Like so many World War II veterans, my dad never talked about what happened to him in the war, but we kids knew that something very serious went on over there in the Philippines where he was an Army captain. He had a special drawer in his tall chest that he sometimes allowed us to explore, and in that drawer were his medals, including a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He had been wounded in the war, and he was a hero — but aside from letting us examine the medals and some fading photos and sometimes play with his old steel helmet, he didn’t want to talk about it. He carried those silent scars of war to his grave.
Dad might not be so silent if he were here today to comment on the shameful scene that unfolded yesterday at a rally in Virginia for Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump. A veteran stepped forward and handed Mr. Trump a medal, with the veteran indicating he wanted Mr. Trump to have his Purple Heart, which is a medal for wounds suffered in combat. Mr. Trump pocketed the medal while exclaiming, “Man, that’s like big stuff. I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.”
Treating a Purple Heart like some charm coming out of a gumball machine is so offensive it’s hard to find words to respond. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue, this is an American issue. Even more seriously, the fact that Mr. Trump did not seem remotely respectful of the meaning of the Purple Heart is deeply disturbing for someone who aspires to be the commander-in-chief. Then again, he had five draft deferments during the Vietnam War so perhaps he never considered the meaning of such a medal. A more thoughtful, respectful response to the veteran would have been to say, “Thank you, but I could not possibly take this medal, you and other veterans earned the Purple Heart through your sacrifice, we must reverence the meaning of this medal and you should wear it proudly.” But, no. This is a man who already announced to the world that his “sacrifice” of building a business was equivalent to a soldier giving his life for this country.
Dad was as staunchly Republican as they come, and a true proud American patriot who loved his country and brooked absolutely no opposition to supporting what he saw as American values. He was aghast that some of his children turned out to be Democrats. (Sigh.) But I do think he’d be profoundly saddened by what’s going on this year on the national political scene. And more, he’d be truly outraged that anyone, let alone a candidate for the highest office in the land, would show such contempt for veterans, their families and the real meaning of the Purple Heart and all the scars of war it represents on behalf of the people of this great nation. Given this level of provocation, he might have broken his silence on the true horrors of war and what it really means to serve our country with courage and commitment.