- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

Sen. John McCain yesterday rolled out the first television ads of his presidential campaign, and both show the former Navy aviator grimacing in pain from a hospital bed after he was shot down over Vietnam 40 years ago.

The only top Republican candidate who served in the military, the ads airing in New Hampshire show the Arizona senator saluting fellow service members and shaking hands with President Reagan.

The archival footage in Vietnam comes from the interrogation of the badly injured Mr. McCain by his captors at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, where he was held prisoner for more than five years. In the grim black-and-white film, the interrogator, speaking English with a heavy accent, asks: “How old are you?”

“Thirty-one,” Mr. McCain answers, puffing on a cigarette.

“What is your rank in the Army?”

“Lieutenant commander in the Navy. … Hit by either missile or anti-aircraft fire, I’m not sure which. I ejected and broke my leg and both arms.”

“And your official number?” the interrogator asks. “624787,” Mr. McCain says, and the next shot shows him grimace in pain, his broken arm in a cast extended above his head.

An announcer in the ad then says: “One man sacrificed for his country; one man opposed a flawed strategy in Iraq; one man had the courage to call for change; one man didn’t play politics with the truth; one man stands up to the special interests.”

The ads do not point out that no other top Republican candidate has served in the military, but Mr. McCain is seeking to show that his military service makes him uniquely qualified for the job of commander in chief. Yesterday, he said in New York that his opponents for the Republican presidential nomination lack the foreign-policy expertise to be commander in chief and he argued that he is most qualified to protect America from Islamic extremism.

“We don’t have time or opportunity for on-the-job training, and the other candidates for president I don’t believe have the qualifications that I do to hit the ground running and immediately address these serious challenges,” Mr. McCain told reporters.

“I am obviously of the belief that the country would be safer with me as its leader,” he said.

While the other top candidates were all of age during the Vietnam War, none served in the military. Front-runner Rudolph W. Giuliani asked for a deferment in 1968, but was rejected. The next year, a federal judge he was clerking for wrote a letter to the draft board asking for a deferment, which was granted.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney received a deferment as a Mormon missionary in France, and although he registered for the draft upon his return to the states, he was never called up. Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson also did not serve in Vietnam; he was deferred from the draft because he had children.

Still, Mr. Giuliani, a supporter of the Iraq war, was viewed favorably by 64 percent of 552 veterans polled by Gallup in August, while Mr. McCain came in second at 52 percent. Asked whom they would support for president, the veterans chose Mr. Giuliani, at 29 percent, followed by Mr. Thompson at 25 percent. Mr. McCain came in near the bottom with just 13 percent.

At least one veterans group, though, does not think Mr. McCain, who earned the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross during his service, is exploiting his record.

“The guy was a prisoner of war, he’s credible just for that,” said American Legion spokeswoman Ramona Joyce. “His service was well-documented, and I don’t think he’s exploiting it.”

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