ASHBURN, Virginia (AP) — A military veteran gave his Purple Heart to Republican nominee Donald Trump on Tuesday, prompting the Republican nominee to declare that this was "much easier" than serving in combat.
Trump, who is embroiled in a row over his criticism of the family of a slain soldier, said that a man approached him before his event in Ashburn, Virginia, and handed him his medal, which is awarded to soldiers wounded in combat. He told the crowd at his rally that he has "always wanted to get the Purple Heart."
"I said to him, 'Is that, like, the real one or is that a copy?'" Trump recounted. "And he said, 'That's my real Purple Heart. I have such confidence in you.' And I said, 'Man! That's like, that's like big stuff.'"
"I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier," continued the celebrity businessman, who has never served in the armed forces. "But I tell you, it was such an honor."
The veteran, Lt. Col. Louis Dorfman, declined Trump's invitation to speak at Tuesday's town hall.
On Monday, The Veterans of Foreign Wars, a nonprofit service organization with 1.7 million members, released a statement calling Trump out of bounds for tangling with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, a Muslim family whose son, Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq in 2004. The fallen soldier was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
At last week's Democratic National Convention, Khizr Khan criticized Trump's call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States and accused Trump of sacrificing "nothing and no one." In response, Trump said he was "viciously attacked" by Khizr Khan and implied that Ghazala Khan, the soldier's mother, stood silently alongside her husband during the speech because, as a Muslim, she was restricted her from speaking.
John Bircher, the national spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Hearts, told The Associated Press that anyone who receives the Purple Heart, a medal that honors servicemen and women injured or killed in battle, is technically entitled to give it away should they choose. However, he added, "for someone to have a Purple Heart, it's an act of stolen valor. No one who isn't entitled to the Purple Heart valor should have one," he said.
Trump, who has made helping veterans a centerpiece of his campaign, drew criticism for holding a fundraiser for veterans organizations but not distributing the money until news organizations asked questions. He's also made conflicting statements about why he was never called up for service himself during the Vietnam War. A talented athlete during his high school years in a military academy, he received five draft deferments, one of which came as a result of a physician's letter stating he suffered from bone spurs in his feet. Asked about the deferment at a rally last July, Trump told reporters he could not recall which of his feet was affected. His campaign later said he suffered from the temporary malady in both.
Another of Trump's light-hearted remarks at the Virginia event also produced double-takes.
He was interrupted Tuesday by the wails of a child — and Trump joked that he wanted the crying baby ejected from his rally.
"Don't worry about that baby, I love babies," Trump said. "I hear that baby crying, I like it. What a beautiful baby."
But when the baby continued to cry, Trump followed up by saying he was "Actually, I was just kidding. You can get that baby out of here," he said.
Trump still appeared to be joking. It was unclear if the child's mother left the room or if the child just fell silent.
Associated Press writers Vivian Salama and Jeff Horwitz in Washington contributed to this report. Follow Jonathan Lemire on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/@JonLemire
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