Op-Ed: Gold Star Families 'Disgraced' by Trump at Helsinki Summit

In this July 16, 2018, photo, U.S. President Trump and Russian President Putin shake hands at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
In this July 16, 2018, photo, U.S. President Trump and Russian President Putin shake hands at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Rodgers, father of an Army combat veteran of our current wars, served 20 years as a fighter pilot, including combat in Vietnam.

Ari Harrison, a senior IT project manager in the higher education industry in Erie, Colorado, is the only son of Capt. Ellis David Greene, a U.S. Military Academy Class of 1967 graduate who served as a helicopter pilot with the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry.

Michelle Githens-Baugh, of Caseyville, Illinois, and only daughter of Specialist 4th Class Richard Earl Githens, who served with 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry, is a senior in the BSW program at Southern Illinois University.

Karen Spears Zacharias, daughter of Staff Sgt. David Spears 2/9th Artillery, 25th Infantry Division, is author of "After the Flag Has Been Folded" and likes to eavesdrop at the Sisters Coffee House in Sisters, Oregon, where she is at work on her ninth book.

We are not politicians. We don't have Super PACs supporting us. Yes, it is true that on occasion we have been hosted at the White House and the Senate Hart building and recognized in ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, the Vietnam Memorial Wall, and in many a District of Columbia banquet hall.

Some of us have even been on the national stage, speaking before large swaths of people from all walks of life, and all manner of political and personal faith traditions.

We are members of a not-so-secret society -- Gold Star families and the veterans who served with our loved ones. A diverse group, in no way wholly representative of all Gold Star families or all veterans, but united in a profound sense of loss and hurt.

We are hurting because of what we witnessed at the Helsinki summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin: Our very own president defending Russia's attacks upon our nation's elections. On the world stage, Trump declared that he was taking Vladimir Putin's word over that of America's own intelligence community.

Related: Op-Ed: Making Sense of the Trump-Putin Helsinki Summit

Facts have never mattered to Trump. He said he had no reason to believe Russia interfered in the 2016 election. And his attempt to walk back his remarks as nothing more than a "grammatical error" are regarded far and wide as one more of his pathetic and daily lies.

Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and long regarded as a national hero for his sacrificial service during the Vietnam War, was every bit as troubled by Trump's defense of Russia's attacks, as were millions of outraged American voters. "No prior president has abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant," McCain stated. He referred to Trump's behavior as "disgraceful."

Disgraced sums up how many of us in the Gold Star family feel about Trump's defense of Russia's attacks.

"Trump just spit on the hundreds of thousands of men and women who gave their lives to fight against dictatorships, and for democratic principles, values and freedoms," said Ari David Greene Harrison, son of Capt. Ellis David Greene, U.S. Academy Class of 1967. The assault helicopter pilot was killed in action on May 23, 1970. Ari is Captain Greene's only child.

Many veterans also share the sense of disgrace McCain referenced. They, too, believe that Trump abased himself on the world stage at Helsinki.

Reached at his home in Texas, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Rodgers, a highly decorated fighter pilot during the Vietnam War, said he was experiencing a wide range of emotions in response to Trump's defense of Russia.

"I'm having a bunch of feelings. First of all, I'm appalled. Secondly, his actions makes me feel like everything I've done has been a waste. That my buddies who died in Vietnam did die in vain," he said.

Trump's defense of the Russians attacking our elections is nothing short of treason, Rodgers added. "I'll tell you what is really bothering me is we have our intelligence services out there right now most likely dying because of information Trump has given away. We don't know what he said in private to Putin. For all we know, he could have handed Putin a thumb drive with all sorts of government intel on it. We have no idea what happened in private."

But it is his own words that make Trump guilty of treason, Rodgers noted. "He said the United States government had acted foolishly. He said he believed Putin's lies over our own country's intelligence. Plain and simple, that's treason. The question remains, what is Congress going to do about it?"

That's the question Michelle Githens-Baugh wants answered. Baugh's father, Spc. Richard Githens, was killed in action in Vietnam when he was only 19 years old, when Michelle was three months old. The Illinois native has spent a lifetime grieving the father who gave his life in true service to this county.

"Once again, Trump has proven that those who make the ultimate sacrifice, their families, and the ideals they sacrifice for, mean nothing to him," Baugh said.

Karen Spears Zacharias, daughter of Staff Sgt. David P. Spears, who was killed in action July 24, 1966, in Vietnam's Ia Drang Valley, considers herself one of the lucky ones.

She was nine years old when her father died. Old enough to remember his laughter, his teasing, his hugs, the way he smelled of mechanical grease and Old Spice. And the way his stubble was sandpaper rough on her face when he snuck into her room for that one last goodbye kiss.

The men who were there the day her father was struck down by one of their own mortars told her of how he begged the young field doctor to keep him alive. Her father -- like Ari's dad, like Michelle's father, like Tom's friends -- wanted to come back to the country he loved so well, to the family he loved so dearly.

Trump, who avoided the draft five times, knows nothing of such sacrifices. He does not respect nor honor the sacrifices made for the sake of freedom because he has never made any such sacrifices. He does not respect freedom or the democratic foundations that ensure it.

We believe Trump longs to be an oligarch. He acquiesces to Putin because he is envious of him, just as he is envious of Kim Jong Un. Trump could care less if people live in a free society. The more control he has over voters, the better for him.

In his world order, elections rigged in his favor are to be desired, not condemned.

Congress, Trump has placed a mortar round in your hands. We want to know: Will you use it to attack those who have attacked us? Or will democracy die due to an attack from within your own camp?

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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