Exactly 75 years ago Friday, Allied soldiers stepped on a deadly shore to liberate people they did not know, in a war they did not choose.
President Trump said he would have preferred to serve in that kind of war. One that stirred feelings of deep pride in a U.S. victory and righteousness against a clearly defined enemy.
But his generation got Vietnam.
“I thought it was a terrible war,” Trump told Piers Morgan on “Good Morning Britain” on Wednesday. “I thought it was very far away, and at that time nobody ever heard of the country. So many people dying, what is happening over there? So I was never a fan — like we’re fighting against Nazi Germany, we’re fighting against Hitler.”
The exchange occurred after Morgan asked Trump whether he “wished” he had served in the military, particularly in Vietnam, which Trump avoided with a string of student deferments and a medical disqualification for bone spurs.
Those actions have led Democratic challengers to suggest that Trump dodged service because of his wealth. “It’s not like there was just some empty seat in Vietnam. Someone had to go in his place,” Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) said last month.
Trump appeared to harness a deeply held belief in U.S. memory — that the Vietnam War was fought by reluctant draftees in an unpopular conflict, in turn providing cover for those who sought to avoid it altogether.
But the United States did not send an army of draftees to Vietnam. Between 1964 and 1973, volunteers outnumbered draftees by nearly 4 to 1. In Vietnam, two-thirds of troops had volunteered to serve. They did so for a variety of reasons: a sense of duty, to avoid dim prospects at home or to have control over their assignments that draftees did not.
“I would have not have minded that at all. I would have been honored” to serve, Trump said, though he did not address accusations of draft dodging with Morgan.
However, Trump added, he has increased the Pentagon’s budget during his tenure, which he said should be considered as an amends to avoiding service.
“I think I make up for it right now,” Trump said, describing a proposed defense budget that will approach $750 billion in 2020. “I think I am making up for it rapidly.”
An increasing defense budget has not translated to a potent, agile military, however. For instance, in March, Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, expressed concern that billions of dollars he needed for hurricane repairs were stalled. Meanwhile, the Pentagon diverted focus and resources to operations on the U.S. southern border.
Later in the interview, Morgan asked Trump why he has effectively banned transgender people from serving after decrying discrimination against lesbian, gay and transgender people in other nations.
“They take massive amounts of drugs. They have to,” Trump said. “You’re not allowed to take any drugs in the military.”
That is not true. Hormones are permissible for service members, as are opioids even amid an addiction epidemic nationwide. Psychotropic drugs are available for naval aviators with mental-health disorders.
Trump has attended D-Day commemorative events to mark the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, France. Despite pop-culture notions, thousands of men avoided the draft and stayed home in that war.
And then there are soldiers who went, proud of their service and the things they accomplished, and yet decades later, still grapple with the consequence of the horrific things their country told them must be done.