WASHINGTON (AFP) - John McCain said Monday that property mogul and White House hopeful Donald Trump should apologise to veterans after he dismissed the US senator's military record because he was taken prisoner.
Republican primary candidate Trump sparked outrage at the weekend when he appeared to suggest that a serviceman who was captured could not be a real hero, in reference to McCain's time in a Vietnamese prison.
Many rallied to McCain's defense, but on Monday the defeated former presidential candidate downplayed the attack on his own record, while defending those he served with.
"Those who inspired us to do things that we otherwise wouldn't have been capable of doing, those are the people that I think he owes an apology to," McCain said Monday morning on MSNBC.
The senator, an influential Republican foreign policy hawk, said it was wrong to call into question someone's military record because they were captured.
"I think the point here is that there are so many men and some women who served and sacrificed and happened to be held prisoner and somehow to denigrate that in anyway, their service, I think is offensive to most of our veterans," he said.
McCain was responding for the first time since the notoriously outspoken Trump's astonishing attack.
The 78-year-old decorated aviator was shot down, captured, tortured and spent five years in prison camp during the Vietnam war.
"He's not a war hero," Trump told a political gathering in Iowa on Saturday. "He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK?" Trump is known for his off-the-cuff and provocative statements, but his latest on McCain sparked a firestorm of bipartisan condemnation.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, a Democrat, lashed out at the comment, as did former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Republican.
For his part, Trump again refused to back down from his remarks, saying he has been unfairly portrayed by the media.
"The media has done such a false number as usual," Trump said in an interview on NBC.
Trump said the press hasn't presented his quotes in context, stressing that he said McCain was a war hero numerous times and insisting he was attacking his post-war political record.
"Well I'm not a fan of John McCain, he's done a terrible job for the vets," Trump said.
"What I do have problems with is he called 15,000 people that showed up for me to speak in Phoenix, he called them crazies because they want to stop illegal immigration." he said.
The eccentric billionaire's remarks have sparked controversy before, in particular with attacks on Mexican immigrants that offended many of the voters that Republicans will need to court before next year's race.
But his brash style is also part of the reason he has risen in the polls, bring him near the top of a very crowded Republican field.