Washington, D.C. – This year falling on May 15, Armed Forces Day was designated in 1949 to recognize active duty soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines. Memorial Day, now a "nearest Monday" federal holiday, has been observed at the end of the month since 1868 in tribute to America's war dead. It's ironic that this year, these two dates celebrating those who serve in our nation's uniform are bookends for a political candidate accused of inflating his claims of military service.
On May 17, The New York Times, The Associated Press and just about every other news outlet on the planet, made it known that Richard Blumenthal, attorney general of Connecticut and candidate for the U.S. Senate, has made a habit of portraying himself as a veteran of the Vietnam War. He is quoted as having told a Connecticut veterans group in March of 2008, "We have learned something important since the days I served in Vietnam…" At a Veterans Day event later that year he said, "I wore the uniform in Vietnam and many came back to all kinds of disrespect." He has emotionally recalled being "spat on" and claimed "we couldn't wear our uniforms" when "we returned from Vietnam." On other occasions he has apparently reflected on "…the taunts, the insults, sometimes physical abuse" he suffered after coming back from Vietnam. At a 2003 rally of support for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan he said, "When we returned, we saw nothing like this…" and has often made reference to "the days that I served in Vietnam."
Unfortunately, none of this is true. Jane Fonda has more time on the ground in Vietnam than Blumenthal.
Confronted by the evidence that he had never really deployed overseas, the Senate candidate called a press conference to admit that, "On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service and I will take full responsibility." He went on to explain to reporters that his claims to have served in Vietnam were "absolutely unintentional" and "a few misplaced words." That affront to those who really did serve and who now serve in harm's way was apparently acceptable to those who stood beside the attorney general in his Mark Sanford moment.
In fairness, Blumenthal did enlist in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1970, after receiving at least five draft deferments. He apparently made it through Marine "Boot Camp" at Parris Island, S.C. — no mean feat. The publicly available record shows that after completing Basic Training he never deployed overseas, but he did fulfill his obligated service in a Washington, D.C.-based Civil Affairs detachment and a Motor Transport unit in Connecticut. That entitles him to wear the same Eagle, Globe and Anchor that adorns my uniform. But that doesn't give him the right to demean the service of the young Marines and Navy Corpsmen with whom I served in that long-ago, far-away war or those from the present fight who have volunteered to go in harm's way.
Blumenthal's lies about his service aren't simply a problem of "misspeaking" as he now claims or just a matter of padding a résumé. His deceptions and distortions had but one self-serving end: To advance his political career by establishing affinity with veterans and their families, no matter what price they had really paid. Apparently he was so good at it until now that no political opponent, no veterans' organization, nor any enterprising reporter ever analyzed Blumenthal's DD-214 or his Service Record Book to determine the truth of his assertions.
Blumenthal now maintains he isn't going to talk any more about this matter and is moving on to "issues that make a difference now and in the future to the people of Connecticut." Whether "moving on" and "putting this behind us" will prove to be a successful political ploy remains to be seen.
In the 1990s, Oregon Republican Congressman Wes Cooley, who falsely claimed he had served in the Korean War, was thrown out of office by his constituents after being caught up in his lies. Indiana Republican Congressman Mark Souder resigned this week when his extra-marital affair was revealed. These men are no greater charlatans or frauds than Blumenthal who must know that others, like Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, have survived self-serving "expansions" of their own military records.
Since Blumenthal says he is going to continue his quest for the U.S. Senate, the issue of his credibility and his "war record" will ultimately be decided by the people of Connecticut. It will be interesting to see whether the state that gave us Revolutionary War heroes Nathan Hale and Israel Putnam want to seat a hypocrite like Richard Blumenthal in the U.S. Senate with a real American hero like Virginia's Senator Jim Webb.
That's all ahead for the nice folks in the "Nutmeg State." For the rest of us, please remember that Memorial Day is more than a day off. It's our opportunity to honor those who indisputably served our country in harm's way. They are buried in cemeteries all over this globe — including one near you.
— Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of "War Stories" on Fox News Channel and the author of "American Heroes."