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S.C. Rep. Gulf War Past Questioned

February 19, 1998 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham’s military service record has been called into question because the Republican congressman, who never went overseas, calls himself as a Gulf War veteran.

Graham’s Internet web site biography lists him as an Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran, although he never got closer to the war than McEntire Air National Guard Base near Columbia where he was a military lawyer.

Graham, who said Wednesday he never intended to mislead people, processed wills for soldiers deploying to the Gulf and helped their family members with legal issues.

Under federal law, Graham has veteran status, along with tens of thousands of other regulars and reservists in support functions who never had front-line duty.

An article in Wednesday’s edition of The Hill, a weekly Washington journal devoted to congressional coverage, raised the question with the front-page headline, ``Graham’s Gulf War claim disputed by military experts.″

``I never portrayed myself as a combatant,″ the second-term congressman said while on his way to Bosnia to inspect U.S. Army peacekeeping operations for the House National Security Committee.

Graham, who is up for re-election this year in South Carolina’s 3rd District, said the article may have been politically motivated because of his impending appointment to the House Judiciary Committee, which would initiate any impeachment proceedings against President Clinton arising from the Whitewater and White House sex scandals.

``I think the political games have begun,″ he said.

In a statement released by his office Wednesday, Graham said, ``It makes me mad that some people would try to denigrate my military service record and that of thousands of others who served stateside during the war. I was called up and served on active duty ... I left my business, my home and friends to perform the duties I was trained for just as the veterans who served in past conflicts have done.″

The Hill quoted Angelo Perri, a retired Army colonel and Gulf War veteran, who said ``he’s claiming to be somewhere he wasn’t.″

Dickie Dickson of Belton served 22 years in the U.S. Navy, including time during the Gulf War when he taught firefighting to soldiers deploying overseas. He said he thinks Graham’s claims can be misconstrued.

``I don’t consider myself a Gulf War veteran because I wasn’t over there,″ Dickson said.

Dave Autry, a Washington, D.C.-based spokesman for Disabled American Veterans, said Graham should refer to himself as a ``Gulf War-era veteran.″

But in a December 1997 memo to federal personnel directors, Marylou Lindholm of the Office of Personnel Management, reminded that anyone who served during the Gulf War for even one day, regardless of location, is entitled to veterans’ preference.