In a telephone interview last Friday only days before The New York Times published a report alleging that he had engaged in a pattern of dishonestly describing his military service record,  Attorney General Richard Blumenthal talked about how his time in the Marine Reserves helped ready him for his campaign for the U.S. Senate.

For the record, Blumenthal told CTNewsJunkie he did not go to Vietnam during the war, but rather that he served during the Vietnam War era with a New Haven-based Marine Corps Reserve Unit. He said he completed boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina and was assigned to the 6th Motor Transport from 1970 to 1976.

How he said it is pertinent because of the tenor of the Times’ story, and in this case his language was clear and accurate despite what the Times has reported about his remarks in 2008 and the deferments he received during the years before he enlisted. News of that report and the reaction that ensued pre-empted CTNewsJunkie’s plans to publish the original story. Republican candidate Linda McMahon has since taken responsibility for providing the research and video for the Times story, and also has revealed the entire video, including Blumenthal’s early introduction of himself as having served during the Vietnam era—language that stands to accurately identify his record. Meanwhile a Times editor is standing by the decision to publish the report without informing readers of the source of the video or the research, and at least one prominent source in the story reportedly says she was misquoted by the Times.

Nevertheless, at least one poll conducted since the publication of the Times report indicates a sudden drop in Blumenthal’s approval rating, putting him only 3 percentage points ahead of McMahon, the Republican frontrunner. And the report has generated a firestorm of both condemnation and defense of Blumenthal by political opponents and supporters throughout the state.

But how did Blumenthal, a 64-year-old Democrat, describe his service during last Friday’s interview? He talked about how the Marine Corps helped toughen him for his Senate campaign, adding that he is no stranger to tough fights.

“Anybody who has been through Marine Corps training is tougher and more tenacious as an individual,” Blumenthal said. “Let me say this, as I go around the state listening to people, they are facing really tough times. They feel forgotten by Washington. And they want someone to fight for them. They want and need a fighter. Which is what my Marine Corps experience has helped me to do. Serving in any military branch teaches dedication, perseverance, discipline, and above all teamwork. What people want is someone who is tough and tenacious.”

John Droney, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party and current vice chairman of the Connecticut State Veterans Memorial Inc., said Blumenthal’s Marine training is an asset for the Senate battle.

“He served in the Marines. I think he’s tough enough. People are desperate to find something wrong with him,” said Droney.

A few days later, the idea that there was “something wrong with him” exploded across the Internet, forcing Blumenthal to hold a news conference Tuesday to address the accusation that he lied about serving in Vietnam. He conceded that he “misspoke,” and that he regretted it, but said he would “not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.”

The Marine Corps was real, brutal

While Blumenthal’s resume is extensive—including an early stint in the Nixon White House—it is perhaps his decision to enlist for six years in the Marine Corps Reserves that seems most unlikely for an upper-middle-class youth who was headed to Yale University. Blumenthal said he was the first in his family to serve in the Marine Corps.

Was he an anomaly there? That depends upon your perspective but Blumenthal said his first bunkmate in the Corps came from an entirely different background and had been given a choice of “serving three years in prison for auto theft or enlisting in the Marines for three years.”

Blumenthal described boot camp as challenging and grueling.

“Sometimes people were hit, were manhandled by drill instructors,” he said. “It was against the rules, but they did it. In those days they did a lot of things that were against the rules.”

Physical punishment was frequent, he said. If a recruit wasn’t in “exactly the right position on the rifle range or failed to give the right salute or be in formation exactly right,” he said the drill sergeant would give the man something he wouldn’t forget.

One time, he said, he was caught talking in the mess hall. “I said something to another recruit, the drill instructor took me outside and hit me in the solar plexus.” Another time, while on the rifle range, Blumenthal said he was again punished for a minor infraction and was forced to put his right pinkie finger in the chamber of his weapon while the bolt snapped forward and injured him.
In 1976, after six years with his unit, he said he was honorably discharged as a sergeant.

His son, Matthew, is now the second Blumenthal to join the Marine Corps. Last December, he was promoted to 2nd lieutenant.