6 times Trump insulted US veterans

6 times Trump insulted US veterans

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at the Road to Majority conference in Washington, Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

By Sophie Boudreau

June 25, 2024

Former president Donald Trump has a long history of clashing with military families and US veterans. The newly convicted felon, who famously evaded the Vietnam War draft, has even reportedly called slain US soldiers “losers” and “suckers.” 

During the 2020 presidential election, former president Donald Trump enjoyed support from veterans—particularly those aged 55 and older, according to polling from the Military Times. When surveyed ahead of the election in 2020, more than half of US veterans over the age of 55 said they viewed Trump’s first term favorably. 

Among younger vets—along with women veterans and veterans of color—voting preferences skewed toward President Joe Biden in 2020. 

As the 2024 election approaches, Biden and his Democratic colleagues have increasingly honed in on the military and veteran voting base in the hopes of wooing service people from older age groups. One talking point? Trump’s troubling statements about veterans, many of which have been corroborated by sources close to the former president. 

Trump, who famously deferred service five times during the Vietnam War, has been called out as a “draft dodger” by veterans in recent Biden campaign ads

“He’s not fit to be commander-in-chief,” said US Army veteran Ed McCabe of Trump in one ad. “He’s not fit to lead a squad, and he’s definitely not fit to be president of the United States.”

Though Trump has vehemently denied anti-veteran allegations, his track record is cause for concern among some military groups—particularly in the face of a potential second term.

Here are six times Donald Trump insulted US veterans and military members. 

2015: Disparaged John McCain’s POW experience

During a 2015 appearance in Iowa, Trump criticized then-Arizona Sen. John McCain’s service in Vietnam, specifically calling out McCain’s time as a prisoner of war. 

“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” 

McCain was captured during his service as a Navy pilot during the war and spent more than five years in a North Vietnamese prison. Two of those years were spent in solitary confinement and McCain was subject to torture throughout his time at the so-called “Hanoi Hilton.” 

McCain, who died in 2018 after a battle with brain cancer, said in 2017 that he never received an apology from Trump for his disparaging comments. McCain was famously critical of Trump prior to his death, calling out the president for everything from praising Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to Trump’s alleged lewd and inappropriate behavior with women. 

2016: Publicly insulted a Gold Star family

Ahead of Trump’s 2016 election, the parents of a slain Muslim US soldier shared their criticism of the then-candidate during a speech at the Democratic National Convention. Khizr and Gahala Khan—Pakistani Americans whose son, Humayan, died during the Iraq war in 2004—called out Trump for his public attacks on Muslims and implied that Trump had never read the Constitution.

In a subsequent interview with ABC News, Trump suggested that Khizr Khan made the entire speech because his wife “wasn’t allowed” to speak, drawing on implications that all Muslim women are subservient to their spouses. In reality, the Khans said in a followup interview, Gahala Khan chose to remain silent because speaking about her son’s death was too painful. 

Trump also told ABC News that Humayan Khan “would be alive today” if he’d been president, also suggesting that the US never would have entered a war with Iraq under his leadership. 

Trump’s comments drew widespread criticism from Gold Star families, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and even fellow Republican politicians—including Trump’s then-running mate, Mike Pence, who said in a statement that “Capt. Humayun Khan is an American hero and his family, like all Gold Star families, should be cherished by every American.”

No public apology to Khizr and Gahala Khan was ever issued by Trump, though he did later release a statement that called Humayan Khan “a hero” and doubled down on his plans to stop “radical Islamist terrorists” from entering the US. 

2017: Expressed distaste for wounded veterans

In an interaction with his then-chief of staff John Kelly, Trump reportedly requested that wounded veterans not be included in a 4th of July military parade. 

Trump’s alleged comments were detailed in a 2022 book by Peter Baker of the New York Times and Susan B. Glasser of the New Yorker entitled “The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021.” The then-president was reportedly inspired by a 2017 military parade he witnessed during a visit to France and requested that a similarly opulent parade be planned for the 4th of July in Washington, DC. 

The catch? Trump asked that wounded veterans be excluded from the parade, telling Kelly that France’s parade had featured vets with visible injuries or in wheelchairs. 

“Look, I don’t want any wounded guys in the parade,” Trump reportedly requested. “This doesn’t look good for me.”

According to the book, Kelly pushed back on Trump’s request and defended the heroic actions of many wounded veterans, only for Trump to repeat his desire to exclude them. 

2018: Called WWI casualties “losers” and “suckers”

During a 2018 visit to an American military cemetery in France, Trump reportedly referred to American soldiers killed in World War I as “losers” and “suckers.” Senior defense officials reported that Trump made the comments ahead of a canceled visit to Aisne-Marne American Military Cemetery outside Paris, stating that he didn’t want to visit the cemetery because it was “filled with losers.”

Aisne-Marne is the final resting place for more than 2,200 American soldiers who died in WWI.

Trump reportedly doubled down on his offensive comments later during the same trip to France, calling 1,800 US Marines “suckers” for being killed during the battle of Belleau Wood in 1918. 

Administration officials and Trump himself vehemently denied the comments, though allies like former Trump White House chief of staff John Kelly later corroborated initial reports. 

2018: Dismissed Navy SEAL Commander Adm. William McRaven

Trump again drew criticism after he publicly dismissed and disparaged Adm. William McRaven, a former Navy SEAL who oversaw the US military raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. McRaven had publicly spoken out against Trump in 2017 and 2018, saying he had “embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage, and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.” 

In response, Trump dismissed McRaven during an appearance on Fox News, calling him a “Hillary Clinton fan” and “Obama-backer.” The former president even suggested that McRaven took too much time in his efforts to capture bin Laden. 

McRaven, who was also notably involved in capturing Saddam Hussein and rescuing sea captain Richard Phillips following his hostage situation with Somali pirates, later said he had no regrets about speaking out against Trump. 

2020: Downplayed troops’ injuries following missile attack in Iraq

During a 2020 press conference, Trump once again ruffled feathers by greatly downplaying injuries sustained by US military service people in response to a raid Trump himself ordered. 

In January of that year, eleven soldiers were impacted when the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq was targeted in an Iranian missile attack. The attack was considered a retaliatory action for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian military officer whose death Trump had ordered earlier that month. 

Eight US soldiers reportedly sought treatment for concussions or concussion-like symptoms in the aftermath of the attack on Ain al-Asad, while three others experienced psychological symptoms that led them to seek behavioral health treatment. 

Trump initially told the media that there were no US injuries. When questioned during a news conference about Pentagon reports of injured troops, he backtracked and downplayed the soldiers’ conditions, saying they were “not very serious.”

“I heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things,” Trump continued. “I’ve seen people with no legs and no arms… I can consider them to be really bad injuries.”

In response, the VFW publicly condemned Trump’s comments, writing in a statement that their organization “expects an apology from the president to our service men and women for his misguided remarks.”

Trump has yet to publicly apologize for his remarks.


  • Sophie Boudreau

    Sophie Boudreau is a writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience covering lifestyle, culture, and political topics. She previously served as senior editor at eHow and produced Michigan and Detroit content for Only In Your State.

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