ABC News’ Sunlen Miller reports: At a town hall with veterans to commemorate Memorial Day in Las Cruces, N.M., Sen. Barack Obama promised veterans that he will not let them down, and spoke about veterans’ sacrifices and the need for proper veterans’ benefits.
Outside of the town hall a small group of supporters of Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, had gathered with signs reading, "McCain: good for veterans because he is a veteran."
Still, Obama did not mention McCain’s name once during prepared remarks or during the town hall.
"One of the best ways that we can honor our fallen soldiers is to honor those who came back, who survived," Obama told the crowd. "And so, to all the veterans who are here, I am grateful to your service and as president of the United States I will not let you down."
Obama used his grandparents’ story of World War II to demonstrate his understanding of veterans issues, but at the same time he reminded the crowd that he, unlike McCain, never served in the military.
"My grandfather marched in Patton’s Army, but I cannot know what it is to walk into battle like so many of you," he said. "My grandmother worked on a bomber assembly line, but I cannot know what it is for a family to sacrifice like so many of yours have.
"These are things I cannot know. But there are also some things that I do know," he said, refering to patriotism and pride in America’s soldiers.
Obama said one of the gifts his grandfather gave him were his dog tags from the war.
"He actually didn’t talk much about his service, you know, there was a real sense of obviously great pride and I remember one of the gifts that he gave me when I was still a teenager was his dog tags that he had still kept, but he didn’t like talking about those stories," Obama said. "But, you know, although my grandfather never talked about it much, you know, he sure was proud of it."
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, campaigning with Obama for the day, used his introduction of the Illinois senator to remind the crowd that Obama supported Sen. Jim Webb’s GI bill for veterans, which the Senate passed on Thursday.
Obama spoke about his support of the bill, which McCain opposed, during the town hall meeting.
"We should make sure that today’s veterans get the same benefit that my grandfather got when he came back from World War II," he said. "It was a good investment not only for him, but it was a good investment for the country, built our middle class. So we’re gonna make sure that that get’s passed. Because we gotta have outstanding educational opportunities for our veterans when they come home."
On Saturday night, when he was returning from Puerto Rico, Obama told reporters he is not ceding credibility on veterans issues to McCain just because he has not served in the military.
"I will cede to no one the ability to talk about veterans’ issues," he said. "John McCain will have to decide whether he thinks that the current level of benefits is sufficient. If he does, then that’s a substantive debate that we’ll have in November."
Later today, Obama and Richardson will lay a wreath at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Las Cruces to commemorate the day.