A Republican candidate for Alabama governor defends a campaign advertisement touting his military service as a doctor treating soldiers wounded in Vietnam, even though he never served overseas.
Robert Bentley responded Wednesday to criticism from the leader of Vietnam veterans group, who called Bentley's ad misleading.
In the ad, Bentley talks about treating military personnel injured in Vietnam, and the words "Hospital Commander Vietnam War" are shown on a military aircraft.
Bentley said he was an interim commander at the medical facility at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina and often saw patients at Womack Army Hospital at nearby Fort Bragg, where some injured soldiers from Vietnam were treated.
He said the ad is not a distortion, but Wayne Reynolds, Alabama president of Vietnam Veterans of America, disagreed.
"I believe there should be absolute clarity that he did not serve in Vietnam," Reynolds said Wednesday at a news conference in Montgomery.
Misrepresentation of military records has become a major issue in political campaigns. In Connecticut, Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal recently admitted he misspoke about his military service by saying he served in Vietnam when he actually served stateside.
But Bentley's campaign manager, Bryan Sanders, said the Blumenthal case is different because Bentley never claimed that he served in Vietnam. Blumenthal, who apologized, had repeatedly been misleading and had said he served "in" Vietnam in 2008.
Bentley blamed his GOP runoff opponent, Bradley Byrne, for stirring up the controversy. He said that Reynolds, the Alabama president of Vietnam Veterans of America, was listed last fall in a Byrne press release as being part of a group of veterans supporting Byrne.
Reynolds said he was incorrectly included on that list. He would not say who he supports for governor, but he said he was not speaking out concerning the Bentley ad at the encouragement of the Byrne campaign.
"I am speaking as president of the Alabama chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America and in no other way. I am not a ploy of any campaign. That's not why I'm here," Reynolds said.
Bentley spoke at his campaign headquarters in Tuscaloosa and was joined by Steve May, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam.
May said he has known Bentley for a number of years and the ad didn't bother him. He said he respects Bentley because he served as a doctor in the military at a time when many people avoided service.
"If I had gotten a letter telling me to go to Vietnam, I would have gone to Vietnam," Bentley said.
Byrne spokeswoman Marty Sullivan denied that the Byrne campaign was in any way behind the criticism, but she said they were disappointed by Bentley's "efforts to mislead the voters concerning his military service."
Byrne and Bentley are seeking the GOP nomination for governor in a July 13 runoff. Byrne, a former state senator and two-year college system chancellor, finished first in the June 1 primary.
Bentley, a Tuscaloosa physician and state representative, finished second, surprising political observers because he was little-known and making his first statewide race.
Bentley campaign: http://www.robertbentley2010.com/
Byrne campaign: http://byrneforalabama.com/
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