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In his later years, Col. Day also took on Iraq war cases. For example, he represented Army Maj. John Nelson, a medical officer who was wounded when a bomb exploded at a mess hall in Mosul in 2004. Maj. Nelson suffered short-term memory loss and spoke with permanent stutter. The Army initially said his injuries merited a 40 percent disability rating. Col. Day, however, persuaded an evaluation board to award full benefits.

“People would stop us in the airports and all over, and we had no idea who they were, and they would say, ‘Thank you, you saved my husband’s life,’ or, ‘You saved my wife’s life,’” Mrs. Day said. The couple celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary in May.

Col. Day was active in Mr. McCain’s failed 2000 and 2008 Republican presidential bids and in 2004 campaigned against fellow Vietnam veteran John F. Kerry. Col. Day called Mr. Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, a turncoat who lied to Congress in 1971 about alleged war atrocities.

“I draw a direct comparison to General Benedict Arnold of the Revolutionary War to Lt. John Kerry,” Col. Day said in 2004. “Both went off to war, fought, and then turned against their country.”

Col. Day’s political activism again caused controversy in 2010 when he supported Gov. Charlie Crist in his failed Senate bid. Col. Day called Mr. Crist’s primary opponent Marco Rubio “a Hispanic who can run his mouth.” He referred to President Obama as “the black one.”

Col. Day retired from the Air Force without attaining his general’s star. He said he believed he wasn’t promoted further because he “told it like it was.”

“When I returned from prison, there was a huge amount of the Air Force leadership that were not combat-oriented. They were quasi-political managers,” he said.

It said it was his tendency for tough talk that kept him out of politics.

“I probably could have been more tempered in some of my remarks, but when they asked, I told them,” he said.

He and Mr. McCain remained close since they first shared that 9-by-5-foot cell, and years later he advised the younger Navy man against running for the U.S. Senate.

“When he first said he was going into politics, I said politics is compromise, and John had almost zero ability to compromise,” Col. Day said.

He said he told Mr. McCain that politics was like prostitution.

“You have to do a whole bunch of things and then there is a paycheck,” he said.

But Col. Day said his friend later changed his mind by becoming a reformer in Congress.

Campaigning for Mr. McCain in his 2008 presidential bid, Col. Day drew comparisons between the lessons of Vietnam and the dangers of an early pullout from Iraq.

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