My husband, Larry Zander, who served with the Army’s 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1968, is not a sucker. Neither are the many other local Vietnam veterans I know.
My father fought with the Army in Korea. Two uncles battled in World War II — one in the air, the other on the sea. A great-uncle fought in World War I with the Army Expeditionary Forces in France.
President Donald Trump referred to those who perished on the green fields of France as “losers,” according to an article published last week in The Atlantic magazine and corroborated by The Associated Press, The Washington Post, and even Jennifer Griffin of Fox News. The comments, which the president has disavowed, arose when he canceled a scheduled trip to honor WWI veterans buried at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018. He cited poor weather conditions, but his counterparts from France, Germany and Canada ventured into the wind and rain to pay their respects to servicemen and mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. According to the Atlantic article, Trump didn’t want his hair disheveled by the rain, described those buried in the cemetery as “losers,” and referred to the more than 1,800 U.S. Marines killed at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.
These men were among 53,402 Americans who lost their lives in service to their country during World War I. So did the 405,399 who died during World War II, 36,574 who perished during the Korean War, 58,220 killed during the Vietnam War, 383 during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the more than 7,000 who have died in the global War on Terror.
It breaks my heart to hear that the U.S. Commander in Chief referred to the sacrifices of these men and women in derogatory terms. As John 15:13 states, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Military men and women who answer the nation’s call to serve sacrifice time, effort, earning power, and sometimes their lives for their friends and for strangers, even those people who would call them losers. According to the Atlantic, Trump can’t understand why they would do it.
People who argue Trump didn’t say those things need look no farther than the video tapes where he calls the late Sen. John McCain a “loser” and ridicules him for having been captured and tortured for five years. McCain was a hero, but not according to Trump, who received five deferments from military service for bone spurs and described his attempt to avoid sexually transmitted diseases as his personal Vietnam. McCain, whose father was an admiral at the time, was given the opportunity to leave early, but he refused, saying prisoners must be released in the order they were captured.
When Trump criticized McCain in 2015, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, then a presidential contender, tweeted, “At the heart of (Trump’s) statement is a lack of respect for those who have served — a disqualifying characteristic to be president.” I agreed with Graham at the time, although he has since morphed into a President Trump enabler and sycophant.
I wholeheartedly supported McCain when he ran for president, although some hardcore Republicans disliked him for reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats.
According to the Atlantic, after McCain’s death, Trump became furious when he saw flags lowered to half-staff, insisting the White House wouldn’t support “that loser’s funeral.”
He also described the late President George H.W. Bush, a Navy pilot shot down by the Japanese in WWII, as a “loser.”
Shortly before he shipped out to Vietnam, my husband served as pallbearer in Whatcom County for his childhood friend and classmate, Donald Nelson, who was killed in Vietnam Dec. 14, 1967. He lost friends while in Vietnam, men who gave their lives serving their country, many of them draftees with no choice, caught in firefights in a war they perhaps never understood. But they answered their country’s call.
In 1995, sitting at my parents’ dining room table, the conversation turned to comments by Donna Shalala, Health and Human Services Secretary under President Bill Clinton, who disparaged Vietnam veterans when she said in part, “We sent not the best and the brightest to Vietnam.”
A relative at the table looked at Larry and said, “Don’t take this personally, but anyone who went to Vietnam was a fool.”
Words like those stick. A quarter of a century later, they echo in my mind, even though we’ve maintained a relationship with him for years. And yes, he happens to be a Trump supporter.
I’ve been a Republican most of my life, in large part because Democrats supported abortion and most Republicans opposed it. I’m prolife, so I had only one party.
Then along came Donald Trump, a longtime Democrat who denigrates anyone who disagrees with him, disparages women and members of the military, defined wounded veterans as something people wouldn’t want to see in a parade, and somehow receives a pass for despicable behavior because he runs for office as a Republican.
I shook my head, switched off the Fox News channel, and opened my eyes to what’s happening in the world.
Thank God we’ve seen abortion rates drop since their peak in the 1980s. Numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show abortions have dropped from 24 per 1,000 women between 15 and 44 during the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations to 16.2 under Clinton, 16 under Bush 43, and 12.5 under Obama. That’s a trend I hope we continue to see, no matter who is president.
A Facebook friend shared a post written by a man who met Trump while waiting at Dover Air Force Base to receive his beautiful wife’s remains after she was killed in Syria in January 2019. The man praised the president for his support and kindness, which is wonderful. But Trump has traveled to Dover, the transfer point for the remains of fallen service members, only four times during his presidency. We’ve lost nearly 80 soldiers in the Iraq war since 2016.
No matter what is reported between now and Election Day, I realize many of the president’s supporters will remain adamant in their defense of the man. As he said himself during a 2015 campaign rally in Iowa while running for election, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Sadly, that’s true. His enablers defend the indefensible.
While I know all veterans aren’t saints, I believe the person in charge of sending our military men and women into harm’s way — including our grandson in the Navy — should respect the people who put on those uniforms.
Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.