One Member of John Kerry's Vietnam Crew Isn't Thrilled with Him at All

Roundup: Media's Take

Michael Kranish, in the Boston Globe (March 11, 2004):

Steven Michael Gardner served side by side with John Forbes Kerry in Vietnam, was wounded under Kerry's command, and was manning twin .50-caliber machine guns on a night that has forever haunted Kerry -- the night his crew killed a young boy in a sampan.

But unlike many of Kerry's crewmates, Gardner has not appeared at Kerry's side at campaign rallies, and his view of Kerry at war is far different from the heroic view presented by others."He absolutely did not want to engage the enemy when I was with him," Gardner said in a recent interview."He wouldn't go in there and search. That is why I have a negative viewpoint of John Kerry."

Gardner's view is dramatically at odds with that of many other crewmates whom the Globe interviewed, who praise Kerry's leadership and say he was one of the most aggressive skippers in the Navy at the time. Gardner, who said he intends to support President Bush for reelection, clashed with Kerry on one of the most memorable and haunting nights that the two sailors spent together in Vietnam. That story, which until recently has been told publicly only in fragmentary form, involved the killing of the young boy.

As Gardner recalls it, he was in the"tub" above the pilot house with the twin machine guns, and Kerry was in command, when the Navy swift boat came upon a sampan in the darkness. Gardner flashed a searchlight and ordered the craft to stop. Then, he said, he saw a figure rise up over the gunwale with a semiautomatic weapon. Spotting tracers in the sky and fearing an attack, Gardner said, he laced the sampan with bullets, and other crew members fired as well. Gardner recalls a man in the sampan falling overboard, presumably dead.

After the shooting had stopped and Kerry had ordered a cease-fire, Gardner said, the crew found a woman in the sampan who was alive. There was also the boy, dead in the bottom of the boat. Gardner said there is no way to know which crewmate fired the shots that killed the boy, but he said Kerry was in the pilot house and did not fire. Kerry was livid when he emerged, Gardner said.

"Kerry threatened me with a court-martial, screaming at the top of his lungs: `What the hell do you think you're doing? I ought to have you court-martialed,'" Gardner recalled."Thankfully, the whole crew was there in the middle of it . . . they verified there were weapons being shot at us. That was the end of it." ...

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Richard K. Hertz - 3/23/2004

... the one Kerry reprimanded for machinegunning a little boy.