Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), locked in an election battle with Democrat Tammy Duckworth -- who lost both legs and partial use of her arm in Iraq -- said she talks too much about her military service, something "true heroes" don't do.
Walsh's comment -- especially coming before the Fourth of July -- touched off a firestorm on Tuesday that spread beyond the 8th Congressional District in the northwest suburbs, where the two are running.
"Now I'm running against a woman who, I mean, my God, that's all she talks about. Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it's the last thing in the world they talk about. That's why we're so indebted and in awe of what they have done," Walsh said.
Duckworth Campaign Manager Kaitlin Fahey, in a statement, said "Walsh's comments insult those who sacrificed to make this country free. Tammy is proud of her over 20 years of service with the Army and her family's legacy of fighting for this country. We can't recognize our servicemen and women enough and ask that we keep them in our thoughts during this holiday week."
Walsh issued a statement in reply on Tuesday -- and did not back down on the point that he thinks Duckworth talks too much about her military service.
"Of course Tammy Duckworth is a hero," Walsh said. "I have called her a hero hundreds of times in the past four months. Just like every man and woman who has worn the uniform, her service demands -- demands -- our utmost respect. That's why I recognize our veterans at the beginning of every one of my public town halls. However, unlike most veterans I have had the honor to meet since my election to Congress, who rarely if ever talk about their service or the combat they've seen, that is darn near all of what Tammy Duckworth talks about."
Walsh is a freshman lawmaker known for his provocative remarks. He talked about Duckworth on Sunday at a town hall meeting in Elk Grove he hosted to discuss ObamaCare in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act.
The Duckworth campaign told me Tuesday Walsh was videotaped by a Duckworth intern at the town hall -- with the clip of him posted by the campaign on YouTube on Monday.
By Tuesday, Duckworth allies -- including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) -- a Vietnam War hero who found his record disparaged during his 2004 presidential bid -- seized on Walsh's remarks to rally to her defense.
"Unbelievable! Tammy Duckworth Swiftboated," said a fund-raising e-mail from Kerry -- a reference to his 2004 takedown by an anti-Kerry group called Swiftboat Veterans for Truth who, not liking his politics, attacked -- successfully -- his heroism.
Duckworth lost both legs and shattered an arm when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq in November 2004. She ran for Congress in 2006, was defeated and went on to run the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, and to become an Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs. She is also a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard.
Walsh set up his remarks about Duckworth by praising Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for what he saw as his reluctance to talk about his experiences as a war hero during his 2008 presidential campaign. However, McCain wrote a book, Faith of My Fathers, about his experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam--and used his military career and POW years to help define himself as he pursued a political career.