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Vets Rally Behind McCain’s Character

July 22, 2008

By David Brown, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 22–John McCain showed strength of character as a prisoner of war that qualifies him to lead the nation, says a Marine veteran who was incarcerated with the senator at the “Hanoi Hilton,” an infamous North Vietnamese POW camp.

McCain has a “character of steel that was hardened by the fires of hell,” former POW John Warner said Monday at a campaign event in Green Tree.

Warner, 67, of Rohrersville, Md., joined Allegheny County Republican Chairman Jim Roddey, a former Marine, and other Pennsylvania military veterans backing the presumptive Republican nominee. The campaign announced a statewide network of Pennsylvania Veterans for McCain.

The news conference focusing on the Arizona senator’s credentials as a veteran echoed other McCain events nationally, timed possibly to take some of the shine off Democrat Barack Obama’s highly publicized visit to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Obviously, this provides a local balance to Barack Obama’s visit,” McCain spokesman Paul Lindsay said. “Senator McCain has been to Iraq eight times and has really seen how the surge he advocated for so effectively has been a success.”

Obama, 46, a longtime opponent of the Iraq war, opposed the increase in U.S. troop strength last year that is credited with helping to reduce violence in Iraq. The Illinois senator has pledged that, if elected, he will put in force a 16-month troop withdrawal plan.

McCain opposes any timeline for withdrawal, saying events on the ground in Iraq should dictate how quickly the United States reduces troop strength.

Campaigning yesterday in Kennebunkport, Maine, McCain disparaged Obama as “someone who has no military experience whatsoever.”

McCain is scheduled to return to Pennsylvania on Wednesday for a town hall meeting in Wilkes-Barre. He is scheduled to be back in the Pittsburgh region Aug. 11-12 for a fundraiser and bus tour, Roddey said.

“John McCain took a position on the Iraqi war that he knew would be politically unpopular, but he said he would rather lose an election and win a war than win the election and lose a war,” Roddey said. “That’s the credo he has stood by and why these veterans are here today.”

Warner, a POW for more than five years, said he witnessed McCain’s test of character during their shared experiences. McCain, 71, was a Navy pilot held captive for six years after being shot down over North Vietnam.

McCain showed courage and leadership ability when he led fellow prisoners singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” despite an edict from their captors against any religious observances in their cells, Warner said.

When McCain led church services, he “always prayed for our enemies,” Warner said.

“That is greatness of spirit, to pray for the men who have tortured you,” he said. “John McCain has everything that qualifies him to be president, because he has character.”

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