Veterans slam Trump for reportedly disparaging military service members

President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference at the White House in Washington, on Sept. 4, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference at the White House in Washington, on Sept. 4, 2020.ANNA MONEYMAKER/NYT

Prominent veterans Friday called out President Trump’s “contempt” for the military, as Trump denied reports that he has repeatedly disparaged service members captured or killed in action.

The reports say Trump canceled a visit to a French cemetery for American servicemen killed in World War I, describing the graveyard as “filled with losers,” and complained after Senator John McCain’s death that flags had been lowered for the “loser” who spent five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

The allegations were first reported by The Atlantic, attributing the information to anonymous sources, and later partially confirmed by the Associated Press and The Washington Post, also using unnamed sources.


Trump said Friday that the magazine article by editor Jeffrey Goldberg was “a fake story.”

“People that have given their lives in the military, to me they’re heroes,” Trump said in the Oval Office.

Veterans said the reports have the ring of truth because they are consistent with many public statements from Trump, who attacked McCain’s service record while running for office and publicly mocked Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq.

“I don’t think that any veteran who’s paid attention to Donald Trump over the past five years is surprised at all,” said Representative Seth Moulton, a Salem Democrat and Marine combat veteran.

“You might think that veterans would be furious, but to be honest, as a veteran, I knew that this is who Donald Trump is,” Moulton said. “He didn’t dodge the draft because he loved our country or our troops.”

The president received five draft deferments during the Vietnam War, including four education deferments while he was in college and a fifth for a diagnosis of bone spurs after graduation.

Moulton, who mounted a campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination last year but dropped out four months later, recalled Trump’s mocking reaction.


“I remember when Trump called me a coward when I got out of the presidential race, and you might think I was offended by that, [but] I just laughed, because it’s such a joke when the coward in chief tries to put that label on somebody else,” he said.

Coleman Nee, a Marine Corps veteran who served as Massachusetts secretary of veterans’ services from 2011 to 2015, said he believed the reports, even though “it’s really difficult to believe anyone would say or feel these things.”

“If even only some of it’s true, it’s still pretty disgusting,” Nee said.

Nee recalled “having served in the role of secretary for the Commonwealth, during a time when myself and Governor [Deval] Patrick were attending many, many funerals and wakes of men and women that gave the ultimate sacrifice for this country in Iraq and Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

“To think that somebody would look at these individuals and their character and their motivations and judge them like that, in a way that’s transactional, is disappointing from any American, especially the commander in chief,” he said.

Jack Downing, president of Soldier On, a Northampton-based nonprofit that aids homeless veterans, said some veterans he’s spoken to who previously supported Trump felt betrayed.

“With the work I do with homeless veterans, you learn that these men and women went into the military because they believed in this country,” he said.


“Given the office that he holds, I think it’s very sad and very selfish of him not to acknowledge the great work that these men and women have done,” he said. “He tears at part of the fabric of the military that’s very important: the need to be respected.”

Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, was critical of what he called “Trump’s contempt for those who have died in the course of duty.

“He is incapable of empathy. He cannot grasp the concept of self-sacrifice. He is a moral cripple,” Bacevich, who is also a professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University, said in an e-mail. “For that reason, I do not take seriously anything he says.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.