DES MOINES, Iowa – John Kerry (search), battling in a Democratic nomination contest too close to call, held an emotional campaign trail reunion Saturday with a fellow serviceman he rescued 35 years ago in Vietnam.
"He could have been shot and killed at any time," Jim Rassmann (search) said at a subsequent campaign rally. "I figure I owe him my life."
The retired Los Angeles police officer's remarks came shortly after he and Kerry reunited with a teary embrace arranged by Kerry's campaign staff after Rassmann telephoned from his Oregon home Friday and said he wanted to help Kerry.
"I wrote you in '84," Rassmann told Kerry as they hugged.
"I never got it," said Kerry.
The Massachusetts senator's staff said the two had not talked since 1969 when Kerry, skipper of a river patrol boat, was retreating under fire with a group of other boats when he noticed someone in the water, reversed course and fished a wounded Rassmann from the water.
Kerry was awarded the Bronze Star (search) for his actions.
"I'm very emotional about this," said Kerry after the two met at a community center. "I'm very touched. I never thought I'd see the guy again. I'm amazed."
Rassmann said he's a registered Republican, but plans to vote for Kerry.
Kerry's staff said they did not tell the senator of the impending meeting until a few hours before it happened, even though they had been working out details since receiving Rassmann's call Friday.
Kerry scrapped an appearance at a multi-candidate event to make the appearance with Rassmann.
The day began with Kerry on the defense about his foreign policies and accusing rivals for the Democratic nomination of dampen his momentum in Iowa with a "smear effort."
Two other candidates, Howard Dean (search) and Dick Gephardt (search), circulated to reporters on Friday comments Kerry made five years ago indicating he would drastically scale back the U.S. Department of Agriculture and revamp farm subsidies. Iowa is dominated by farming, and politicians of all stripes here support subsidy programs.
Kerry said Saturday he would push to revamp subsidies but wouldn't eliminate them.
"It's obvious that my campaign is moving because two of the other candidates have chosen in the last few days to engage in a smear effort on my farm policies," he told supporters.
Warning that criticism of the campaign will grow with his standing in the polls, he said, "Prepare yourself for the politics of fear."
Kerry said he has long argued for targeting subsidy payments to smaller family-style operations, trimming back payments to large corporate farmers. He said that roughly 60 percent of subsidy payments go to roughly 10 percent of the nation's farmers.
"Something is wrong when you spend $225 billion over 20 years for farm subsidies and you lose 274,000 farmers," he said. "Last year, Iowa lost 2,500 farmers."
Kerry has been endorsed by Iowa Agriculture Secretary Patty Judge, who defended his record on farming.
Kerry said his farm program would give farmers a better chance to make money in the marketplace.
"Farmers in Iowa don't want to be paid in the mailbox," he said. "They want to be paid in the marketplace."
In a conference call with precinct captains, Kerry rallied an organizational effort to turn his backers out for caucuses Monday.
"It's going to come down to the ground war, the operation on the ground," he said. "You are the troops."