WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senator John McCain urged Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Monday to apologize to U.S. military families for saying prisoners of war are not heroes in his first direct response to remarks by Trump.
Trump drew a barrage of criticism over the weekend after telling a Republican forum he did not think McCain, a Navy fighter pilot imprisoned for more than five years in Hanoi after being shot down, was a hero because he was captured.
"He’s not a war hero," Trump said Saturday at a gathering of religious conservatives in Ames, Iowa. "He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured."
In an interview with MSNBC, McCain played down the personal attack and said he did not think Trump owed him an apology, but did owe one to the wider target of his remarks.
"I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving our country," McCain said.
The combative real estate mogul refused to apologize on Sunday for his remarks about McCain's war record despite a chorus of criticism from his own party, including calls from the other candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination for him to drop out of the race.
Trump also continued to criticize McCain for not doing enough to support fellow veterans.
McCain told MSNBC he has had a "flood of calls" from military veterans about Trump's remarks and "they are not happy."
"I think the point here is that there's so many men and some women who served and sacrificed and happened to be held prisoner," McCain said in the interview. "Somehow to denigrate that in any way is offensive, I think, to most of our veterans."
"It's just totally inappropriate for Mr. Trump to say that he doesn't like to be with people who are captured."
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey)