August 1, 2016, Washington Post
NPQ has, for some time, been covering Donald Trump’s charitable and campaign related activities involving veterans organizations. As readers may remember, we started covering these as far back as September of last year and have followed the trail through his January 28th fundraising event for veterans organizations and its disorganized six-month long aftermath before a good part of the money was actually distributed.
But where all of that activity arguably indicated a careless use of veterans’ issues for political campaigning, his behavior with the Gold Star Khan Family was a step too far for a number of nonprofit military support organizations which have spoken out in protest. Khzir Kahn, of course, spoke at the Democratic National Convention, expressing his concerns about the prospect of Trump’s presidency and its effect on the safety of the military. His standing to do so was unassailable, as the father of Captain Humayan Khan, a fallen soldier killed in Iraq. In fact, as a coalition of military groups said in a letter released to the Washington Post, “as with so many families across the United States, the loss and sacrifice of the Khan family has earned them the right to ask hard questions of all those seeking elected office, whether at the local, state or national level.”
Trump’s reaction was personal and conducted on Twitter. He lashed back at both Khzir Kahn and his wife Ghazala who had stood silent during her husband’s speech – calling Khan’s comments a “vicious attack” against him. Eventually he also questioned whether Ghazala was allowed to speak and defended his own “sacrifices” in business.
According to the Washington Post the coalition of groups, breaking their usual practice of staying away from politics, issued the joint letter calling for all political candidates to “demonstrate the character demanded of the offices they seek, and respect not only those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom but also their families who have borne such a loss to protect our liberties.” Bonnie Carroll, the president and founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), said this marks the first time they have ever needed to “defend the honor” of a family who lost someone in combat.
“We work in a sacred space, and we’ve never been challenged this way,” said Carroll, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year for her work with military families. “We’ve never had a reason to come together like this, and I think that alone speaks volumes.” The letter was issued by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Gold Star Wives, Got Your 6, the Travis Manion Foundation, Blue Star Families, and Give an Hour. This represents a cross-section of military support organizations.
The coalition of nonprofits wrote their letter without naming the offending presidential nominee.
Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and chief executive of IAVA, said that the issue has “infuriated the military and veterans community like nothing I have ever seen before, and the response to what is happening is commensurate.”
Their letter includes a quote from President Abraham Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow who lost five sons during the Civil War. Here is Lincoln’s letter in its entirety, if only to serve as a touchstone for the integrity, morality, and the greatness of heart the office of president requires of its occupant.
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Executive Mansion, Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
There is no shortage of objective commentary on Trump’s consistent disrespect for the military, from the serial misrepresentation of his “charitable donations” to veteran organizations to making light of Senator John McCain for having been shot down, taken prisoner, and tortured in Vietnam. But the protest of these organizations who make it their business to stay out of politics should hold a special deep resonance for this country. —James Schaffer and Ruth McCambridge