HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - After Presidential candidate Donald Trump's controversial remarks questioning whether POW, and now senator, John McCain is a war hero, local veterans are also taking offense.
"He's not a war hero," Trump said. "He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, I have to tell you."
Col. Leo Thorsness (USAF Ret.) has been awarded a Medal of Honor for his service. He was captured and kept for six years after his plane was shot down over Vietnam, he says. He knows what it takes to survive as a prisoner of war, because he was one. To him, Trump's sentiment is more than just questioning McCain's heroism, but a "dumb" remark that shows his own lack of military experience or understanding.
"I'll admit, it's not hard to become a prisoner of war, especially with the amount of planes being shot down... in that heavily defended airspace above Hanoi," he said, "but what is hard is what comes after you [become] a prisoner." He later added, "No one goes in wanting to be a POW."
He suffered much brutality, he explains, at the hands of his captors in the six years he spent there.
"Sometimes you said you couldn't last another hour. Sometimes you couldn't last another minute," he said. "I've had friends tortured to death. It's hard to think about..."
Some of his years in enemy hands, he also spent captive with McCain.
"John was gallant when he went off to fight in the war, we all were. John was a patriot when he got shot down. John was brave and tough when he was captured, like all the other POW's," said Thorsness, "and it was wrong of Trump to do that."
It's the POW's and veterans, and their sacrifices, that Thorsness says allow people like Trump the freedom to speak freely. But he says these particular opinions are where Trump's opinions are wrong.
"What's not connecting is he thinks if you become a POW, if you're captured, you must have failed," said Thorsness. "Our war went on even though we were captured."
What filled him with light in those dark times, he recalls, was his own patriotism. He said that only grew when he looked into his captors' eyes.
"They want you to make propaganda tapes condemning your country and all that stuff, and we never did," he said.
"I think all the POW's, when we came home, we were more red, white, and blue than we left," he commented. "We lived in the bowels of Communism, right in the middle of the system, and the longer we were there the more we realized, 'Man, we're lucky to be born in America.'"
He says what should come next in the war of words between the two high-profile Republicans Trump and Sen. McCain, is an apology from Trump.
"If he apologized sincerely, he'd be a bigger man," said Thorsness.