM | Permalink

Lisa Myers can try to wing it but really, how much can 95% of women understand what goes on in wars and lies about wars? They have no idea and the technical material is all Greek to them. Skimer, Swift Boat...what's the difference?

Women excel at the tear jerker stories on the newtwork news and in newspapers. They always seem to get assigned the illegal imigrant sob stories in the fish wraps.

(29) Cap'n DOC made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 6:00:29 PM | Permalink

Beldar I visited and commented on the Batman and Robin thread, brought here from Captain's Quarters by another commentor, Chads. I'll be back. Your blog is a wealth of information, in part due to your obvious background in the business of asking the right questions.

(30) drjohn made the following comment | Aug 29, 2004 9:38:59 PM | Permalink

Here's another question for Mr. Zaladonis. The media has been emphatic on the need for "official" documents and "records." You have asserted that Admiral Schachte was not on the skimmer on 2 Dec 1968. What evidence is there that either you. John Kerry or Mr. Runyon were on the skimmer that night? Where is the "official" document that proves you were there? There is no after action report, so how do we know that you are being truthful?

(31) jackmehoff made the following comment | Aug 30, 2004 6:38:38 AM | Permalink

The intimation by Belfar re: Zalodonis that this "Rookie" mission was coerced or forced flies directly in the face of Adm. Schachte's remark that this was strictly a voluntary mission. Also, the knee-jerk reaction of a newbie to combat, "thinking" he was under fire, would be exactly as Adm. Schachte says. There are records that would clarify this but Kerry isn't about to release them. Your attorney type logic begs the question most obviuos and never asked: "who has the most to gain by lying?" Schachte to "clear his name" or John Forgetful Kerry to steal the Presidency?

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