Former U.S. Marine Ilario Pantano Running Race Against Backdrop of Iraq Controversy

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Ilario Pantano sounds like the average Republican candidate vying for Congress.

In a polite, yet passionate tone, the self-described born-again Christian argues for repealing the health care bill and instilling more free market reforms in the United States.

But the 38-year-old Marine veteran's history sets him apart from his fellow candidates.

Just five years ago, Pantano was facing charges of premeditated murder, punishable by death. While serving in Iraq in 2004, then-2nd Lt. Pantano led a platoon that was called to raid a house suspected of hiding insurgents.

Pantano eventually stopped and killed two Iraqis who pulled out of the house in a car. He then placed a sign on their car's dashboard that read, "No better friend, no worse enemy."

Pantano claimed he acted in self-defense and there was substantial evidence the men were terrorists. The Marine who reported the case to his superiors said Pantano was agitated and wanted to teach the insurgents a lesson.

Pantano's battalion was officially on a peacekeeping mission, although at the height of the war, it was not uncommon for troops in such missions to be involved in combat operations.

Eventually, the charges were dropped but not before an admonishing by the investigating officer, who called Pantano's actions "morally and ethically wrong" and a "disgrace of the armed forces."

Five years later, the New York trader-turned-military man-turned deputy sheriff is running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and could soon be a new addition to the Republican lineup in Congress. Nationally, Democrats are attempting to use Pantano's record to question his legitimacy for Congress.

The outspoken critic of the Obama administration calls the controversy a non-issue.

"I don't need to defend my record. I was completely exonerated. I was given another command. I made the decision to resign [from the military] out of my own will, purely because I was concerned about the safety of my men and ultimately the safety of my family back at home," Pantano, who just Tuesday received a glowing endorsement from Sarah Palin, told ABC News.

"Anybody is entitled to their opinion," Pantano said of the officer's scathing report. "The case really is closed. I'm running for Congress. I'm not running to a run a platoon in Iraq in 2004."

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Pantano, author of "Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy," is one of 27 veterans running for Congress this election season. He represents a new breed of Iraq war alumni who will soon replace World War II combat veterans, only a handful of which now walk the halls of Congress.

But unlike their predecessors, many of these candidates have been mired in national scandals.

Allen West, a Republican candidate for Congress in Florida and a retired Army lieutenant colonel, faced allegations of improper detainee abuse in Iraq and was fined after a military hearing in 2003.

The 49-year-old Tea Party-backed candidate is currently leading in the polls.

Democrats have their share of controversial veterans also.

Alvin Greene, the Democratic Senate candidate from South Carolina, faces a pending felony charge that carries up to five years in prison.

The 32-year-old once-obscure candidate was charged with allegedly "disseminating, procuring or promoting obscenity" after being captured on a video showing "obscene photographs from a website" to a female victim on the University of South Carolina campus.

Even though some of these veterans have questionable records, experts say it's not a change from the norm and is not a reflection on the new generation of veterans running for Congress.

"You've got bad actors in just about any place," said retired Major Gen. David R. Bockel, executive director of the Reserve Officers Association.

The new breed of war veterans, in fact, reflect the same values as those distinguished World War II veterans who joined politics, like Presidents Nixon and Kennedy, others say.

"There is a long tradition of vets serving in politics all the way from the first president, President Washington to President Kennedy to Sens. Webb and McCain, President Bush Senior, George W. Bush, there have been a lot of veterans that continue to serve, and I don't think this generation is any different," said Tim Embree, legislative associate at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

At the same time, the new class of veterans entering politics is different because unlike their predecessors, they volunteered for service.

"These are a different class of military," Embree said. "These folks weren't drafted. ... Rank doesn't really matter because they're coming from different life experiences."

The number of veterans serving in Congress has declined in recent decades. In the Senate, only two World War II veterans remain -- Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, both Democrats from Hawaii.

"The number of folks actually serving in the military has been declining since the late 1980s since the peace dividend, the Berlin wall coming down under George H.W. Bush," Bockel said. "Less than one percent of the population actually serves in the military."

But as more veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars return home, experts say there's likely to be a surge once again in the number of veterans seeking public office.

There are more veterans seeking Congressional office this year than in recent election years.

Pantano hopes to add himself to the list of veterans serving in Congress, and he's not letting his own record get in the way or become an issue in the heated race.

"Americans don't want to get caught up in a lot of political nonsense, they want folks who're going to stick to their guns, and ultimately do the things that get the country moving again, not engage in petty political bickering," he told ABC News. "I think Tuesday's going to be very exciting for us and more importantly, it's going to be very exciting for Americans. God willing, we're going to take our country back."