Candidates court war veterans on last Veterans Day before 2000 election
November 11, 1999
Web posted at: 7:08 p.m. EST (0008 GMT)
(CNN) -- The highest-profile candidates for the 2000 Republican and Democratic presidential nominations campaigned mightily Thursday -- the final Veterans Day of the 20th Century and the last such opportunity before next November's elections -- by attending memorial services, marching in parades, and in some cases, touting their own military records.
Republican front-runner George W. Bush capped a week of veterans-related activities by paying tribute to the nation's veterans and war dead at a small cemetery just outside of Detroit. The cemetery was marked with gravestones of veterans of every war since the American revolution.
"The greatest monument to the courage of Americans is the world they saved and shaped," Bush said. "And their story is not written in stone; it is woven into the lives of everyone who loves freedom."
The Texas governor served stateside in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. As a war story, his is no match for the one John McCain has to tell, but Bush doesn't try. Nonetheless, the leading Republican candidate knows that a stellar service record does not necessarily translate into political success.
"If that were the case, then Bill Clinton would have never been president," Bush said.
McCain, the Arizona senator who has been steadily creeping up on Bush in recent polls, spent the day in New Hampshire's second-city of Nashua, marching in a Main Street Veterans Day parade, and visiting a veterans' home in the picturesque town of Tilton.
McCain's Navy roots showed throughout the day. His father and grandfather were both Navy admirals, and McCain, a fighter pilot in the thick of the Vietnam War, spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp after being shot down. He was well-received in New Hampshire, site of next year's first presidential primary, and home to 139,000 veterans -- the most per capita of any state.
In a New York Times/CBS poll, the vast majority of McCain supporters cited specific reasons for preferring him -- his command of international affairs.
But given the opportunity, McCain refused to take his main rival Bush to task Thursday for his well-publicized inability to name a variety of leaders in global "hot spots," saying, "...I am reluctant to mention this, but we did have another president, who had previously been governor of the state of California, that there were concerns about, that won the Cold War."
Vice President Al Gore made a campaign stop at the Iowa Veterans' Home in Marshalltown, Iowa. He told the facility's residents -- 75 percent of them in wheelchairs -- that he was one of them.
"I can and do understand what many others feel in their hearts as they leave their families to defend their country, and (Gore's wife) Tipper remembers what it was like to say goodbye to her husband on our first Christmas together, as I headed off to Vietnam."
Gore, who served as a military journalist in Vietnam, said defense and diplomacy must work together to maintain U.S. interests worldwide. He listed some specifics, saying the U.S. should pay its U.N. dues in full; engage, not ignore Russia and China; and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty must be resubmitted to the Senate.
Gore's chief rival, former Democratic Senator Bill Bradley (New Jersey) did not participate in any Veterans Day activities Thursday.
Bradley, who began a promising career as a basketball star with New York Knicks in 1967, chose to enlist with the Air Force Reserves, serving stateside during the Vietnam War.
"(The war) was not popular. I didn't support it," Bradley explained earlier this week. "But I feel I had an obligation to serve, and this was the way I chose to do it."
Like many others, Bradley had been shielded from the draft with student deferments. He spent two years as a Rhodes Scholar, and was a student-athlete for four years at Princeton.
Retired Colonel Clayton Bridges, Bradley's training officer, told CNN Bradley's record as a reservist handling personnel and administrative matters was exemplary. Bradley could well have been officer material, Bridges said.
"If (the Knicks) played the Lakers out on the West coast, he'd have to fly all night to get back to New York, then drive part of the night to get to the reserve meeting Saturday," Bridges said. "He'd do that, and he'd perform like a champ."
CNN correspondents Candy Crowley, Bill Delaney, Bruce Morton and Frank Buckley contributed to this report.