Odd man out

By Geraldine Sealey
Published March 11, 2004 9:55PM (EST)

The Boston Globe ran a story today about a Vietnam crewmate of John Kerry's who is critical of Kerry's performance during battle. This sets him apart from most of other crewmates, who praised Kerry's leadership. The former crewmate, Steven Michael Gardner, also spoke with Douglas Brinkley, author of a recent book about Kerry's Vietnam service, "Tour of Duty," who published a piece on Time's Web site Tuesday night about his conversation with Gardner.

In the Globe story, Gardner says he kept his views about Kerry private until he was contacted. "I never made the first call to anyone," Gardner said. But the Globe, while referencing Brinkley's piece, didn't describe Gardner's epiphany about coming forward, as the Time piece did. It turns out Gardner was motivated to publicly criticize Kerry after listening to Rush Limbaugh.

From Brinkley's piece: "Around the time of the South Carolina primary, Gardner heard Limbaugh say there was something fishy about Kerry's Vietnam service but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. 'I was driving down the road, and I hit that [radio] button and Rush was talking about Kerry and his campaign and how something just didnt feel right to him,' Gardner recalled, his voice full of conviction. 'Something about what John Kerry did or was doing, just really didnt set right with him. And you know I served with this guy, and the bottom line to it is; harsh as this may sound or as good as it sounds to any Democrat, out there, John Kerry is another 'Slick Willy.' He's another Bill Clinton and that's exactly what he is. And I'm telling you right now, that if John Kerry gets to be president of these United States, it'll be a sorry day in this world for us. We can't stand another Democrat like that in there again. We'll get our asses in such a sling this time; we won't be able to get out of it. And the bottom line to it is, I don't care how much John Kerry's changed after he moved off my boat, his initial patterns of behavior when I met him and served under him was somebody who ran from the enemy, rather than engaged it. If I'd had Rush's 800 number, or known how to reach him, I would have called in."

Gardner's problems with Kerry's service, again, conflict with many others' accounts, and basically boil down to saying Kerry threatened him with a court-martial one horrible night when a young boy ended up killed after a gunfight (Kerry tells the story differently), and that another time Kerry was too quick to retreat to get medical attention for Gardner after he was wounded. Not exactly explosive charges. But Gardner's coming forward will likely provide fodder for Kerry's critics looking for any way to discredit his military service. And there's a twist: Gardner lost his job as his views became public, and he wonders if he was laid off because of what he said about Kerry. (His former boss says it's just coincidence.)

Counterspin says Kerry had better nip this story in the bud and do something to help Gardner out. "Here's why. Remember back in 2000 when that family leasing some rental property from Al Gore was incessantly whining about bad toilets, and Gore's inattention and rudeness to their problem? The GOP had a field day, and moved the family into newer digs at party expense. All in an effort to label Gore as a 'slum lord.' I suspect the GOP are going to offer Gardner a job pretty soon, and try to imply that Kerry got him fired."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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