This is the story of a military veteran whistleblower. He spoke out against someone he thought was dangerous for the nation, talked to local newspapers, and appeared on talk shows. In return, he was vilified by reporters, threatened by a political operative, fired by his company, and now he's broke.
His name is Steve Gardner. He's also known as "The 10th Brother," as in Band of Brothers. He's one of two members of Sen. John Kerry's 12 Vietnam swift boat crew members who refused to stand with Kerry at the Democratic Convention. The other man remained silent.
"They said I had a political agenda. I had no and have no political agenda whatsoever. I saw John Kerry on television saying he was running for the Democratic nomination for president, and I knew I couldn't ever see him as commander in chief -- not after what I saw in Vietnam, not after the lies I heard him tell about what he says he did and what he says others did."
Gardner explains he was sitting at home in Clover, SC, when he first saw Kerry on television. It was before the primary races. For 35 years, Gardner says, he hadn't talked about his tour of duty in Vietnam. But when he saw Kerry talking about running, he says he got up, called the newspaper in town, called radio stations and "talked to anyone I could about why this man should never be president." Eventually he got a call from Adm. Roy Huffman, who had been in charge of the coastal division in Vietnam, reunited with other swift boat veterans, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Gardner's story is one that bears telling. He volunteered for the Navy, enlisting on his 18th birthday in February 1966. After training, he was shipped to Vietnam and served for two years as a gunner in the swift boat division. His superior, for four months, was none other than Lt. j.g. John F. Kerry.
"I had confrontations with him there. He nearly got us rammed by the VC one night because he wasn't watching the helm. I heard the motor coming close, turned on the spotlight, and the boat was only 90 feet away, coming fast. The VC was aiming an AK47 at us. I shot him out of the boat. We pulled a woman and a baby off the boat. Kerry wrote it up that we captured two VC and killed four more on the beach. None of that was true. The only thing true on Kerry's report was the date. The woman was catatonic and wouldn't call her baby VC and there were no VC on the beach. If we had seen that report before Kerry sent it up the chain of command, he would have been court-martialed and never allowed to run for office. And that's just the San Pan incident. There was much more. He is a self-aggrandizing bold-faced liar. I believe he caused the extension of that war."
Gardner told this story and others to radio stations and he wrote a piece for the local paper. Then, he says, he received a phone call from John Hurley, the veterans organizer for Kerry's campaign. Hurley, Gardner says, asked him to come out for Kerry. He told Hurley to leave him alone and that he'd never be for Kerry. It was then Gardner says, he was threatened with, "You better watch your step. We can look into your finances."
Next, Gardner said he received a call from Douglas Brinkley, the author of Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War. Brinkley told Gardner he was calling only to "fact check" the book -- which was already in print. "I told him that the guy in the book is not the same guy I served with. I told him Kerry was a coward. He would patrol the middle of the river. The canals were dangerous. He wouldn't go there unless he had another boat pushing him."
Days later, Brinkley called again, warning Gardner to expect some calls. It seems Brinkley had used the "fact checking" conversation to write an inflammatory article about Gardner for Time.com. The article, implying that Gardner was politically motivated, appeared under the headline "The 10th Brother."
Twenty-four hours later, Gardner got an e-mail from his company, Millennium Information Services, informing him that his services would no longer be necessary. He was laid off in an e-mail -- by the same man who only days before had congratulated him for his exemplary work in a territory which covered North and South Carolina. The e-mail stated that his position was being eliminated. Since then, he's seen the company advertising for his old position. Gardner doesn't have the money to sue to get the job back.
"I'm broke. I've been hurt every way I can be hurt. I have no money in the bank but am doing little bits here and there to pay the bills," he said.
All the millions of dollars raised by Gardner and his fellow Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and all the proceeds from John O'Neill's book, Unfit for Command, go to families of veterans, POWs and MIAs.
And, even though Gardner is broke and jobless for speaking out, the husband and father of three says he'd do it all over again. He says it wasn't for politics. It was for America.