Military Veterans Dismayed By Trump's Feud With Muslim Soldier's Family
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Now to the war of words between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and the family of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. It started during the Democratic Convention when the father of Captain Humayun Khan, with his wife standing by his side, spoke about their son who was killed in 2004. Khan said, among other things, that Trump has never sacrificed anything.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Since then, there's been an ongoing tit-for-tat between Trump and the Khan family. And last night, Trump's running mate Governor Mike Pence was drawn in as he fielded questions at a campaign rally in Carson City, Nev. Pence was confronted by a woman.
GREENE: Catherine Byrne was a supporter. She was holding a Trump sign. And she began talking about her son who serves in the U.S. Air Force, and she brought up the Khan family.
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CATHERINE BYRNE: Time and time again, Trump has disrespected our nation's armed forces and veterans. And his disrespect for Mr. Khan and his family is just an example.
GREENE: The crowd booed her as she asked how Pence, whose son is a Marine, could tolerate what she called Trump's disrespect. Pence first called the fallen soldier, Humayun Khan, a hero. Then he went on to defend Trump.
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MIKE PENCE: I have never been around someone more devoted to the armed forces of this country; more devoted to the families of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marine and Coast Guard; and no one more devoted to the veterans in this country.
GREENE: That is vice presidential candidate Mike Pence defending Donald Trump. All of this is something that many veterans around this country have been following closely. Here's our colleague Joel Rose.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: There's a picture of John McGeehan's family on the wall at his office.
JOHN MCGEEHAN: This is my oldest son Ryan. He's a commander in the Navy now. This is my youngest son Gavin, who's in the business. He was a captain in the Army. And this is my little girl Lauren. She's up for major also in the Army.
ROSE: It's like the family business.
MCGEEHAN: Yes, family business. Keeping America safe is right.
ROSE: McGeehan was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Special Forces where he served for 30 years. Now he owns and runs a paving company in Bethlehem, Pa., that employs veterans. McGeehan supports Donald Trump and voted for him in the primary and agrees with him on a lot of issues, including immigration and national security.
But when it comes to veterans, McGeehan thinks Trump has a few things to learn.
MCGEEHAN: I wasn't happy about his comments. On the other hand, I thought Trump was really kind of ambushed on this deal. His answers, I don't think, were real good.
ROSE: The feud started at the Democratic Convention last week. Captain Khan's father said Trump had, quote, "sacrificed nothing" and slammed his proposal to block all Muslim immigration. Trump responded by suggesting that Khan's mother remained silent on the convention stage because her religion wouldn't allow her to speak.
She later said it was because she was overcome with emotion. McGeehan says Trump should have shown more respect for the parents of a fallen soldier.
MCGEEHAN: The best thing would have probably said, listen, I am so sorry for your son. I'm so proud of your son, not only as an American but as a Muslim.
ROSE: If McGeehan's response was something like a wince, other veterans reacted with a howl.
RON CRENSHAW: I think it was inappropriate, absolutely. It was like a slap. It was like an egg thrown against our Constitution.
ROSE: Ron Crenshaw (ph) of Stroudsburg, Pa., served in Vietnam. I spoke to him yesterday outside a VA clinic in Allentown, Pa. He's not the only Vietnam vet who finds Trump's feud with the Khans offensive. Here's Mike (ph) and Jan Cody (ph) of Quakertown.
MIKE CODY: Their son gave everything, you know?
JAN CODY: He paid the ultimate price. I mean, how can you pick on someone about that? I...
M. CODY: The presidential candidate is now sitting there arguing with them. Makes no sense to me.
ROSE: Even Trump supporters have a hard time explaining it.
KEVIN CHRISTMAN: I think he was baited and bit on it.
ROSE: Kevin Christman (ph) served in the Marine Corps for six years. Now he works for John McGeehan's paving company in Bethlehem. Christman thinks Trump should have handled the situation better.
CHRISTMAN: I'm not 100 percent behind him. I'm kind of on the fence.
ROSE: Did this help or hurt?
CHRISTMAN: This probably didn't change anything 'cause he speaks before he thinks most of the time, I believe.
ROSE: Despite his doubts, Christman is sticking with Trump for now. He knows Pennsylvania is a battleground state and a few votes in either direction could be the difference in November. Joel Rose, NPR News, Bethlehem, Pa.
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