WASHINGTON – Sen. John McCain urged Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Monday to apologize to U.S. military families for saying prisoners of war are not heroes, in his first direct response to Trump’s remarks.
Trump drew a barrage of criticism over the weekend after telling a Republican forum he did not think McCain, a Navy fighter pilot who was held prisoner for more than five years during the Vietnam War, was a hero because he was captured.
McCain played down the personal attack in an interview with MSNBC. He said he didn’t think Trump owed him an apology, but did owe one to military families.
“I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving our country,” McCain said.
The longtime Arizona senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee, who himself has been called fiery and combative, struck a tone of restraint and humility in his reply.
“The great honor of my life was to serve in the company of heroes,” McCain said on MSNBC. “I’m not a hero.”
Trump was addressing a gathering of religious conservatives in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday, when the moderator referred to McCain as a war hero.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump retorted. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
The real estate mogul has refused to apologize for the remarks, despite criticism from his own party, including calls from other candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination for him to drop out of the race.
Trump also continued to criticize McCain for not doing enough to support fellow veterans.
The White House weighed in on Monday. Spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama continues to have political differences with the man he defeated in the 2008 election, “but those debates have not reduced his appreciation for Sen. McCain’s remarkable service to the country.”
McCain told MSNBC he has fielded a “flood of calls” from military veterans unhappy with Trump’s remarks.
“I think the point here is that there’s so many men and some women who served and sacrificed and happened to be held prisoner,” McCain said in the interview. “Somehow to denigrate that in any way is offensive, I think, to most of our veterans.”