It was a cold, rainy day in February of 1995 that I stood on a pier in Norfolk, Virginia and watched tiny tug boats drag and push the mighty USS Wasp into port. It took hours for this feat to take place and you’d think I’d be bored, but no. Those hours were spent with other family members waiting for their sailors and Marines to come home, too. They were spent in the company of those who understood that military sacrifice doesn’t begin and end with enlistment. It includes the spouses, children and parents of our enlisted men and women, those left behind to carry on when they give the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.
Two very important words that seem to be lost on Donald Trump these days as evidenced by his callous treatment of the Khan family after the loss of their son, Captain Humayan Khan.
I watched Mr. Khan’s speech at the DNC from so many perspectives. I identified with his loss on many levels, because, while I didn’t lose my husband to war during his time in the Navy, I could have. And I lived with that fear every day for four years. I sincerely appreciated the sentiment when higher ranking officers thanked me for my husband’s service. I needed to hear them. I needed to know that his sacrifices meant something. I can only imagine that they are needed a thousand times more for the Khan family given that their son paid with his life.
Add to this Donald Trump, candidate for Commander-in-Chief. “I’d like to hear his wife say something.” What is the Khan family supposed to glean from that? Instead of sympathy, empathy, kindness or compassion, all Trump could offer in response was a xenophobic, racist comment alluding to his own ignorance. He belittled their loss and offered nothing in the way of comfort.
As I watched Mrs. Khan standing there, silent and stoic, I put myself in her shoes. It’s not too difficult. I have a son whose life plan involves military enlistment in two year’s time. In my mind she was a pillar of strength, holding it together in front of a gargantuan picture of her son’s face—a face she never dreamed she’d have to say a final goodbye to and keep living herself. That would be enough to bring me to my knees, a snotty, blubbering mess on national television. As a father, Trump couldn’t even identify with that loss and grief. He couldn’t recognize the strength it took for Mrs. Khan to simply be present at that moment, silent but no less strong for her lost son.
Mr. and Mrs. Khan sacrificed, too. Above and beyond the sacrifices every parent makes for their children, they made the sacrifices all our military families nationwide make. There are missed holidays and birthdays because of their service. Missed births and funerals because of their call to duty for our country. Children are raised without a parent, many of them meeting each other for the first time in an airport or on a pier–the children, waiting hesitantly by the legs of the adult that brought them, a little bit afraid of the stranger they call Mommy or Daddy. Service members’ families stand in their stead at these life events to ensure that they are represented and remembered while they are off fighting for something bigger than themselves. And while that fills many of us with pride, it also fills us with fear, worry and loneliness.
When the worst happens and we lose that family member in service to his/her country, we expect the Commander-in-Chief to recognize their service and their sacrifice. We expect the highest ranking member of our military to recognize our sacrifice as family as well as our loss. Because I am an American mother whose son may well be off to war very soon, I will enter my second go ’round of worry and steadfast representation while he sacrifices all in service to his country. And I refuse to do it knowing I voted into office the man who cared so little for a soldier’s life he couldn’t even offer up condolences to his grieving parents. If a simple “I’m sorry for your loss” isn’t within his vocabulary, then, come November, may it be the only sentence Donald Trump hears.