War veterans campaign for John McCain

Saturday, October 18, 2008

War, immigration, gas prices and the economy are just a few issues for this year's presidential campaign. But the overriding issue, according to three war veterans and self-described wingmen for presidential candidate John McCain, is character.

Retired Capt. Charlie Plumb, a prisoner of war with John McCain in Vietnam, said he's been touring constantly since the Republican convention, from San Diego on Thursday to the Team Emerson offices in Cape Girardeau on Friday and Milwaukee today. Plumb spent more than six years in a prison camp and said he knows McCain's heart from that experience.

"I'm speaking everywhere I can so people know the character of the guy because I feel that I have an insight into his character that few people have," said Plumb, who lives just north of Los Angeles.

More than 40 people gathered in the downtown Cape Girardeau campaign office to hear Plumb, now a motivational speaker and author of the POW memoir "I'm No Hero," share the story of his fellow captive, John McCain. He said the presidential candidate demonstrated character while surviving the brutal camp, always thinking of others and his country first.

Plumb said he and others have been pressing McCain to make stronger statements regarding the economy and other issues.

"Entitlement kinds of programs just don't work. Give a guy a job, give him an opportunity, don't tax him to death," he said. "That's what we're trying to say."

Joining Plumb was a more recent veteran, Hunter Hayes, who spoke of his duties in the U.S. Navy as a petty officer third class and corpsman. His unit helped save the lives of 25 U.S. Marines -- a statement that evoked a strong round of applause from his audience Friday afternoon. Hayes, who now lives in Lufkin, Texas, said he met McCain in April. He said U.S. military forces are winning the war in Iraq and will continue to do so when McCain is elected. Hayes is the southwest regional desk officer, overseeing a region which includes Louisiana, Utah, Texas and Nebraska.

Retired Marine Col. Jack Jackson, a former Missouri representative, introduced the men, telling those assembled that Southeast Missouri voters could make a difference Nov. 4.

Campaign volunteer Shirley Young of Scott City arrived early, carrying a scrapbook she's making for her husband. Young met Plumb in 1974 during a U.S. Army National Guard dinner and included photos of the event in the scrapbook. She said she wanted to add a new picture to the book. After reintroducing herself to the former POW, she told him he was a hero in her eyes.

Campaign volunteer Jordan Wavis, 28, of Cape Girardeau said he was impressed by Plumb and McCain's war history.

Missouri 158th District Rep. Mary Kasten was in the audience, praising the veterans for "preserving our freedom which is so delicate."

Kasten set aside her trademark red-framed glasses for sleek, silvery sunglasses.

"It's the closest I could get to the glasses Sarah Palin wears," she joked.

Plumb, asked if Palin's role on the ticket had turned from helpmate to obstacle, said the vice presidential candidate had energized the party and added a middle-class cachet to the campaign.

"She is 'Joe the Plumber,'" he said.

Plumb said the oldest of his four sons is voting for Barack Obama, but that he hopes people think critically about why they are choosing one candidate over another.

"Is it a promise that person is making? Is it the way he looks or the way he speaks or all these reasons? I've voted in a lot of elections, and I've decided that what you really need to do is look inside of the heart of a man if you can, to see what drives that person, what makes that person tick and if he really does have the best interest of the country at heart."

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

573-388-3646

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Watch a video of former POW Charlie Plumb speaking in Cape Girardeau

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