McCain gives, receives thanks at ceremony
BOSCAWEN, N.H. – Republican John McCain found himself on the giving and receiving ends of the tributes Sunday during a ceremony at the New Hampshire Veterans Cemetery.The Arizona senator and presidential hopeful joined state officials and several hundred people on a cold, sunny morning for a Veterans Day ceremony, and was repeatedly thanked for his service during the years he spent as a Vietnam prisoner of war.McCain in turn paid tribute to military members serving in Iraq and thanked those at home for supporting the troops regardless of how they may feel about the war.”The war and Iraq has divided America, but none of us is divided in our appreciation and our love and affection for those men and women in the military who are serving the cause of freedom,” he said.”Some of us here were in another war where America was divided in their support and that made our challenge of welcoming and bringing home all of veterans all the harder,” he said, a reference to Vietnam.McCain said such ceremonies always bring a “flood of memories” from his days in the Navy. He recounted an oft-told story of fellow POW Mike Christian, who fashioned an American flag from fabric scraps so that he and his cellmates could recite the Pledge of Allegiance nightly.Their captors eventually discovered the flag and Christian was severely beaten. But he began sewing another flag within hours, his eyes nearly swollen shut.”I was so very honored to have the privilege to serve in the company of heroes, to observe a thousand acts of courage and compassion and love,” McCain said. “Those that I know best and love most are those who I had the privilege of serving with and under, who inspired me to do things I otherwise would not have been capable of.”Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, and Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., also praised McCain. Lynch called him a “great American hero who made extraordinary sacrifices for all of us.”McCain wrapped up the day in early-voting South Carolina on the North Charleston waterfront, once the site of a major East Coast Navy base.McCain told a crowd gathered for a Veterans Day concert that despite what they may have read or heard: “We are winning in Iraq. And we will not surrender in Iraq. And we will win and we will prevail.”McCain blamed problems in Iraq on former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.”I know we’re all saddened by the failure of Rumsfeld. It was a lousy strategy and I fought against it and I argued against it,” McCain said.McCain told reporters later that it was important to tell veterans who had “sacrificed in this and other wars that we’re not going to surrender. And the Democrats want to surrender.””I’m the only one that’s running for the nomination that argued against and fought against Rumsfeld’s failed strategy,” he said. “I’m the one who said we should adopt the strategy that’s succeeding.”Barack Obama, a Democratic presidential hopeful, has said the U.S. needs to factor in the cost of caring for veterans before Congress authorizes war.”Then they would have to have a degree of clairvoyance that I’m incapable of because we don’t know the cost of wars until we’re in it,” McCain said. “It’s clearly one of the worst mistakes we made is not having made accommodation for our veterans when we could see that this war was going to go on for a long time.”Our first obligation is our veterans.”—Associated Press Writer Jim Davenport in North Charleston contributed to this report.