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Mountjoy Campaign Misstated Navy Duty

Republican U.S. Senate candidate says claim of serving on the battleship Missouri was a mistake.

September 22, 2006|Paul Pringle | Times Staff Writer

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mountjoy has claimed in his campaign biography that he served aboard the battleship Missouri during the Korean War, but his military record shows no assignment on the famous vessel, The Times has found.

In an interview Thursday, Mountjoy acknowledged that he did not serve on the Missouri. Last week, when first asked about his record, he said his Missouri stint had been "very brief" and that he otherwise served on the U.S. heavy cruiser Bremerton, which has a less celebrated history.

He said later that he occasionally boarded the Missouri during the Korean conflict and was on the ship for "a couple of days at a time."

But his name does not appear on the ship's muster rolls for those years, according to a researcher engaged by The Times. Asked about this, Mountjoy said, "I would have never answered a roll on the Missouri" because he wasn't assigned to the ship.

He said he also spent a short time on the submarine Stickleback.

The statement about the Missouri was on Mountjoy's campaign website, alongside a photo of him as a young sailor. It read:

"After graduating from Monrovia-Arcadia-Duarte High School, Dick joined the Navy and served during the Korean War aboard the Battleship Missouri."

The claim also was featured in a film on the website.

Mountjoy, who is waging a longshot campaign against Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, blamed the "mistake" about his service on misinformation from an unknown source, dating back at least six years.

"I think it was just something that somebody picked up," Mountjoy said. "It didn't come from me."

Mountjoy said he had asked his campaign staff to remove the Missouri citation from the website several months ago and did not know why it had remained there.

He said he first noticed the error when it appeared in a tribute film that was shown at a party celebrating his retirement from the state Senate in 2000. It is that film, with the Missouri claim, that has been on his website.

Late Thursday, the campaign removed the Missouri reference from the site and replaced it with one to the Bremerton.

In response to a Times inquiry, the National Personnel Records Center said in a letter that Mountjoy's Navy Reserve record "does not reflect any service aboard the USS Missouri or the USS Stickleback."

The record confirms that the coauthor of Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative to withhold many government services from illegal immigrants, was on the Bremerton in the Korean combat zone in 1953.

The Missouri reference has appeared in news coverage of Mountjoy's campaign. His media director, Jeff Evans, and his campaign manager, Peggy Mew, said the candidate had mentioned the error to them after the retirement party. They said they did not know why it went uncorrected.

Mew said she assembled the biographical material for the film and "might have written the Missouri because it's a more well-known ship."

"What's the big thing here?" she said. "He was on that ship."

Nicknamed the "Mighty Mo," the Missouri is best known for hosting the formal surrender of the Japanese in World War II. It was in combat late in that war and during the Korean conflict. It also served in the Persian Gulf War.

The ship is now a memorial at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Paul Stillwell, who has written a book on the Missouri, said battleship service is a prestige assignment.

"We walk with an extra swagger," said Stillwell, who served on the battleship New Jersey.

Herb Fahr, membership chairman of the Missouri Veterans Assn., said the group was vigilant about questionable claims of service.

"We don't like it," Fahr said.

Cruisers such as the Bremerton are smaller than battleships. Mountjoy's military record showed that he served in combat on the Bremerton during the Korean War in 1953.

Mountjoy said he worked in the engine department, on boats that took crew members ashore to help set targets for the Bremerton's guns.

He said he preferred the size of the Bremerton and that his time on the Missouri was "long enough to know that it was too large a ship."

Mountjoy is campaigning for the Senate as a supporter of the Iraq war and a crackdown on illegal immigration, and calls himself a "moral" alternative to Feinstein. Unlike the incumbent, he opposes abortion rights and favors prayer in schools.

He faced no opposition in the June primary, but Feinstein holds commanding leads in fundraising and voter preference polls.

Feinstein spokesman Kam Kuwata said the Missouri flap raised enough doubts about Mountjoy's credibility that the challenger "is not qualified to serve the people of California."

Mountjoy served in the Assembly and state Senate from 1978 to 2000. He lost a Republican primary race for lieutenant governor in 1998.

A longtime darling of the Republican Party's conservative wing, Mountjoy is often described as the "father" of Proposition 187.

Voters approved the measure, but it was thrown out in a court challenge.

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