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A veteran’s view of Trump’s failure to honor war dead

Intelligencer Journal - 12/4/2018

“For extraordinary heroism while attached to the 6th Regiment, U.S. Marines, in actual conflict with the enemy and under fire during the advance on Bouresche, France, on 6 June 1918. In the hottest of the fighting when the Marines made their famous advance on Bouresche at the southern edge of Belleau Wood, Lt (j.g.). Osborne threw himself zealously into the work of rescuing the wounded. Extremely courageous in the performance of this perilous task, he was killed while carrying a wounded officer to a place of safety.”

Thus reads the Medal of Honor citation given posthumously to American Naval officer Weedon Edward Osborne for his actions during World War I.

On Saturday, Nov. 10, on a weekend meant to mark Veterans Day in the United States and the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day in France, President Donald Trump decided against visiting Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial, where Lt. Osborne and more than 2,000 others who fought in World War I are buried.

President Trump said rain caused the visibility to be too low for his helicopter to safely take him to the cemetery. As a former Army helicopter pilot, I will attest that poor weather frequently wreaks havoc on missions, and it would have been a terrible decision to fly the president under such conditions. But then Trump threw the Secret Service men and women who protect his life under the bus by saying they told him the cemetery was too far by car (it was 60 miles) and his visit would cause too much trouble for the French. Someone please tell me the last time Trump gave two hoots about anyone’s inconvenience, let alone that of Europeans.

There’s no way around it. Trump blew off an opportunity to pay his respects to a U.S. Medal of Honor recipient and 2,000 others in France because he didn’t feel like making the road trip. Lt. Weedon was killed trying to save a man’s life, but the commander in chief didn’t feel like sitting in a car for a few hours, and then spending a little time in the rain.

But that’s not even the half of it.

Two days later, on the official observance of Veterans Day, Trump was back in the U.S. but declined to visit Arlington National Cemetery, where more than 400,000 of our courageous war dead are buried, including nearly 400 Medal of Honor recipients, and where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located. Trump’s reason: some rain. Arlington is 2.3 miles from the White House. That’s the rough equivalent of walking 10 holes of golf (incidentally, there are photos of Trump playing golf in the rain).

On an Arlington National Cemetery website one can read the story of Pvt. Henry Johnson, who was awarded the Medal of Honor on June 2, 2015. “In May 1918, Johnson and a fellow service member were attacked by a German raiding party of approximately a dozen men. Johnson was already badly wounded when the other soldier was taken by the Germans. Johnson pursued the enemy and engaged them in hand-to-hand combat. Carrying only a knife, he saved his own life and the life of his fellow service member.”

So while wounded, Pvt. Johnson fought multiple German soldiers with a knife and prevailed. While in France, Trump saw some rain and retreated to his hotel room.

Our veterans deserve better than to be disregarded by the commander in chief on Veterans Day weekend. Out of three opportunities to honor their service, Trump took just one — visiting Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial last Sunday — while complaining about getting “drenched.” It’s perhaps not surprising: Trump had his own military service deferred not once, but five times. And he can’t even seem to fire staff members in person, preferring to do it via Twitter, Fox News and his wife Melania. (Apparently, the first lady now has the authority to fire a top deputy national security adviser — a first for this nation.)

The president and the first lady did visit the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. But in his nearly two years as president, Trump has yet to visit our troops overseas. As of late last week, he hadn’t even visited the troops he dispatched to our southern border in what retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey called a “political stunt.” Defense Secretary James Mattis, a man of integrity and honor, made that visit instead. We look forward to hearing what Mattis will say someday — perhaps after he is fired by the first lady — about the example the commander in chief has set for our junior noncommissioned and commissioned officers.

Alas, by the time most people read this column, Trump will have committed two or three other acts unimaginable for a president, and we’ll be focusing on those.

The POW-MIA flag is emblazoned with these words: “You are not forgotten.” This reminds us to never forget our servicemen and servicewomen who have been taken as prisoners of war or who are missing in action.

Who would have thought that on Veterans Day we would need to remind the president of the United States to not forget those buried in Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Arlington National Cemetery?

To all those whom Trump declined to honor, I’d say: You are not forgotten. To all those service members sent to our southern border — who likely will miss Thanksgiving at home with their families — you are not forgotten. To all veterans, deceased and living, you are not forgotten.

In two years, may you have a president — Republican or Democrat — who properly honors you both in word and deed.

Bryan T. Stinchfield, Ph.D., is a former Army officer and served in the U.S. intelligence community. He is an associate professor of organization studies and department chair of business, organizations and society at Franklin & Marshall College.



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