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Tears and Talk of War's Cost as McCain Bus Rolls Through Mississippi

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, wife Cindy, second from left, and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., speak to Rachel Lee, right, aboard the "Straight Talk Express" during McCain's service to America campaign tour, Monday, March 31, 2008, in Meridian, Miss. (AP.)

By Michael D. Shear
MERIDIAN, Miss. -- If Sen. John McCain needed another reminder of the tragedy of the Iraq war he supports, he got it as he rode in his Straight Talk bus here.

For almost 20 minutes, McCain sat on the bus with Rachel Lee, a fourth grade teacher whose Marine son was killed by an IED in Iraq last year, while serving in al-Anbar province.

McCain listened and asked a few questions as Lee told the story of her son, Dustin. She said her son was killed by an explosive device as he was coming out of a building. He was two months shy of his 21st birthday, she said.

A German shepherd, Lex, that was trained as an explosive-detecting dog with Dustin's unit in Iraq and was with him when he died, sat next to Lee in the bus, his head on her thigh. McCain officials said Lex was wounded in the blast and given an honorary Purple Heart.

"I just want you to know that I'm very honored, not because you're running for president but because you are a veteran, and everything that you've been through," Lee told McCain. "My family is military all the way down too, and our mission now in Dustin's honor is to visit soldiers at the hospitals, visit veterans, because I think that's what we can given back."

Lee's story prompted McCain's wife, Cindy, to cry through much of the ride. McCain at one point said, "We have a son in the Marines too," but then quickly turned back to questions about Dustin, noting that he does not speak about his son in front of reporters. After McCain made the comment about his son, several aides said they hoped reporters would keep the remark off the record.

Campaign aides said Lee worked with the military to bring the dog back to the United States after her son died.

"Once we got Lex, everybody started to heal," Rachel Lee said. "Because we can look in Lex's eyes and see his [Dustin's] spirit -- because I know how much he loved this dog."

By Web Politics Editor  |  March 31, 2008; 4:06 PM ET
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