Democrats hailed John Kerry's (search) military record on the opening day of their presidential nominating convention and took a few swipes Monday at President Bush, who saw no combat as a member of the Texas Air National Guard (search).

At a boisterous meeting of convention delegates who served in the military, a former Kerry campaign rival, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark (search), said Kerry had volunteered for duty in Vietnam and led dangerous missions in riverine warfare.

"He saved men's lives in combat," demonstrating his physical courage, Clark said. And, in answer to some Vietnam veterans who assertl and weak on issues of national security.

They also sought to contrast Kerry's decorated service with that of Bush, who served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War but did not see combat

As a Navy lieutenant, Kerry commanded two swift boat units, PCF-44 and PCF-94, in Vietnam in late 1968 and early 1969. He was awarded three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star for heroism and still has a piece of shrapnel embedded in his leg. After he returned home he spoke out against the war.

Former Sen. Max Cleland, who was severely injured in Vietnam, attacked Bush for not volunteering for duty in Vietnam.

"You don't avoid by every means possible the war of your generation" and then order troops into Iraq as president, Cleland said. "You don't create a shooting war and close VA hospitals."

Democratic strategist James Carville, who opened the veterans caucus with a blistering attack on Bush, noted that the president was spending a week in the Texas heat at his Crawford ranch.

"There's a man who'll do anything to avoid a draft," Carville shouted.

Among the veterans in the audience, Howard Page, 77, who served in the Army during World War II, said he disagrees with those who resent Kerry's outspokenness against the Vietnam War.

"I really don't feel that was disrespectful," said Page, of Wethersfield, Conn. "He was a hell of a soldier, a good man. He just grew to realize that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time."