Blumenthal calls Vietnam comments misplaced words

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announces his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retirement of fellow Democrat Christopher Dodd in Hartford, Conn., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010. ((AP Photo/Jessica Hill))

May 18, 2010 4:41:47 PM PDT
Richard Blumenthal surrounded himself with former Marines and other veterans Tuesday to respond to accusations he lied about serving in Vietnam. Other veterans distanced themselves from the U.S. Senate candidate, and said embellishing a military record was something they were not about to forgive.

Peter Galgano, a spokesman for the Marine Corps League of Connecticut, was in attendance at Blumenthal's news conference. He said videotaped remarks in which the attorney general talked about serving in Vietnam amounted to a simple misstatement from a man who spent his career supporting veterans.


"As long as Dick has stood with us, mourned with us and joined with us and our families, he has always been completely straightforward about his honorable service in the Marine Corps Reserves," said Galgano, to cheers of "Hoo-rah," and "Semper Fi" from others on the podium.

But many veterans expressed anger that Blumenthal had even once said he was "in Vietnam." He actually served six years in the Marine Corps Reserves, all in the United States.

"It would be very, very difficult for me to support Mr.

Blumenthal now," said Ron Rusakiewicz, 65 of Milford, who served with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966. "I don't think people understand what it is to be a combat veteran and get bullets whizzing by your head all day long and not knowing whether you're going to live or die the next day, and then along comes someone who said he did the same thing, and he did not."

Richard DiFederico, the commander of Connecticut's Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he won't forgive the comments either, whether they were intentional or not.

"It diminishes the service of all who served and sacrificed, most especially those whose names are inscribed on the Vietnam Wall," he said. "Mr. Blumenthal was considered one of the best friends a veteran could have in Connecticut. It is a true shame that he let a false claim of Vietnam service change that."

Some of the harshest criticism came from Blumenthal's opponent in this weekend's Democratic convention. Mystic businessman Merrick Alpert served as a peacekeeper in Bosnia.

"Those of us who have a code of honor know that anybody who is willing to step up and lie about service in a war when they were never even there, there is nothing they won't say."

And while Vietnam veteran Rob Simmons, the Republican candidate, said he's never heard Blumenthal make any false claims, he said the attorney general still "owes an apology to those whose service he has undeservedly capitalized on for his own political purposes."

B.G. "Jug" Burkett, a Vietnam veteran and author of the 1998 book, "Stolen Valor," said it won't matter to most veterans that Blumenthal has usually been up front about his service in the reserves, as long as there is evidence that he lied at least once.

"Once someone is on that check list, he stays there," Burkett said.

But some political observers said that may not keep Blumenthal from being elected. Political science professor Sean McLean at Quinnipiac University, said most people probably don't see it as a major issue.

"It seems to mean an awful lot to a very narrow slice of voters," McLean said. "In what we see in surveys of younger voters is that they really could not care less about this, and who was on what side and whether you were protesting or whether you were in the military. It becomes increasingly irrelevant."