Washington: Senator John McCain urged Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Monday to apologise to US military families for saying prisoners of war are not heroes, in his first direct response to Trump`s remarks.
Trump drew a barrage of criticism over the weekend after telling a Republican forum he did not think McCain, a Navy fighter pilot who was held prisoner for more than five years during the Vietnam War, was a hero because he was captured.
The real estate mogul has refused to apologise for the remarks, despite criticism from his own party, including calls from rival candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination for him to drop out of the race.
McCain played down the personal attack in an interview with MSNBC. He said he did not think Trump owed him an apology, but "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."
The longtime Arizona senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee, who himself has been called fiery and combative, added: "The great honour of my life was to serve in the company of heroes. I`m not a hero."
Trump was addressing a gathering of religious conservatives in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday, when the moderator referred to McCain as a war hero.
"He`s not a war hero," Trump retorted. "He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren`t captured."
Trump softened his comments at a news conference later on Saturday, saying: "If a person is captured, they are a hero as far as I`m concerned."
In an excerpt from an interview on Fox News` "The O`Reilly Factor" airing on Monday night, Trump said: "I have respect for Senator McCain. I used to like him a lot.
"I supported him. I raised a lot of money for his campaign against President Obama and certainly if there was a misunderstanding, I would totally take that back," Trump said of his Iowa comments. "But, hopefully, I said it correctly and certainly, shortly thereafter, I said it correctly."
The White House weighed in on Monday. Spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama continued to have political differences with the man he defeated in the 2008 election, "but those debates have not reduced his appreciation for Senator McCain`s remarkable service to the country."