MERIDIAN, Idaho – Pressed by two of his opponents to explain why he never served in the military, GOP Senate candidate Jim Risch, Idaho’s current lieutenant governor, said Tuesday that an ulcer kept him from serving in the Vietnam War.
“I had an ongoing ulcer, and they didn’t want me,” Risch told about 120 people at a Meridian Chamber of Commerce luncheon candidate forum. “I went into public service as a deputy prosecutor. Certainly that isn’t – I wouldn’t consider that as the same as a veteran, but nonetheless it was public service.”
Risch’s comments came after independent candidate Rex Rammell said Risch “ducked going to war,” and Democratic candidate Larry LaRocco, who served in the U.S. Army in Germany during the Vietnam War, noted that he’s the only veteran among the five candidates running for Idaho’s open U.S. Senate seat.
“For 50 years we’ve sent a veteran to the U.S. Senate, and I think we should do that again,” LaRocco said, “so that I can be there to understand and help the veterans that have served so bravely.”
Rammell said, “I support the military 100 percent. I’d have made a good warrior, by the way – if I could’ve went to the military, I would have.” Rammell, who is 47, was too young to serve in the Vietnam era.
“I think Larry brings up a valid point with Jim – by all rights he ducked going to war when he should’ve been there,” Rammell said. “He avoided going to war when Larry went. I would have gone had I been asked. This is a valid point that you need to think about.”
Members of the audience, which had initially winced at Rammell’s harsh comment toward Risch, shifted in their seats; one man muttered, “That’s a good point.”
Risch, when it was his turn to speak, said, “Let me talk just a little bit about military service. In 1968, some important things happened – No. 1, Vicki and I fell in love. We also decided that we’d get married and start a family. We also decided that I would serve my country before we started a family, so I went down and I enlisted. I was told that I could get a commission since I had a college degree, I could apply for a commission. I declined that and enlisted as an infantryman, and I was turned down for health reasons. I had an ongoing ulcer, and they didn’t want me.”
LaRocco, who served as a captain in the Army, lost three fellow soldiers to a car bombing by the Baader-Meinhof gang in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1972.
LaRocco, Risch and Rammell joined Libertarian candidate Kent Marmon and independent Pro-Life, formerly Marvin Richardson, at the candidate forum, the last match-up among the five before Tuesday’s election.
During the forum:
•Risch touted his endorsements from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business.
•LaRocco quoted from a Risch campaign ad while touting his own service in Congress in the early 1990s, saying, “ ‘Liberal Larry LaRocco’ helped balance the budget and that is the truth.”
•Rammell said that his relatively young age meant he could serve in the Senate for “24 to 30 years” while the others wouldn’t likely serve long enough to build up much seniority.
•And Marmon asked, “Don’t you think the two parties have had enough time to straighten things out?”
The five candidates also sparred over health care, the economy and the war in Iraq.
LaRocco came out slugging in his opening remarks, noting that it was his 10th debate against Rammell, but that Risch had declined to participate in all but three of the head-to-head forums, and skipped the traditional live debate on public television.
“You not only ducked the debate, Jim, but you missed that war,” LaRocco declared. “I was in the Army for three years during the Vietnam War.”