For more than 50 years, every US president has been forced to grapple, in one way or another, with the quagmire of the Vietnam War. Now it’s Donald Trump’s turn.
The ghosts of Vietnam are stirring anew, just as Trump prepares to visit the nation on his first presidential tour of Asia. Vietnam war hero Sen John McCain, who spent more than five years in a prisoner of war camp after his plane was shot down, this week put an unwelcome spotlight on Trump’s five draft deferments to avoid military service. And Trump’s prolonged political tussle over the proper way for presidents to honour and grieve with the families of fallen soldiers has focused attention on his lack of military service as well.
Trump tried to set all that aside Monday as he presented the Medal of Honour to retired Capt Gary Rose, a Vietnam era medic who repeatedly ran into the line of enemy fire and ignored his own wounds to save his colleagues during a fierce firefight in enemy-controlled territory in September 1970.
“Mike, this is serious stuff,” Trump said. “Your love for your fellow soldier, your devotion to your country inspires us all.”
But the matter of Trump’s lack of service wasn’t far off stage.
McCain, the Arizona Republican who has frequently clashed with the president, made clear he had Trump in mind Monday as he criticised the Vietnam draft system that forced low-income Americans to serve while the wealthy could avoid war with a doctor’s note. Trump, the son of a millionaire developer, received draft deferments, one attained with a physician’s letter stating that he suffered from bone spurs in his feet.
Trump is slated to make his first presidential trip to Vietnam early next month as part of his 12-day, five-nation Asia tour. He will participate in an international summit in Da Nang before meeting the Vietnamese president in Hanoi. The White House said it had not been decided if Trump would visit any war sites, like the prison where McCain was held.
Trump ignited a feud with McCain in July 2015 when he belittled the senator’s time in captivity.
“He’s not a war hero,” said Trump. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Trump once compared his ability to avoid sexually transmitted diseases in the Manhattan dating scene of the 1980s and 1990s to the perils of wartime that claimed the lives of more than 58,000 Americans in Vietnam.
“It is a dangerous world out there,” Trump said in a 1997 interview with shock jock Howard Stern. “It’s like Vietnam, sort of. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”
The renewed focus on Trump’s lack of service in Vietnam comes as he faces scrutiny over his treatment of the families of America’s war dead.Sources: Associated Press, BBC, Reuters