"I'd have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me, but he's not around right now to talk to."
That was one of the closing lines from Jim Webb, a former senator from Virginia and secretary of the Navy, in Tuesday's first Democratic presidential primary debate. It was certainly his most memorable, anyway.
Some have reported Webb's comments as saying that he killed the man, though Webb doesn't appear to have claimed that exactly or stated it so plainly.
The story begs for context, and the Military Times has a record of when Webb received his Navy Cross for his action on a fateful July 1969 day in Vietnam, deep in hostile territory (relevant section bolded):The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant James H. Webb, Jr. (MCSN: 0-106180), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as a Platoon Commander with Company D, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On 10 July 1969, while participating in a company-sized search and destroy operation deep in hostile territory, First Lieutenant Webb's platoon discovered a well-camouflaged bunker complex which appeared to be unoccupied. Deploying his men into defensive positions, First Lieutenant Webb was advancing to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers. Accompanied by one of his men, he then approached the second bunker and called for the enemy to surrender. When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade which detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel. Despite the smoke and debris from the explosion and the possibility of enemy soldiers hiding in the tunnel, he then conducted a thorough search which yielded several items of equipment and numerous documents containing valuable intelligence data. Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker. By his courage, aggressive leadership, and selfless devotion to duty, First Lieutenant Webb upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service
Webb's injuries eventually forced him to leave the Marine Corps. He wrote in his memoir how disorienting that was:
"I was staring down an emotional cliff into the vast unknown of peace, in a country that was tearing itself apart because of the war in which I had fought
Today, his presidential candidacy is a long shot. But it's worth noting that we have previous presidents who have been in hand-to-hand combat and have killed.
According to Cecil Adams, the writer of the syndicated online column The Straight Dope, these four presidents also have killed: Andrew Jackson (a duel), Grover Cleveland (hanging criminals as sheriff of Erie County in New York), Teddy Roosevelt (firing at Spanish troops as a Rough Rider in Cuba during the Spanish-American War), and George Washington (allegedly ambushing a French military detachment)