Jeff Jardine

Local veterans disheartened by Trump accepting Purple Heart

Vietnam veteran William Bruno of Modesto with one of three dioramas he has made. He made it through a year in Vietnam without being wounded.
Vietnam veteran William Bruno of Modesto with one of three dioramas he has made. He made it through a year in Vietnam without being wounded. Modesto Bee

The inherent danger in writing about Donald Trump is that by the time you address one outrageous, inaccurate or insulting thing he spews, it will be outdated by something else he says that is even more egregious, inaccurate and disturbing.

Just in the past week, he’s refused to support House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain – both fellow Republicans – in their re-election bids. Reports that his campaign is crumbling abound, and the bashing has become bipartisan.

He crassly told a mom to remove a crying baby from a rally, apparently ascribing to the so-called W.C. Fields adage that “anyone who hates children and dogs can’t be all bad.” A story this week reported that Trump asked a foreign policy adviser why we wouldn’t use nuclear weapons, since we have them.

But what’s really gotten into craws is his disrespect for the military he purports to adore. He attacked the family of a Muslim U.S. Army officer killed while fighting in Iraq in 2004. The soldier’s father, Khizr Khan, had dressed down Trump in a speech at the Democratic National Convention, and kept up his attack when Trump – who avoided military service on a physical deferment – accepted a Purple Heart medal from a supporter and claimed, “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.”

“You dodged the draft,” Khan, chastised Trump while talking with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “Put that Purple Heart back on that person’s chest.”

Some reports claim it was a copy, not the presenter’s original Purple Heart. But it represents the same thing to those who earned theirs the traditional way, by being wounded in battle. And the fact that Trump criticized the dead soldier’s parents irked Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient Mark Tury of Modesto.

“You don’t take on a Gold Star family, no matter what they say about you,” Tury said. “They sacrificed in ways he never has.”

Tury and other veterans understand this, losing friends in battle and paying a price themselves. Tury got his Purple Heart when his poorly situated base along the South China Sea in South Vietnam was overrun by North Vietnamese on June 19, 1969.

“There was a satchel charge tossed into my bunker,” Tury said. It’s an explosive device filled with nails and other materials wrapped in leather or burlap and intended to do as much damage to as many people as possible.

“A poor man’s grenade,” he said. “I got hit in the face, neck and shoulder. Head wounds always bleed a lot. But I continued with the program and we ran the enemy off after a heck of a firefight.”

His Purple Heart, he said, is something “you don’t give away.”

He did, though, present the ribbon from the medal to a boy who broke his neck diving into Hume Lake six or so years ago. But only the ribbon, to encourage a paralyzed young man to keep his spirits up.

“I kept the medal,” Tury said. “It has my name engraved on it.”

When Trump accepted the Purple Heart this week, it bothered Tury.

“I thought it was very unpresidential,” he said. “(Trump) should have said, ‘Thank you very much, but I am unqualified to accept this honor and cannot take it.’ 

Thomas Thompson of Patterson earned his Purple Heart in Vietnam on April Fool’s Day in 1967.

“We were in a firefight and got a rocket-propelled grenade that hit in a tree above us,” said Thompson, an Army sergeant who served three years in Vietnam.

He received shrapnel wounds down his back, neck and legs. And after a brief recovery period, he returned to the battlefield for two more years.

Trump’s comments angered him.

“Go find a war and serve in the military a little,” Thompson said. “People don’t know what its like to be a combat soldier. Some get their Purple Heart posthumously. They don’t get to see it. It goes to their spouse or their parents. When some politician who never fought gets one, that’s not right. If he wants one, he can go get one.”

Ronn Cossey of Turlock, who served in a tank division in Vietnam, earned two Purple Hearts.

“If you got a Purple Heart shedding blood for your country, there is no greater honor – if you lived through it,” Cossey said. “The thing that bothered me wasn’t so much that the (veteran) gave him a copy of his Purple Heart. Do I think he deserved it? Not really. He could have honored the guy with the medal. Instead, (Trump) made a flippant statement. He should have been humble. He should have handed it back and honored the guy.”

Other Vietnam War combat vets, including Jim Calibro and Bill Bruno of Modesto, were fortunate not to be wounded. But they knew many who were, and thought the gift Trump received was inappropriate.

“It’s not right,” Calibro said. “He didn’t earn it.”

“The media kind of grabs onto something and blows it up,” Bruno said. “It was no real big deal to me, but (Trump) sticks his foot in his mouth a lot with the comments he makes.”

Bruno also alluded to the fact he might feel differently if he’d been a Purple Heart recipient.

“Personally, I’m glad I didn’t get one,” he said.

And, like the other veterans, he was disappointed that Trump did.

But worry not: the Republican nominee is all but guaranteed to do something even more insensitive and egregious before the week’s out.