MANCHESTER, N.H. – Retired Gen. Wesley Clark (search), who is running for president on his four-star military credentials, assailed Democratic front-runner Howard Dean (search) for spending time on the ski slopes after getting a medical deferment (search) for a back condition to avoid being drafting during the Vietnam War.
"I didn't have as much practice skiing as the governor did. He was out there skiing when I was recovering from my wounds in Vietnam," Clark, a former supreme allied commander in Europe, told WNTK radio on Wednesday.
Clark, who was an Army infantry officer and company commander in Vietnam, received the Purple Heart after being wounded in combat and was awarded the Silver Star (search) for gallantry in action.
Dean's campaign condemned Clark for the comment made as the former Vermont governor was in Hawaii for the return of the remains of an American, missing since the war, whom Dean believes was his brother.
"This personal attack, especially on a day like today for Governor Dean, is disturbingly ruthless," said his spokeswoman, Tricia Enright.
Remains tentatively identified as those of Charles M. Dean and his friend, Australian Neil Sharman, civilians traveling in Southeast Asia when they were killed in 1974, were discovered this month buried in a rice field in central Laos (search).
During Monday's Democratic debate in Iowa, Dean defended himself from criticism that he sought a medical deferment to keep from serving in Vietnam, citing a back condition, then spent a year skiing in Colorado.
"I took a physical, I failed a physical. If that makes this an issue, then so be it," Dean said in the debate. He also pointed out that most of his rivals did not serve in the war, either, other than Clark and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.
Kerry, the skipper of a Navy swift boat in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam, also received the Purple Heart (search) and Silver Star.