Is John McCain a War Hero?

The senator's five years as a prisoner of war have been widely viewed as heroic. But as he prepares a White House bid, a small group of detractors is determined to expose him as a wartime traitor

The presidential campaign will certainly have to endure the continued jabs from the likes of Ted Sampley.

How is the McCain campaign handling it?

"Ignoring it," Salter says. "Occasionally, we get calls from reporters who've . . . talked to somebody at the [Ted Sampley's tee shirt] booth and, you know, McCain's the Manchurian Candidate. But we've always been able to make our case and nobody's ever done anything with it."

Mark Saltveit, editor of The Skeleton Closet, a self-described Web scandal sheet that catalogues reported misdeeds of presidential candidates, says he didn't know quite what to do when the POW/MIA activists started sending him anti-McCain e-mails.

Saltveit, a 37-year-old San Franciscan, admits his own non-veteran status made him hesitant to give the claims much credence, but he put up a couple links to the POW/MIA sites, to cover his bases.

The Skeleton Closet references rumors of George W. Bush's drug dalliances and Al Gore's hypocrisy on the tobacco issue, but Saltveit isn't sure he has the stomach for claims John McCain wasn't tortured in Vietnam.

"How more viciously could you attack someone who's been through what he's been through?" he asks.

McCain's POW status has become so ingrained in his political identity that the senator has taken to lampooning it. A featured speaker at the Gridiron Club's annual dinner on March 20 (a night where newsmakers poke fun at themselves), McCain went to the podium with the lapels of his tuxedo covered with medals and introduced himself as an "incredibly self-effacing guy" and a "genuine war hero."

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