At the Democratic National Convention last week, Khizr Khan, father of a soldier who died in Iraq in 2004, spoke out against Donald Trump, and Trump, in turn, hit back, saying both that he knew sacrifice (since he had created jobs and built things) and also suggesting that Ghazala Khan remained silent during the speech because she wasn’t “allowed to have anything to say.”
Numerous veterans groups and veterans have taken Trump to task for his comments, although some continue to support him. Notably, Veterans of Foreign Wars released a statement saying, “to ridicule a Gold Star Mother is out of bounds.”
Another group, VoteVets, published a letter from Gold Star families demanding an apology. That letter was organized by Karen Meredith, a Gold Star mother, whose only child was a fourth generation officer in the Army, and was killed in Iraq a week before the Khans son.
“If he 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. “How would we have confidence in what he’s doing?”
She wanted to be clear that while a number of Gold Star families signed the letter, she (and the letter) does not represent all Gold Star families. But a number of them have grown quite close, because, she said, “we just all happen to be in this club that none of us wanted to join. It’s not something that you want anybody to understand.”
“I don’t understand how anybody can vote for Trump, and I know they would say the same of me and my candidate,” she said. “But especially veterans, he’s been so disrespectful of veterans [and] their sacrifices.”
Yet, there are veterans who support Trump.
Joseph Newton served in the 101st Airborne and insists that while he supports the dead, it’s not Trump’s fault that Captain Khan died, and so the attack on Trump is unwarranted.
“I feel for any of our military brothers and sisters that have fallen,” Newton said. “He’s acting like Trump is the one doing all this. Trump hasn’t even been in there to do anything yet, so I back Trump up 100 percent.”
Another veteran, Vince Harris, who served in the Gulf War, seemed displeased with Trump’s comments on the Khan’s and felt they weren’t wholly accurate. And yet, he said, “he brings it into the public eye. I feel I’d rather sort out the truth and pick it apart and have it being talked about, than to not talk about it all.”
“First and foremost, the thing that appeals to me about Trump is his willingness to speak and not be politically correct and say some things that people like myself and others that I know have been thinking and saying for a long time,” Harris said.
When asked about what those “things” were, he mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood ties Khan allegedly has, though the only people who have said that are firmly in the Trump camp.
Harris also thought the blowback against Trump for his sacrifice is overdone.
“I think the focus on extreme sacrifice often gets pigeon-holed on veterans,” Harris said. “For me it’s always been hard to say that just because loss of life is involved, that it’s a greater sacrifice than somebody who makes one where loss of life isn’t involved.”
Trump, in Harris’ eyes, would strengthen the military, replacing some of the aging fighter planes and having more “willingness to put the United States as a dominating force in the world.”
Another veteran, Norma Bishop, who was in active duty for 21 years, thinks exactly the opposite is true.
“We should all be working to defend this country,” Bishop said. “But we have someone who seems to be working to aid its adversaries, to tear down its military, to tear down every ounce of confidence and trust we have in the ability of our government to do anything at all.”
“This is an obligation we owe to them [the veterans],” Bishop said. “To be wise about our choice for the person we put in that position. We owe them so much—we owe them to be thoughtful and smart about who we put in the role of commander-in-chief.”