Veterans and veteran groups have stepped up their rebuke of Trump for his continued attacks on the family of a U.S. Muslim soldier killed in Iraq; his pitiful acceptance Tuesday of a veteran’s Purple Heart medal, which he “always wanted”; and the surfacing of detailed reports that he dodged the draft five times under questionable circumstances.
In a sharply worded statement by the nonpartisan Veterans of Foreign Wars, Brian Duffy, the newly elected commander-in-chief, said, “Election year or not, the VFW will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression.”
Gold Star families are those who have lost loved ones in combat.
The statement from the VFW, which consists of 1.7 million members, said, “Trump has a history of lashing out after being attacked, but to ridicule a Gold Star Mother is out-of-bounds. There are certain sacrosanct subjects that no amount of wordsmithing can repair once crossed. Giving one’s life to nation is the greatest sacrifice, followed closely by all Gold Star families, who have a right to make their voices heard.”
A letter sent to Trump, signed by a bipartisan group consisting of more than 40 veterans, family members of individuals killed in combat, a veteran serving in Congress and a former diplomat, tersely told the Republican presidential nominee, “Your statements are unacceptable, especially from someone seeking to serve as Commander in Chief.”
In the letter, the group said it was “writing as a matter of honor and not as a matter of politics,” and that, “as Republican, Democrat, and Independent military combat veterans along with Gold Star families, we ask that you demonstrate the character demanded of the office that you seek and apologize for what you’ve said.”
The Washington Post interviewed signers of the letter, who further admonished Trump:
“I think this situation speaks quite well to Trump’s blatant lack of fitness for office,” said James Waters, a Navy SEAL and former White House aide under George W. Bush. Waters said he is a Republican, but is not voting for Trump.
Ryan Sparks, a Marine combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the Post Trump’s “level of language [is] unacceptable,” while fellow Marine combat veteran Zach Iscol, who served in Iraq, said Trump “bullies a lot of people. You do not bully a Gold Star family.”
In a separate open letter penned by the group VoteVets, several Gold Star families told Trump, “Ours is a sacrifice you will never know. Ours is a sacrifice we would never want you to know,” and went on to say, “You are not just attacking us, you are cheapening the sacrifice made by those we lost. You are minimizing the risk our service members make for all of us. This goes beyond politics. It is about a sense of decency. That kind [of] decency you mock as ‘political correctness.'”
The VoteVets letter was organized by Karen Meredith, whose son and only child a fourth generation Army officer was killed in Iraq.
“If [Trump] doesn’t understand the sacrifice that a family makes losing their loved one when they’re serving the country, then how can he possibly lead those same soldiers” Meredith said in an interview with Salon. “How would we have confidence in what he’s doing”
In a separate interview, Meredith said, “For him to attack a Gold Star family and not understand the grief just validated my feelings toward Mr. Trump as an unfeeling, empty person.”
No One Should Want a Purple Heart
On Tuesday during a rally in Virginia a veteran, Lt. Col. Louis Dorfman, gave Trump a Purple Heart medal he had received in an effort to show his support of Trump.
While the medal is only given to service members who are wounded or killed, Trump told the audience, “I’ve always wanted to get the real Purple Heart. This was much easier.”
That statement garnered immediate condemnation on several levels, including the fact that Trump did not understand the meaning of the medal, as well as new reports detailing his own draft deferments.
Illinois Congresswoman and Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth who lost both of her legs and suffered other injuries in combat tweeted a photo of herself in the hospital, saying, “This is how one usually looks when you are awarded the Purple Heart. Nothing easy about it.”
Tammy Duckworth (@TammyforIL) August 2, 2016
Sean Barney, another veteran wounded in Iraq who is currently running for Congress in Delaware, posted a picture on Facebook with his own medal, saying, “no one should ever ‘want’ to get a Purple Heart.”
“As someone who fought for our country in Iraq, was injured, and was awarded a Purple Heart, I can tell you, no one should ever ‘want’ to get a Purple Heart. Again and again, Donald Trump has proven that he is unfit to be the Commander in Chief of our armed forces. As Khizr Khan poignantly argued, Donald Trump has not sacrificed for this country and he does not understand duty to any cause other than himself,” he wrote.
Mike Coffman, a veteran and Republican congressman from Colorado, said in a statement: “Having served in Iraq, I’m deeply offended when Donald Trump fails to honor the sacrifices of all of our brave soldiers who were lost in that war.”
John Bircher, spokesman for Military Order of the Purple Heart, said in a statement that while a veteran is entitled to give away his or her Purple Heart, “for someone to have a Purple Heart, it’s an act of stolen valor. No one who isn’t entitled to the Purple Heart valor should have one. I would hope that anyone who receives a Purple Heart medal for any other reason understands its importance and meaning, and would not do anything with it that would in any way denigrate its special meaning for those who have received it.”
In a non-scientific poll on the Military Times website that asked readers whether Trump should have made the comment about having “always wanted to get the Purple Heart,” nearly 80 percent of the more than 6,000 votes by Wednesday afternoon responded, “No, he was disrespecting recipients’ sacrifice,” while a little over 20 percent said, “Yes, he was showing respect for our troops.”
Arizona Sen. John McCain, who serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, this week released a statement saying Trump had “disparaged a fallen soldier’s parents,” and “While our Party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”
Trump’sClash with Vets Not New
Trump sparked the ire of veterans last year when he mocked McCain for getting shot down and captured during the Vietnam War and becoming a prisoner of war. Trump said McCain was “not a war hero,” adding, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Trump has since been criticized for continued controversial statements and actions regarding service members. During his campaign he held fundraisers for veterans organizations but did not actually donate the money to the veterans groups until he was called out by news organizations. He has also called the U.S. military a “disaster” and most recently attacked retired Marine Gen. John Allen, who spoke at the Democratic convention, for failing to defeat ISIS.
Trump has also repeatedly compared serving in combat to his own “personal Vietnam” of having to avoid sexually transmitted diseases while dating in New York in the 1980s.
And his lack of service in Vietnam has also been called into question. According to a New York Times report, despite a seemingly unblemished health record, Trump obtained a medical deferment and four additional deferments for education.
“He stood 6 feet 2 inches with an athletic build; had played football, tennis and squash; and was taking up golf. His medical history was unblemished, aside from a routine appendectomy when he was 10,” according to the New York Times. “But after he graduated from college in the spring of 1968, making him eligible to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, he received a diagnosis that would change his path: bone spurs in his heels.”
The diagnosis, the Times said, exempted him from military service that about 300,000 men did undergo.
According to the Times, Trump “also asserted that it was ‘ultimately’ the luck of a high draft lottery number rather than the medical deferment that kept him out of the war. But his Selective Service records, obtained from the National Archives, suggest otherwise.”