Arizona Veteran Leaders Aren’t Surprised By Trump’s 'Losers' And 'Suckers' Comments
Leaders in the Arizona veteran community had strong reactions to the report published in the Atlantic on Thursday that detailed comments President Donald Trump made about wounded, killed and captured troops in American wars.
The story, which was confirmed by the Associated Press, the Washington Post and Fox News, said that President Trump refused to attend a 2018 ceremony at a World War I cemetery in France.
“Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,” the president said, according to the article. The president also referred to the Marines killed in the battle of Belleau Wood as “suckers.”
The article also said Trump didn’t want wounded veterans and amputees marching in a military parade, saying “nobody wants to see that.”
For prominent Arizona veterans, the comments would be shocking — if any other elected leader said them. For Trump, though, it fits the pattern, says Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Iraq War veteran.
“Unfortunately it doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “This is a continuing story about Donald Trump, and it all began with how he treated John McCain many years ago.”
In July of 2015, more than a year before his nomination, Trump drew the ire of many in the political world for denigrating the Vietnam War service of Arizona Sen. John McCain. McCain, whose plane was shot down, spent more than five years as a prisoner of war.
“He’s a war hero because he was captured,” Trump said. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
After McCain’s death in 2018, Trump reportedly rejected support for a funeral, saying “that guy was a f---ing loser,” and “we’re not going to support that loser’s funeral.”
Connecting Trump’s public comments about McCain, as well Trump’s indifference to intelligence reports that Russian operatives paid Taliban fighters bounties to kill Americans, shows a pattern of disrespect for members of the military, Gallego said.
“The fact that he can’t separate himself and his narcissistic tendencies and understand that these men and women are there to serve their country, tells me that his decision making process is warped,” Gallego said. “Instead of doing things that favor the nation, when it comes to national security, he’s going to be more focused on things that favor him.”
Former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley is a lifelong Republican. He also served in Vietnam, where in addition to losing both his legs, he lost his best friend.
“Having been wounded myself, and having lost my best friend in Vietnam, and having seen hundreds of wounded veterans, and worked with them my entire life almost, It just hurt, deeply,” Romley said. “It was so un-American.”
Trump, who avoided serving in the Vietnam War by obtaining medical deferments, reportedly said that people who were drafted were too dumb to get out of it.
When Romley returned from Vietnam, he recalled the anti-war sentiment that evolved into anti-serviceman sentiment. He said that most Vietnam veterans, regardless of political opinion or their perspective on the war, can agree that their wartime service should be valued.
“The Vietnam veteran of today, their goal is to say that (negative sentiment) should never happen again,” Romley said. “Those that have gone and served and perhaps died, you can’t disrespect them again. The Vietnam veteran of today is turning very strongly against the Trump administration.”
Citing his own experience with the president, Mesa Republican Andy Biggs, who didn’t serve in the military, says he doesn’t believe the stories.
“It seems to me like a Russian collusion hoax,” Biggs said. “Once this blows over, you’re going to find out that there was just no there there.”
Sen. Martha McSally, an Air Force veteran, told the Arizona Republic that she viewed McCain’s service as heroic, but she didn’t comment on the stories.
“I have the deepest respect for Senator McCain, who is an American hero,” McSally said. “I am honored to be serving in his seat."
Mark Kelly, a Navy veteran and McSally’s competitor for McCain’s Senate seat, condemned the president’s words.
“The president's words about Senator McCain have always said far more about his own character than the senator's,” Kelly tweeted. “None of it will ever change what he means to the U.S. Navy, Arizona, our country or me. We remember him as a hero.”
Romley said he hopes these revelations are what gets people to realize Trump’s true nature, especially given previous comments about McCain and Army Cpt. Humayun Khan.
“Years ago, I would’ve thought that nobody would have let that go by without expressing serious concern,” Romley said. “Today, it just seems like everybody is in it for the politics versus the good of the country.”
Gallego offered high praise to the men and women he served with in Iraq.
"They're not losers," he said. "They're the best of America. The best that this country has ever produced. We're really lucky to have millions of men and women that step up, put aside their personal lives, their goals, to serve the country. The only suckers and losers are the people like Donald Trump who look at us that way."