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Sunday, May 28, 2017

In Memoriam: Phil Robinson

In March of 1966, a man named Phil Robinson was killed by a sniper in Vietnam. Phil was from Wisconsin, wanted to be a school teacher, and was one of my dad's best friends. My parents told me stories about Phil. How when he and my dad were in San Diego, they had to personally deliver sensitive documents and joked that if someone tried to stop them, they would throw their sidearms because the sights were so awful, shooting would be pointless. How my mom spent all day making a chocolate mousse for dessert, and Phil took a bite, looked up at her with a grin, and said "Is this Dream Whip?" How Phil was one of the first people to learn my mom was pregnant with me.

And one month before I was born, Phil was dead. Killed in a jungle that might as well have been a million miles from Wisconsin.

Phil Robinson's name is on the Vietnam Memorial, etched in granite, one name among tens of thousands. You can see your reflection in that wall, as you stand with your shaking hand on a loved one's name. I know because my dad's hand trembled as he laid it on the letters that spelled the name of his friend. His friend who made my mom laugh, his friend who shared a part of himself with my parents, his friend who seemed to understand some of the absurdity of military life, his friend who wanted to be a teacher.

My family has fought for this country since the American Revolution. We have ancestors buried in cemeteries who gave their lives in order for this country to be founded, who gave their lives for the Union. Memorial Day is always a reminder of this for me.

Watching Donald Trump preen about as he speaks to the men and women serving in the Armed Forces, and remembering all the awful things he's said about them, it's hard to focus on the somber nature of this Memorial Day. I find myself getting angry when I hear him tell members of the military he has their backs, he supports them, he cares about them. It is next to impossible to believe those words, when I think back to how he has spoken about the military, and the men and women who serve.

For example, during an interview with Howard Stern in 1998, Donald Trump compared avoiding STDs to Vietnam, and said he deserved the Congressional Medal of Honor:

"Well, I don't know, you know there's lots of different ways of doing it. It's a very complicated subject. They say that more people were killed by women in this act than killed in Vietnam, OK," Trump said.

"Yes, that is true," replied Stern.

"You know, you get criticized for that statement, but that statement is very easily true," added Trump.

Stern responded, "I even went as far to say that you're braver than any Vietnam vet because you're out there screwing a lot of women."

"Getting the Congressional Medal of Honor, in actuality," said Trump.

He went on:

"I'm having a good time, but Howard, you know the one negative: It's very, very dangerous out there," said Trump.

"Yes it is, it's your Vietnam," added Stern.

"It's Vietnam," added Trump. "It is very dangerous. So I'm very, very careful."

During the campaign, Trump said this about POWs while answering a question about John McCain:

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

A veteran came up on stage during a Trump rally, and gave Trump his Purple Heart. Trump responded by saying "I always wanted to get the Purple Heart, this was much easier."

Last month, Donald Trump presented a Purple Heart to Army Sergeant First Class Alvaro Barrientos. As he was pinning the medal on Barrientos, whose leg had to be amputated after he survived an attack in Afghanistan, Trump said "Congratulations...tremendous."

This is the Commander in Chief. A man who insults POWs, who compares sleeping with a lot of women and avoiding STDs to Vietnam, who congratulates an amputee on their Purple Heart, and who always wanted a Purple Heart, but managed to avoid the Vietnam war because his foot hurt.

So this weekend, as retailers use Memorial Day to sell cars and mattresses, as social media pages post how-to videos on new alcoholic beverages to make your "holiday" more "fun," and as our cowardly, spiteful, spineless president continues to dishonestly crow about how much he loves and supports our troops, remember what Memorial Day is really about. This long weekend is for the men and women who have died in service to our country. This long weekend is for visiting cemeteries, for laying flowers at memorials, for comforting families who have an empty chair at the table.

This is Memorial Day.

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