NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- The head of a national Latvian group suspended from George Bush's presidential campaign amid reports he fought for German Nazis during World War II angrily denies the allegations, saying they made him sick.
'I want that my name is cleared. I want people to know this is not true,' Akselis Mangulis told The Eagle Tribune newspaper of Lawrence, Mass., Friday. 'I am sick. I am sick ... I have no hatred. It is unbelievable.'
The Bush campaign Thursday suspended Mangulis, 67, who chairs Latvians for Bush and the American Latvian Association, so he and his family could deal -- away from the campaign -- with allegations he was linked to the Nazi SS, said Bush campaign spokesman Mark Goodin.
Mangulis was the only Latvian in the Bush campaign's Coalition of American Nationalities. Seven of the coalition's original 88 members resigned or were dropped in September following published reports linking them to fascist or anti-Semitic organizations.
'We decided it unilaterally. We informed him, and he and his family are in sync with the decision,' Goodin said.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Friday that Mangulis, an architect, was a member of the Latvian Legion during WWII.
The newspaper said the Nazis organized the Latvian Legion in 1943 as an auxilary of the Waffen SS from police battalions in Latvia that had been under German command, according to Andrew Ezergailis, a history professor at Ithaca College and an expert on the subject.
Mangulis told the Eagle Tribune he was forced to join the Latvian Legion under threat of death.
'There was a great struggle at the time,' he told the newspaper. 'All girls is taken against their will to labor in German if we don't fight. We say we will fight. The Latvian Legion was formed at that time.'
Mangulis said the Germans warned the Latvian men, 'If you don't fight, if you run, you will be shot. If they couldn't find you, punish you, they shoot your family.'
He said he was drafted in 1943 at age 19, served as a radio operator and was sent to the Russian front. Mangulis said he lost two fingers of his left hand to a Russan machine gunner in 1945, adding, 'that was the end of my war.'
Mangulis said he had little to do with the Nazis during his service because his unit was primarily made up of Latvians, and that he had no contact with the SS and saw no concentration camps.
He denied a New York Times report Friday that he had resigned as chairman of Latvians for Bush because of the Nazi allegations and said he would continue to campaign for Bush.
'Politics,' he said. 'It is all politics.'