Introducing President Obama in Virginia Beach, retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), condemned Mitt Romney for failing to mention veterans or the military in his GOP convention speech.
The omission was all the more damning, Webb suggested, because Romney is of an age where he might have served in Vietnam but did not.
"If nothing else, at least mention some word of thanks and respect when a presidential candidate who is their generational peer makes a speech," said Webb, a former Navy secretary and decorated Marine who served in Vietnam. Romney was exempted from the draft, first as a student and then as a missionary.
"This was a time when every American male was eligible to be drafted. People made choices," Webb said. "Those among us who stepped forward to face the harsh unknowns did so with the belief that their service would be honored."
Webb also tied in Romney's much criticized remark that 47 percent of Americans believe they are "victims" who feel entitled to federal handouts, saying some of those benefits go to veterans.
"Those young Marines that I led have grown older now. All gave some. Some gave all. That’s not a culture of dependency," he said. "They paid. Some with their lives, some with their wounds, disabilities. Some with emotional scars. Some with lost opportunities. Not only did they pay, they are owed. They are owed."
Although veterans affairs is a common theme in the president's speeches, he hit the subject harder than usual Thursday.
"As Jim Webb so eloquently stated, when our troops take off their uniforms, we will serve them as well as they served us," Obama said when he took the stage. "No one who fights for this country should have to fight for a job or a roof over their heads when they come home."
The program, which drew wild cheers from the military-friendly audience, also presented a tacit contrast with Romney, who has done much less than Obama to reach out to veterans and who has criticized the president's withdrawal plans in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Romney's campaign hit back at Obama for not mentioning the looming automatic defense cuts passed in the congressional budget deal.
“President Obama’s failure to mention defense cuts today in Virginia Beach proves just how out of touch he is with the hundreds of thousands of military members, veterans and defense contractors who call the Commonwealth home," said Romney spokesman Curt Cashour.
Amy Gardner contributed to this report.