War on the Home Front

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From TIME’s Pentagon Correspondent, Mark Thompson, who also happens to hail from the Nutmeg State:

Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Democrat seeking to succeed Christopher Dodd in the U.S. Senate, did a lot more fighting over Vietnam Tuesday than he ever did inside the country. That’s because, despite his claims to the contrary, he never actually served in the southeast Asian nation. In fact, as the New York Times reported Monday night, he received five deferments between 1965 and 1970 before joining the Marines Reserve — and serving his entire six-month active-duty obligation in South Carolina, not South Vietnam.

“On a few occasions, I have misspoken about my service and I regret that and I take full responsibility,” he told veterans and TV cameras Tuesday afternoon in a West Hartford VFW hall. “But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.” He mentioned how proud he was of his own service, and of the burdens borne by the veterans, to repeated cheers and applause from those graying warriors gathered around him. Political handicappers were divided over whether the revelation represents a fatal blow to the Connecticut attorney general, who has led in polls by 30 points.

Before Tuesday’s pivot, Blumenthal had praised the nation’s willingness to support the troops fighting today’s wars, even if they oppose the conflicts. “We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” he told a Connecticut gathering two years ago. He also has left the impression that fellow citizens greeted him coldly after returning from Vietnam. “I served during the Vietnam era,” he told a 2008 crowd. “I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse.” Neither Blumenthal nor his staff corrected publications when they reported he was a Vietnam veteran. Blumenthal did acknowledge in a March debate that “although I did not serve in Vietnam, I have seen firsthand the effects of military action.”

Opponents pounced on the news. “I am deeply troubled by allegations that he has misrepresented his service,” said Rob Simmons, a former congressman who is seeking the GOP nomination for Dodd’s seat. “Too many have sacrificed too much to have their valor stolen in this way.” On his website, Simmons notes that he enlisted in the Army in 1965 and spent 19 months in Vietnam, earning a pair of Bronze stars. But the leading Republican candidate isn’t Simmons, but the pro-wrestling magnate Linda McMahon, who posted the Times article temporarily on her website, without elaboration. There are reports that her campaign war chest — which she has said could reach $50 million — may have funded the so-called opposition research that uncovered the gap between Blumenthal’s record and words.