Veterans on Trump: Stop attacking the late Sen. John McCain



March 21, 2019 - 10:30 AM

Jack LeGros, a helicopter door gunner during the Vietnam War, was on his way into the Veterans Administration’s Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center on Tuesday afternoon when I asked him what he thought about President Trump’s continued attacks on late Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“I think he’s an … “

I can’t complete that sentence in a family newspaper, but I’m sure you can hazard a pretty good guess as to how LeGros finished his thought.

The veteran, 77, walked with a limp. He said he thinks exposure to Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam is causing his pain.

“My foot started getting hot, like it was in hot sand, and it steadily progressed up my legs,” said LeGros, who has also been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder for many years.

LeGros said he doesn’t care much for Trump, period. But even veterans who support the president told me they can’t understand why the president would speak with such contempt about a man who devoted his life to public service, endured years as a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down in Vietnam, and died of brain cancer seven months ago.

Just last weekend Trump, who was in a particularly cranky mood, tweeted about his political issues with McCain and said, incorrectly, that McCain finished last in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy.

“I don’t like it,” said Rubin Elfman, a World War II Army veteran who served in Germany and told me he will turn 93 next month.

Elfman said he likes Trump’s politics but doesn’t understand his McCain obsession.

“Listen,” Elfman said, “the man served his country.”


IN 1999, I briefly rode with McCain on his “Straight Talk Express” as he traveled through New Hampshire in a run for the presidency. His politics weren’t mine, but I couldn’t help but admire the man, who had trouble raising his arm high enough to comb his hair due to the wartime torture he had suffered. A short time later, in Hanoi, I visited the dank, miserable cell where McCain spent much of his five-plus years in captivity.

I once foolishly thought Trump’s relentless insistence that the first black president of the United States was African would doom him as a crank, but it didn’t. I thought that mocking the looks of a female opponent and the wife of another opponent in the presidential primary would be the end of him, but it wasn’t.

I finally realized Trump wouldn’t lose his base of supporters by saying things that were cruel, undignified, racially offensive or patently false.

But a war hero? Especially one now dead who happened to be in Trump’s own party?

Of course, Trump might dispute that assessment. Our president, who did not serve in the military, infamously said of McCain:

“He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was shot down. I like people that weren’t captured.”

Trump survived that, as vile as it was, which may be why he felt emboldened to take another poke at McCain over the weekend.

“He should let it go. In this case, no one cares what he thinks about John McCain,” said Vietnam veteran Terry Barker, who added that he voted for Trump and otherwise likes his politics.

“I’m offended,” said Carlos Gonzalez, who served in the Army after the Vietnam War. “He was a dodger.”