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Tammy Duckworth calls crewmen who helped her heroes

CHARLOTTE NC - SEPTEMBER 04:  Illinois nominee for Congress Tammy Duckworth speaks during day one Democratic National ConventiTime Warner

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 04: Illinois nominee for Congress Tammy Duckworth speaks during day one of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 4, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC that will run through September 7, will nominate U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Updated: October 6, 2012 1:58PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With the aid of a cane, wounded veteran Tammy Duckworth walked out onto the stage of the Democratic National Convention using her two prosthetic legs Tuesday night, then told the nation that others were the heroes:

The crew members who pulled her to safety after her helicopter was shot down in the Iraq War.

“In that moment, my survival — and the survival of my entire crew — depended on all of us pulling together,” Duckworth said. “And even though they were wounded themselves, and insurgents were nearby, they refused to leave a fallen comrade behind. Their heroism is why I’m alive today.”

Duckworth’s personal account of losing her legs while copiloting a Blackhawk helicopter in Iraq eight years ago proved to act as a compelling narrative the first night of the convention, winning the 8th Congressional District candidate three standing ovations.

The crowd jumped to its feet as Duckworth took the stage.

“On November 12th, 2004, I was copiloting my Blackhawk north of Baghdad when we started taking enemy fire. A rocket-propelled grenade hit our helicopter, exploding in my lap, ripping off one leg, crushing the other, and tearing my right arm apart,” she said. “But I kept trying to fly until I passed out.”

Duckworth, an Army veteran, said she owed her life to her crew.

When she told the crowd: “Their heroism is why I’m alive today,” the audience jumped to its feet and erupted into a roar of applause, then began chanting “USA! USA! USA!” briefly interrupting her remarks.

Duckworth’s address wove in a personal tale of her life growing up in a military family and how together the family endured the roughest of financial times.

“Thank God for the food stamps, public education and Pell grants that helped me finish high school and college,” she said. “In time, we pulled through.”

She also spoke of veterans issues, and touted Illinois as leading the nation when it came to those concerns. Duckworth, the former assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs under President Barack Obama and the onetime director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, is in a tough battle for the 8th Congressional District, facing Republican Tea Party incumbent Joe Walsh, of McHenry County.

Walsh has cast Duckworth as an insider and criticized her for traveling to Charlotte, accusing her of ducking opportunities to debate him. Walsh did not attend last week’s Republican convention in Tampa. “I’m not sure that he was invited to his,” Duckworth shot back at him in an interview Tuesday.

“Ms. Duckworth has continued to show more interest in rubbing elbows with big name party insiders, then staying home and tackling the tough issues facing voters in the district,” Walsh said in a statement on Tuesday. “It has become abundantly clear that at this point the only debate Ms. Duckworth is actually interested in having is which outfit she’ll be wearing for her big speech.”

Early in the day, Duckworth, in a wheelchair, was wearing a yellow suit jacket and her usual protective sleeve over one of her prosthetic legs. The sleeve is in the design of the American flag.

Walsh ribbed Duckworth’s speech after it concluded.

“Ms. Duckworth thanked God repeatedly for the existence of government programs like food stamps,” Walsh said in a statement. “A record 46 million Americans are now on food stamps. That’s not greatness — that’s decline.”

Walsh grabbed national attention this July, when, at a campaign event, he questioned Duckworth’s heroism, instead holding up Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, as a true war hero. Walsh praised McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, for his modesty about his ordeal. “Now I’m running against a woman who, I mean — my God — that’s all she talks about,” Walsh said. “Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about.”

Duckworth, a major in the Illinois Army National Guard, was honored with the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, and the Combat Action Badge for her actions as an assistant operations officer.

Earlier Tuesday, in a morning address to the Illinois delegation, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) highlighted the Duckworth-Walsh race as among the biggest in the state this November.

“Her opponent, I believe, is an embarrassment to the United States Congress and to the Republican party,” Schakowsky said of Walsh. “We can win this race. Joe Walsh is really an accidental member of the house of Representatives, winning by only 200 votes.”

Schakowsky said: “we have a better district now,” referring to the congressional remap, redrawn favorably to the Democrats.

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