WASHINGTON — This year falling on May 15, Armed Forces Day was designated in 1949 to recognize active-duty soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines. Memorial Day, now a "nearest Monday" federal holiday, has been observed at the end of the month since 1868 in tribute to America’s war dead. It’s ironic that this year, these two dates celebrating those who serve in our nation’s uniform are bookends for a political candidate accused of inflating his claims of military service.
On May 17, The New York Times, The Associated Press and just about every other news outlet on the planet made it known that Richard Blumenthal, the attorney general of Connecticut and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, has made a habit of portraying himself as a veteran of the Vietnam War. He is quoted as having told a Connecticut veterans group in March 2008, "We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam." At a Veterans Day event later that year, he said, "I wore the uniform in Vietnam, and many came back to all kinds of disrespect." He has emotionally recalled being "spat on" and claimed, "We couldn’t wear our uniforms (when) we returned from Vietnam." On other occasions, he apparently has reflected on "the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse" he suffered after coming back from Vietnam. At a 2003 rally of support for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, "When we returned, we saw nothing like this," and he often has made reference to "the days that (he) served in Vietnam." Unfortunately, none of this is true. Jane Fonda has more time on the ground in Vietnam than Blumenthal.
Confronted by the evidence that he never really was deployed overseas, the Senate candidate called a news conference to say, "I regret that I misspoke on those occasions. I take full responsibility." He went on to explain to reporters that his claims to have served in Vietnam were "absolutely unintentional" and "a few misplaced words." That affront to those who really did serve — and who now serve in harm’s way — was apparently acceptable to those who stood beside the attorney general in his Mark Sanford moment.
In fairness, Blumenthal did enlist in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1970 — after receiving at least five draft deferments. He apparently made it through Marine boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. — no mean feat. The publicly available record shows that after completing basic training, he never deployed overseas, but he did fulfill his obligated service in a Washington, D.C.-based Civil Affairs detachment and a Motor Transport unit in Connecticut. That entitles him to wear the same Eagle, Globe and Anchor that adorns my uniform. But that doesn’t give him the right to demean the service of the young Marines and Navy corpsmen with whom I served in that long-ago, faraway war — or those from the present fight who have volunteered to go in harm’s way.
Blumenthal’s lies about his service aren’t simply a problem of "misspeaking," as he now claims, or just a matter of padding a resume. His deceptions and distortions had but one self-serving end: to advance his political career by establishing affinity with veterans and their families, no matter what price they had really paid. Apparently, he was so good at it until now that no political opponent, veterans organization or enterprising reporter ever analyzed Blumenthal’s DD Form 214 or his Service Record Book to determine the truth of his assertions.
Blumenthal now maintains he isn’t going to talk about this matter anymore and is moving on to "issues that make a difference now and in the future to the people of Connecticut."
Whether "moving on" and "putting this behind us" will prove to be a successful political ploy remains to be seen. In the 1990s, then-Rep. Wes Cooley, R-Ore., who falsely claimed he had served in the Korean War, was thrown out of office by his constituents after being caught up in his lies. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., resigned this week when his extramarital affair was revealed. These men are no greater charlatans or frauds than Blumenthal, who must know that others — such as Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa — have survived self-serving "expansions" of their own military records.
Blumenthal says he is going to continue his quest for the U.S. Senate, so the issue of his credibility and his "war record" ultimately will be decided by the people of Connecticut. It will be interesting to see whether the state that gave us Revolutionary War heroes Nathan Hale and Israel Putnam wants to seat a hypocrite like Richard Blumenthal in the U.S. Senate with a real American hero like Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.
That’s all ahead for the nice folks in the Nutmeg State. For the rest of us, please remember that Memorial Day is more than a day off. It’s our opportunity to honor those who indisputably served our country in harm’s way. They are buried in cemeteries all over this globe — including one near you.