Republicans have spent decades ridiculing Bill Clinton’s lack of military experience during the Vietnam War, even accusing him of being a draft dodger (Clinton entered the draft but received a high number and was never called to serve).
But their current leader, Donald Trump, Selective Service registrant No. 50-63-46-580, never served in the military during the Vietnam War either.
And now conservatives are in the unusual position of downplaying the lack of military service of the Commander In Chief.
Trump managed four student deferments and one medical disqualification — something to do with a bone spur in one or both of his heels — between 1964 and 1972.
During the 2016 campaign, when Trump was asked what had held him back from serving, he said he could not recall which heel had the spur.
“You’ll have to look it up,” he told reporters.
On the draft registration card he filled out in 1964, Trump listed his only “obvious physical characteristic” that might aid in identifying his body as “birthmark on both heels.”
Trump acknowledged that he got out of the draft by providing Selective Service officials with “a very strong letter on the heels.”
The New York Times reported last year that the Queens podiatrist who diagnosed Trump with bone spurs did so as a favor to the doctor’s landlord — the president’s father, real estate magnate Fred Trump.
Yesterday, as world leaders gathered to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, an epic battle in a war that defined national consensus, Trump dismissed his avoidance of serving in the military, as if rich young men can pick where they want to fight.
“I was never a fan of that war, I’ll be honest with you,” he told his former Celebrity Apprentice contestant Piers Morgan. “I thought it was a terrible war; I thought it was very far away. You’re talking about Vietnam at that time — nobody ever heard of the country.”
In fact, most Americans were very aware of Vietnam as it led to protests and arrests throughout the late 1960’s.
Over 9 million young Americans would serve in that war.
Trump has long said he was against Vietnam, but did not take part in any of the antiwar protests.
“The bell rang and Donald Trump was hiding,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University who has written often on Vietnam. “Many people are proud that they didn’t serve, saying it was an immoral war. But it’s embarrassing that President Trump is in Great Britain honoring the 75th anniversary of D-Day and pretending to be a wannabe service member in Vietnam. If he wanted to, he could have easily served like John [F.] Kerry or John McCain,” the former Democratic senator from Massachusetts and Republican senator from Arizona, respectively, whose Vietnam experiences defined their later political careers.
McCain, who spent five years in captivity by the North Vietnamese after his plane was shot down, said in 2017 that the inequities of the war had always gnawed at him. “I will never countenance . . . that we drafted the lowest-income level of America and the highest-income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur. That is wrong.”
Trump until now has presented his avoidance of the draft as a stroke of fortune.
The contradiction between Trump’s actions in the 1960s and his latest statement has reignited the long-simmering debate over how and why he avoided service.
This year, some of Trump’s younger Democratic opponents have slammed him for avoiding service.
Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Ind., mayor who is seeking the Democratic nomination, last week called Trump “somebody who, I think it’s fairly obvious to most of us, took advantage of the fact that he was a child of a multimillionaire in order to pretend to be disabled so that somebody could go to war in his place.” Buttigieg, 37, was an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013.
Another presidential candidate, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), last week said he’d “like to meet the American hero who went in Donald Trump’s place to Vietnam. I hope he’s still alive.” Moulton, 40, served in Iraq as a Marine Corps captain.
“We used to elect presidents on the basis of their service, from George Washington to Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and JFK’s PT-109,” Brinkley said. “But starting with Bill Clinton, what the Vietnam generation did became a litmus test. How did you deal with that era? It tells us a lot about somebody’s character.”
In 1998, Trump said on Howard Stern’s radio show that sex in the 1980s New York dating scene was his version of Vietnam.
“It is a dangerous world out there,” he said. “It’s like Vietnam. It’s my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”