“And they who for their country die shall fill an honored grave, for glory lights the soldier’s tomb, and beauty weeps the brave.” –American poet Joseph Rodman Drake
With headstones as far as the eye can see, the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial in France sits at the foot of Belleau Wood. It guards the graves of 2,289 Americans, including 1,800 Marines who lost their lives 102 years ago during a deadly and bloody battle that “alongside the Battles of Fallujah, Khe Sanh, Chosin, and Iwo Jima, occupies a hallowed place in U.S. Marine Corps lore and history.”
In April 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron presented the Trump White House with an oak sapling from Belleau Wood, where, Macron said, “the blood [of Americans] was spilled to defend France.”
Two months later, on June 18, the President of the United States, while in Paris, had the opportunity to travel to Belleau Wood and pay his respects to the service members who made the ultimate sacrifice during that battle.
In an article about that hallowed ground, the American Battle Monuments Commission provides easy instructions for travel from Paris to the cemetery (about 50 miles east of Paris) via car and via train. Of course, the President could also travel there via all-weather military helicopter.
One French chauffeur-services provider estimates the drive to take 1 hour and 15 minutes. That is, without dozens of secret service and French Gendarmerie vehicles efficiently clearing the route for the American president.
However, on that day, a steady rain was falling over Paris and the president canceled the visit blaming the rain for the decision, claiming that “’the helicopter couldn’t fly’ and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there.”
In a scathing article, Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic writes that neither claim is true.
“Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead…” Goldberg writes.
Even more shocking, Goldberg quotes Trump saying, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers” and, in a separate conversation during the same trip, Trump refers “to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as ‘suckers’ for getting killed.”
Trump has angrily denied that he called fallen soldiers “losers” and “suckers,” just as he denies other allegations about disparaging comments he has made about our military.
They include denials about disgusting comments Americans, with their own eyes and ears, have seen and heard the president make about Vietnam War hero and Prisoner of War Senator John McCain.
The Atlantic also reveals for the first-time other disgraceful comments Trump is alleged to have made when McCain died.
“We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral,” Trump is alleged to have said, “and he became furious, according to witnesses, when he saw flags lowered to half-staff. ‘What are we doing that for? Guy was a loser,’” according to the article.
And, reports The Atlantic, when Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2017, standing with then-secretary of homeland security John Kelly by the grave of Kelly’s son — a Marine Corps first lieutenant killed in 2010 in Afghanistan — Trump turned to young Kelly’s father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”
Finally, The Atlantic reports that, during a planning meeting for a 2018 military parade, Trump “asked his staff not to include wounded veterans, on grounds that spectators would feel uncomfortable in the presence of amputees.” ‘Nobody wants to see that,” Trump is alleged to have said.*
Willing to swear “on anything,” Trump denies everything, calling the sources “lowlifes and liars,” excitedly adding, “There is nobody that respects them more…What animal would say such a thing?”
Americans might give Trump the benefit of the doubt…
IF the president had not uttered more than 20,000 demonstrable false or misleading statements during his presidency.
IF Trump had not consistently and cavalierly presented the military with the choice of supporting and defending the Constitution or swearing blind loyalty to him.
IF the American people had not seen and heard him insult, vilify, vengefully attack — even persecute — dozens of military service members and veterans, heroes and wounded warriors, including decorated, combat-tested flag rank officers, for speaking truth to power, for following their conscience.
IF he had not openly berated the Gold Star parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
IF he had not downplayed the seriousness of blast brain injuries suffered by our troops during an Iranian attack by describing them as “headaches and a couple of other things.”
IF Trump had not callously caused grief to the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, who died in an operation in Niger, by telling her: “He knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt.”
IF the commander in chief had not falsely claimed to have called “virtually all” of the families of service members killed, only to — months later — “rush-ship” condolence letters.
IF he had not disparaged war veterans by suggesting that those who suffer from PTSD aren’t strong and can’t handle it.
On the other hand, Trump has “generously” offered clemency to accused and convicted war criminals.
Goldberg attempts to explain Trump’s lack of understanding of – even contempt for– concepts such a heroism, patriotism, service, sacrifice, or just the simple notion of selfless volunteerism.
The “explanations” range from the well-known transactional, materialistic philosophy of Trump: “…anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation… talented people who don’t pursue riches are ‘losers,’” to what appears to be “Trump’s pathological fear of appearing to look like a ‘sucker’ himself” as in losing one’s life, being wounded or captured in service of one’s country.
Trump’s even earlier disdain for the military is well documented. He dodged the draft during the Vietnam War by “procuring” a medical deferment because of alleged bone spurs in his feet.
It is also apparent according to revelations by family members that Trump threatened to disown one of his own sons if he joined the military and, in a separate account, that “Trump included a provision in a prenuptial agreement that payments to one of his wives would cease if one of his daughters enlisted in the military.”
As Goldberg so accurately observes, “Trump’s understanding of heroism has not evolved since he became president.”
I have had the honor, the privilege and the reward of serving my adopted country for 20 years, proudly in both the enlisted and commissioned ranks, under six presidents — Republican and Democrat.
Never once did I have the feeling that my commander in chief did not have my back, that he did not value my service, that he did not appreciate the minor sacrifices my family and I endured or, especially, that he did not mourn the even bigger sacrifices, including the ultimate, made by so many others. It is what motivated us, it is what kept us going through thick and thin, it is what truly made America great.
Perhaps, these latest, sordid revelations about this aberration we have acting as commander in chief will be forgotten once again as other “bigger and better” scandals take the limelight.
If so, we will have failed all those serving today — and yesterday.
If so, the shame and the ignominious consequences will be on us.
* Fox News is reported to have confirmed some of the “shocking details from the bombshell report in The Atlantic.”
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer who has had the honor, the privilege, and the reward of serving his adopted country for 20 years proudly in both the enlisted and commissioned ranks, under six presidents – Republican and Democratic. Not once did he have the feeling that his commander in chief did not have his back, did not value his service, did not appreciate the minor sacrifices his family and he endured. In particular, never once the thought even occurred that, one day, a President of the United States would denigrate the troops and their service… would call those who did not return from battle “losers” and “suckers.”