Connecticut Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal surrounded himself with war veterans today while denying that he lied about his military record when he actually received deferments and served in the Marine Reserve.
"Now, on a few occasions I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that and I take full responsibility," he said at a news conference at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in West Hartford. "But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country."
Blumenthal spoke one day after a published report revealed that the Democratic senatorial candidate never served in Vietnam despite repeated public claims to the contrary.
The bombshell dropped as Blumenthal, Connecticut's attorney general, seeks the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd.
Blumenthal arrived at his news conference to cheers from about 20 veterans, including Marines in red windbreakers, gathered in a show of support. He gave the thumbs-up sign as he approached the podium.
"This is nothing but dirty, cheap politics," Pasquale Battinelli, 77, an ex-marine who served during the Korean War, said moments before the new conference. "It's not fair what's being said about him. He never said he served in Vietnam. It's not fair given everything he's done for veterans."
In his new conference, Blumenthal repeatedly used the phrase "a few misplaced words" to defend himself against charges that he misled voters about his service in Vietnam. He said he enlisted in the Reserve after finding a listing in the phone book.
He said he got into the Marine Corps Reserve with "no special help, no special privileges."
He said he turned to the Marines because of long waiting lists for the other branches of the military. The Marine recruiter, he said, offered to put Blumenthal on a bus to basic training right away.
Supporters defended his record on veteran affairs.
"He has always been completely straightforward" about his military service, said Jean Risley, a chairwoman of the Connecticut Vietnam Veterans Memorial Inc. "I never once heard him say that he was in Vietnam."
Risley was quoted in the Times as recalling an emotional Blumenthal describe the abuse that he and other veterans received when they returned from the war.
She told ABCNews.com today that she was misquoted.
Blumenthal received five deferments between 1965 and 1970 and ultimately served stateside for six years in the Marine Corps Reserve, according to the New York Times. He was assigned to a unit that focused on fixing playgrounds and organizing Toys for Tots drives.
By avoiding the war, he was able to attend Harvard University, pursue graduate studies in England, serve as a special assistant to the Washington Post's publisher and work in the Nixon administration.
The Times report said Blumenthal, 64, addressed veterans' groups over the years without saying that his service never took him out of the United States. In 2008, speaking before a group in Shelton, Conn., he implied that he was among veterans who felt isolated and unwelcome when he returned from the war.
"I served during the Vietnam War," he said. "I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even the physical abuse."
Blumenthal is hardly the first public official to be accused of embellishing or distorting a military record.