New Bush Campaign Ad Touts Support from Medal of Honor Recipients

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush pauses as he speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland. (AP photo)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush pauses as he speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland. (AP photo)

Jeb Bush's presidential campaign has released a video boasting the endorsements of four Medal of Honor recipients who claim that he's the one candidate who understands the military and will be able to lead the country.

The four veterans -- three from the Vietnam War and one from the war in Afghanistan -- are among a dozen Medal of Honor recipients now backing Bush, the former Florida governor, brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush.

"This nation hungers for leadership," retired Marine Col. Jay Vargas, who earned his medal for combat in Vietnam in 1968, says in the video. "We've almost gone backwards, where we should be going forward, and I think Jeb Bush will push it forward."

The Bush campaign released its list of Medal of Honor recipient supporters on Aug. 17, but only this week broadcast a video featuring some of the veterans.

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Candidates seeking to show or shore up national security bona fides or highlight their patriotism with the help of national heroes is nothing new, though for Bush the endorsements from the military heroes comes after months of criticism from leading GOP contender Donald Trump as a "low energy person" not capable of standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin or any other challenger to U.S. policies abroad.

Retired Army Master Sgt. Leroy Petry, whose earned the medal for his actions in Afghanistan's Paktia Province in 2008, offers on screen that: "Jeb Bush is ready to take the role of commander-in-chief and make the hard decisions to push us into the future."

Retired Air Force Col. Leo Thorsness, awarded the medal for air combat over North Vietnam, called Bush "someone who believes in those serving in uniform." In addition to serving as an F-105 pilot during the war Thorsness spent just over five years as a prisoner of war.

Though the endorsements are intended to champion Bush over any of his rivals in the 2016 race, the only criticism at anyone in particular is directed against President Obama, a lame duck wrapping up his second term.

About midway through the ad retired Marine Maj. Gen. James Livingston, who earned the nation's highest award for combat valor in Vietnam, appears at first to be directing a barb at GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, stating the presidency "is not a reality show. This is serious business."

Trump, a real estate magnate with properties around the world, has gained additional fame in recent years as the creator of "Celebrity Apprentice," a reality TV show that pits teams of celebrities against each other in starting and running a business.

But then a photo of Obama appears in the Bush ad as Livingston continues: "This is about the livelihood of our kids and grandkids. This commander-in-chief requires training wheels."

With the exception of Petry and former Marine Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, who earned his medal from combat in 2010 in Afghanistan, the other medal recipients backing Bush earned their awards in Vietnam.

All 10 also were among 41 Medal of Honor recipients who endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for President in 2012.

Doug Sterner, creator of the online database of valor awards of American service members now maintained by Military Times newspapers, said it's not unusual to see Medal of Honor recipients endorse a candidate.

"Or even campaign for them or serve as veteran advisors," he said.

"[They] are U.S. citizens, just like you and me. The only difference is they received the Medal of Honor and because of that we sometimes put them in a glass house," Sterner said. "But there's no reason they cannot come out and … campaign for the candidate of their choice."

The only exception, he said, would be a Medal of Honor recipient who is still on active duty.

"There are some limitations on someone still in uniform," he said. "But once they're a civilian, for all practical intents and purposes -- above and beyond the respect to the award and to their accomplishments -- they should be just like the rest of us."

Peter Collier, author of "The Medal of Honor: A History of Service Above and Beyond," said the award "is not a gag order in terms of individual political activity."

"I know some of [these men] and I know they're politically conscious and concerned about the direction of the country," he said. "Some think the country is in a dire situation, that the military is in a dire situation."

Some recipients were involved in previous presidential campaigns and some may have even waded into "swift boat" effort to derail then-Sen. John Kerry's bid for the presidency in 2004, Collier said.

For example, retired Air Force Col. George "Bud" Day, a Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient and former prisoner of war, joined the Swift Vets and POWs for the Truth group, which campaigned against Kerry, questioning his awards and criticizing him for his anti-war activities upon his return home.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at

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