Perhaps the most poignant words spoken at last week’s Democratic National Convention came from a heartbroken dad who’d lost his son in Iraq in service to Old Glory.
Yet, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s scheme to bar Muslims from entering the nation for which Khizr Khan’s son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, sacrificed his life only magnified his loss.
Khan took aim at the Donald, firing both barrels. He questioned whether Trump was acquainted with the Constitution. And he blasted him for having “sacrificed nothing.”
Predictably, Trump returned fire. He criticized Khan and wrongly implied his wife Ghazala remained mute during his speech because she’d been muzzled by Islam’s misogyny.
Those barbs didn’t sit well with other Gold Star clans — families who have lost a son, daughter or other loved one in combat — or other veterans. Rebukes rained like napalm.
“Election year or not, the [Veterans of Foreign Wars] will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression,” scolded new VFW chief Brian Duffy.
In a letter to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, Democratic congressional veterans declared the “profound disrespect Mr. Trump has shown toward Gold Star parents is a new low.”
Emphasis on NEW.
As despicable as was Trump’s scorched-earth self-defense, the Republican standard-bearer has displayed a remarkable penchant for both denigrating U.S. armed forces and a profound cluelessness for the universal sacrifices military families make.
On Wednesday, Trump staged a cease-fire of sorts. He laid off the Khans while invading Duval County — Florida’s most populous military landing spot with nearly 100,000 veterans — to enlist veterans mustered at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
Yet, even as he tried to make nice with Gold Star families with whom he met before the rally, his rear flank remained exposed by the duplicitous contempt he’s shown those who’ve served.
Last July, Trump crossed the Maginot Line of decorum in deriding Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former Navy pilot who braved imprisonment and torture for some 66 months in the “Hanoi Hilton,” North Vietnam’s infamous hellhole.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump declared. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Egregious comments that South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham rebuked in a tweet: “If there was ever any doubt that @realDonaldTrump should not be our commander in chief, this stupid statement should end all doubt.” He added: “At the heart of @realDonaldTrump statement is a lack of respect for those who have served — a disqualifying characteristic to be president.”
Yet with less than 100 days before voters potentially usher him into the White House — and mere days after Khan’s wrath — Trump was on the stump Tuesday, winning minds and collecting Purple Hearts.
At a Virginia rally, a retired lieutenant colonel presented Trump with the Purple Heart (or possibly a replica) he received after being wounded in action in Iraq in 2007.
“And I said, ‘Man, that’s like big stuff. I always wanted to get the Purple Heart,’” Trump said. “This was much easier.”
True. Tough to receive a Purple Heart the traditional way, with five student and medical deferments during the Vietnam era.
Rather than a bloodstained medal, someone should have pinned a scarlet T — for tone deaf — on his lapel.
“You dodged the draft,” Khizr Khan said on CNN of Trump. “You did not serve. You should have pinned that back to that veteran’s chest and should have hugged him and thanked him.”
Truth be told, I never served either. The closest I came was a home visit from West Point recruiters. The closest I’ve come to standing in harm’s way was sporting my Pittsburgh Steelers jersey on Baltimore Ravens turf.
Yet, I’ve come close to American wounded warriors while covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the Orlando Sentinel.
I spoke with spouses for whom the “worse” part of their wedding vows materialized with the traumatic brain injuries with which their Johnnies limped home.
I watched moms of Medal of Honor recipients tear up with a sobering mix of pride and anguish recounting the soaring sense of duty that drove their fallen heroes.
And I watched the gritty struggle of warriors at the Naval Medical Center San Diego from whom war had stolen limbs and the lives they’d known, as they labored to get back on their sometimes artificial feet.
Military service isn’t a prerequisite for the White House. However, an empathetic, holistic understanding and respect for what service members and their families forfeit ought to be.
Disqualifying credentials that should classify Trump’s fitness to serve as commander in chief as 4-F.
Former award-winning Orlando Sentinel columnist Darryl E. Owens now serves as director of communication at Beacon College in Leesburg, the first higher education institution accredited to award bachelor’s degrees exclusively to students with learning disabilities, ADHD and other learning differences. Views expressed are his own.