Saluting our veterans — but not their commander



July 18, 2015. That’s the day I lost all respect for Donald Trump.

That’s the day when Trump, campaigning for president in Iowa, told an audience in Ames that Senator John McCain was not a war hero. Trump insinuated that prisoners of war like McCain were losers. “I like people who weren’t captured,” he told the Family Leadership Conference.

McCain spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam — two of them in solitary confinement — suffering injuries from repeated torture that he endured the rest of his life. For that and a lifetime of subsequent public service, he was slandered by Donald Trump.

Don’t take my word for it. Here are what some fellow Republicans said at the time.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a close friend of McCain’s, said, “If there was ever any doubt that Donald Trump should not be our commander in chief, this stupid statement should end all doubt.” He added: “At the heart of Donald Trump’s statement is a lack of respect for those who have served — a disqualifying characteristic to be president.”

Graham is now Trump’s biggest supporter in the Senate.

“Senator John McCain is an American hero and all POWs deserve our nation’s highest debt of gratitude. Donald Trump’s comments are disgraceful,” said former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “As a fellow veteran I respect Senator John McCain because he volunteered to serve his country. I cannot say the same about Mr. Trump,” Perry added. He then called for Trump to drop out of the race.

Until Trump won the election. Then Perry accepted a position as Secretary of Energy in Trump’s cabinet.

I am still baffled why Republicans chose this hero-basher as their leader when there were so many other honorable candidates for president in 2016.

I am reminded of this because this week we honored veterans like John McCain. Trump, of course, is famous for avoiding military service by claiming bogus bone spurs in his foot. He had the gall to speak at a Veterans Day ceremony Monday in New York, as if he actually meant what his speech writers told him to say. He was booed.

Donald Trump is unlikeable for many reasons, but his insult to prisoners of war that they are essentially “losers” is unforgivable for me.

I did not serve in Vietnam, but at least I did not duck the draft like Trump did. My lottery number was such that I was not called. But I did not ask my dad to pay off an unscrupulous doctor to gin up a fake medical report.

Trump’s father also avoided military service during World War II. He was too busy making money in New York real estate to be bothered. But my dad, Pat Cullen, did. The young man left his business and his family back in Whittemore to volunteer after Pearl Harbor, serving the cause of freedom in North Africa and Italy. My father-in-law, Dr. Justin Tolan, put his dental practice in Pocahontas on hold while he headed into the Battle of the Bulge. And my uncle Tommy Murray, the pride of Bancroft, paid the ultimate price when he was gunned down by a sniper in the Philippines. I hope President Trump doesn’t consider my Uncle Tommy a loser because he was killed in action.

So this week I salute all veterans, whether they were prisoners of war or clerks at Fort Knox. They’re all heroes to me.

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