[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/18/art.mccaincross.cnn.jpg caption="A still from McCain’s cross ad, which ran this winter."] (CNN) - John McCain’s campaign blasted critics who questioned the senator’s account of an incident during his time as a prisoner of war Monday, citing an account from his former fellow POW Orson Swindle and blaming the controversy on “the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd.”
During a presidential forum at Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church on Saturday, McCain told a story of a guard who wordlessly drew a cross in the dirt one Christmas, describing it as a moment that gave him strength.
Critics in the blogosphere said that McCain, who was released in 1973, had not mentioned the incident until shortly before his 2000 presidential bid, and had relayed it in the third person on at least one occasion. They also pointed to similarities between McCain’s account and a similar story in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, his account of life in the Soviet labor camp system.
McCain aide Michael Goldfarb, in a message posted on the campaign’s Web site Monday, said Swindle – now a campaign surrogate – told him the presumptive Republican nominee had related the story “’when we first moved in together [in captivity].’ That was in the summer of 1971, Swindle said, though ‘time blurred’ and he couldn't be sure,” wrote Goldfarb.
He also said that it was logical that Christians in both Russia and Vietnam might have used many of the same subtle signals during that era.
“It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman's memory of war from the comfort of mom's basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others,” he wrote.
“John McCain has often said he witnessed a thousand acts of bravery while he was imprisoned, and though not every one has been submitted into the public record, they are remembered by the men who were there (one such only recently reported by Karl Rove though it escaped mention in any of Senator McCain's books). But as Swindle said, this is a ‘desperate group of people trying to make something out of nothing.’”
In December, shortly before the primary season began, McCain's campaign used the story of the cross as the basis for a Christmas-themed campaign ad.