http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/mai...03/14/ixportal.html/news/2004/03/14/wus14.xml Kerry ran from the enemy, claims former Vietnam crewman of Democrat candidate By Julian Coman in Washington (Filed: 14/03/2004) John Kerry, the Democratic challenger for the White House, is embroiled in fresh controversy over his much-vaunted Vietnam war record, after one of his crew members accused him of cowardice and making strategic mistakes in battle. The testimony of Steven Gardner, a gunner's mate on the first patrol boat commanded by Mr Kerry in the Mekong delta, contradicts accounts of the senator's military career that depict him as a brave and aggressive lieutenant who won three Purple Hearts and which are a key element of his campaign against George Bush. "He absolutely did not want to engage the enemy when I was with him," Mr Gardner said in an interview with the Boston Globe, which contacted him about the presidential candidate. "He wouldn't go in there and search. That is why I have a negative viewpoint of John Kerry. "His initial patterns of behaviour when I met him and served under him were of somebody who ran from the enemy, rather than engaged it." Mr Gardner has refused to join the tight-knit group of Vietnam veterans who are passionately supporters of their former comrade's White House bid. His portrayal of a timid Lt Kerry is at odds with the accounts of other crew members, and Sen Kerry is said to be "angry" about the slur. John Hurley, the national director of Vietnam Veterans for Kerry, told the Telegraph: "John was shocked by this. Gardner said that John used to take the boat four or five miles offshore 'every single night' so that it would be out of harm's way. John doesn't remember that and neither does the rest of the crew. They all think he's way off base." In his Boston Globe interview, Mr Gardner also recalled an incident in 1968 in which he was slightly wounded, causing Sen Kerry to abort the boat's mission. "I said: 'Lt Kerry, I'm fine, nothing's wrong. I got a little flesh wound here.' But Kerry was already backing out of the canal, getting ready to run for it," he said. Relations between the two men reached their low point after a Vietnamese boy was killed in an encounter with a fishing boat. The Kerry crew opened fire believing their craft was under attack. According to Mr Gardner, Lt Kerry blamed him for the tragedy. "Kerry threatened me with a court-martial, screaming: 'What the hell do you think you're doing?' " said Mr Gardner. "Thankfully the whole crew verified there were weapons being shot at us. That was the end of it." Sen Kerry described Mr Gardner's version of events as "made up". "It's sad," he told his biographer, Douglas Brinkley, "but that's the way it goes in war, and especially in politics," a reference to Mr Gardner's apparently Republican sympathies. "I've spent hours on the phone to him [Gardner]," said Mr Hurley. "But he won't back down on his story, even though the crew disagree with him." Mr Brinkley, who interviewed Mr Gardner for an hour last week, said afterwards: "It essentially boils down to one word: politics. Gardner is sickened by the idea of Kerry as president." An angry Mr Gardner, however, insisted: "I never made the first call to anyone. Until someone called me, I kept it all to myself."