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Rumsfeld Apologizes for Recent Remarks on Military Draftees

By Vernon Loeb

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, responding to growing criticism for recent remarks about draftees adding “no value” to the U.S. military, offered a “full apology” Tuesday to veterans groups and their supporters on Capitol Hill.

“Hundreds of thousands of military draftees served over the years with great distinction and valor -- many being wounded and still others killed,” Rumsfeld said in a letter sent Tuesday night to the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America and other veterans organizations. “The last thing I would want to do would be to disparage the service of those draftees.”

Rumsfeld’s letter came in response to demands from those groups and lawmakers from both parties angered by his comment two weeks ago in response to a question about legislation calling for reinstituting the draft. In his remarks, Rumsfeld said he opposed the proposal, adding that draftees added “no value, no advantage really, to the United States Armed Services over any sustained period of time.”

Three leading Democrats who served in Vietnam, Sens. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and John Kerry, D-Mass., and Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., said in a letter to Rumsfeld Tuesday that “we are shocked, frankly, that you were apparently willing to dismiss the value of the service of millions of Americans.” The letter asked that he apologize to them and their families.

The Vietnam Veterans of America, the principal organization representing veterans from the war, also demanded an apology for what it called Rumsfeld’s “insulting” remarks. It distributed audio responses from veterans and the mother of one serviceman killed in action to several hundred radio stations across the United States.

The American Legion, in a letter to Rumsfeld posted on its website, asked the defense secretary for “a retraction and an apology to the families of those ‘draftees’ who served America with honor.”