[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/26/art.mccainmemday1.cnn.jpg caption="John McCain said veterans deserve better treatment."]
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (CNN) – John McCain spent Memorial Day focusing on his own military history, the war in Iraq and the debate over veterans’ benefits.
“The sacrifices made by veterans deserve to be memorialized in something more lasting than marble or bronze or in the fleeting effect of a politician's speeches,” McCain told veterans and their families gathered under a cloudless sky at the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial. “Your valor and devotion to duty have earned your country's abiding concern for your welfare. And when our government forgets to honor our debts to you, it is a stain upon America's honor.”
The presumptive Republican nominee made no mention of Barack Obama. McCain drew fire from the Illinois senator last week for his opposition to a GI Bill proposed by fellow veteran Sen. Jim Webb. The measure passed the Senate last week.
In a tersely worded statement last week, McCain responded, “I take a backseat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans. And I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did.”
On Monday, McCain said again that he felt Webb’s bill unfairly provides the same benefits to troops who had only served one tour of duty as it did to those who serve longer.
McCain, along with Sens. Lindsey Graham and Richard Burr, has proposed veterans’ benefits legislation that works on a sliding scale. The plan would provide incentives for the enlisted - especially noncommissioned officers - to remain longer in a military that has struggled under the strain of two simultaneous conflicts, in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
“It would be easier politically for me to have joined Sen. Webb in offering his legislation,” McCain said Monday, adding later that “I intend to deserve the honor [of the presidency] if I am fortunate to receive it, even if it means I must take politically unpopular positions at times and disagree with people for whom I have the highest respect and affection.”
McCain closed his remarks saying he recognizes the country is growing tired of the war and the mistakes that were made, “But we cannot react to those mistakes by embracing a course of action that will be an even greater mistake, a mistake of colossal historical proportions.”
“We must give General Petraeus and the Americans he has the honor to command adequate time to salvage from the wreckage of our past mistakes a measure of stability for Iraq and the Middle East, and a more secure future for the American people,” said McCain.
McCain attends a fundraiser in Albuquerque Monday afternoon before flying to Colorado, where he will deliver a speech on foreign policy Tuesday morning.