Colorado veterans join nationwide McCain rally

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS – Sedona Dishman clutched a miniature flag and an 8-by-10-inch photo of her father, Sev Dishman, as she led the Pledge of Allegiance in front of a huge American flag.

The 8-year-old girl’s father wasn’t standing among the nearly 30 people, some holding “Veterans for McCain” signs, under the elm trees outside VFW Post 4051.

Instead, Dishman was listening by phone from Iraq, where he is serving his fifth tour of duty.

His wife, Ellen Dishman, and daughter were participating in the “Veterans for McCain” rally Monday, July 21. The Colorado Springs event was one of many such rallies across the country organized by Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign.

Sev Dishman said he was aware that on this same day Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was visiting Iraq. However, the soldier said he was unlikely to see Obama during his weeklong mission. But then, he’d never seen McCain during any of the Republican senator’s eight visits to Iraq.

Sedona Dishman skipped out of the limelight and into the sunshine to seize the phone and chat with her dad.

Then the rally got down to the business of promoting Colorado Veterans for McCain, a group headed by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Tom H. Kirk, Jr. and retired Navy Capt. Mike McGrath.

Kirk and McGrath had known McCain as prisoners of war in the Hoa Lo prison during the Vietnam conflict. After McCain’s jet was shot down in 1967, he remained a POW at the “Hanoi Hilton” until his release in 1973.

“John McCain was a classmate and four years ahead of me at the U.S. Naval Academy. But, I was ahead of him by four years at the Hanoi Hilton,” recalled McGrath. Both he and McCain, he said, had suffered broken arms when their planes were downed and had endured torture and multiple beatings during their imprisonment.

McGrath remembered McCain yelling and banging to divert the guards’ attention from two other POWs who were nearly caught passing a note between the cell bars. Had the two men been caught, McGrath said, the punishment would have been relentless. Instead, the guards pounced on McCain.

“John McCain took the punishment and beatings to protect others,” McGrath declared. “That’s the kind of courage shown by John.”

McGrath’s recollection hit on the message in McCain’s presidential campaign speeches. The Arizona senator tells voters that he has the courage to lead and to do the right thing for the country.

“John McCain has been behind the veterans 100 percent since his tenure in the Senate,” said Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera. “In stark contrast, Barack Obama supports the troops when it’s expedient.

“John McCain called for a change in the strategy in Iraq, and the surge has worked,” declared Rivera, a retired Army captain. Rivera chastised Obama for opposing the surge and continuing to deny its success in reducing violence and increasing stability.

McCain has traveled eight times to Iraq since U.S. forces first invaded in March 2003, and four times to Afghanistan, noted Rivera. Obama, he added, had previously traveled once to Iraq and never to Afghanistan.

“Barack hasn’t been to Iraq for more than 900 days. He should have gone there before now,” said Rivera.

The rally reflected the longstanding differences between McCain and Obama on Iraq and Afghanistan. Their differing approaches have fed the verbal sniper fire between the two campaigns.

Earlier this month, Obama told reporters that McCain’s many trips to Iraq and Afghanistan hadn’t seemed to improve his understanding of the problems in those countries.

“I’ll recall the visit he made last year in which he was surrounded by helicopters and SWAT teams and came back and reported how safe everything was in Baghdad,” said Obama during a press conference in San Diego. “You know, I don’t think that that was indicative of what was actually happening on the ground at that time.”

Senators Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, and Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, both Army veterans, accompanied Obama on the weeklong fact-finding mission to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Hours after the rally, the McCain campaign hammered back at Obama for telling an ABC News reporter that he wouldn’t reconsider his opposition to the surge even though violent attacks had declined by 80 percent since it began.

“Barack Obama admitted tonight that he would rather see failure in Iraq than concede that he was wrong about the surge. A candidate who places his political ambition ahead of our national interest does not pass the threshold to be commander in chief,” asserted Tucker Bounds, McCain campaign spokesman.

That message was embraced by the veterans and supporters at McCain’s campaign rally in Colorado Springs.

“One trip to Iraq and Afghanistan does not make you fit to lead our armed forces,” declared retired Army Capt. Silverio “Silver” Salazar of Pueblo.