Donald Trump, My Grandfather & What It Truly Means To Receive A Purple Heart
Continuing his pattern of offending and denigrating various groups and specific individuals who are willing to sacrifice everything for our country, Donald Trump joked about getting a Purple Heart on Tuesday. During a campaign event in Virginia, Trump boasted that a man had just given him his Purple Heart medal. "He said, 'That's my real Purple Heart. I have such confidence in you.' And I said, 'Man that's, like, big stuff. I've always wanted to get the real Purple Heart.' This was much easier," Trump joked to the crowd. Aside from the fact Trump's statement wasn't entirely accurate (NBC News reported that the man said he had given Trump a copy of his Purple Heart), it was inappropriate and disrespectful. And I was especially repulsed as the proud granddaughter of a man who received a Purple Heart.
Trump was certainly right when he said it was "much easier" for him to get his hands on a Purple Heart than it is to actually receive a Purple Heart. I know this from the experiences of my grandfather, Seymour Eisenstat. He suffered injuries in World War II that would dramatically affect the rest of his life, and he suffered them in the service of protecting his county. That's how one actually gets a Purple Heart, Trump. As others have pointed out, most people don't "want" a Purple Heart, because one only receives it after being wounded or killed in action, according to the Purple Heart criteria.
My grandfather was a first-generation American who excelled in New York's magnet public school, Brooklyn Technical High School, and aspired to become an engineer. He deferred college to enlist in World War II, feeling the ultimate patriotic drive to serve his country.
My grandfather's tremendous mathematical and analytical skills were put to use as a navigator in the Air Force. His aircraft had to make a crash landing in Belgium because "the bomber they were flying was damaged before they began the bomb run, but rather than jettison the load, they completed the run at the target," according to a letter, dated March 17, 1945, sent to my great-grandmother from U.S. Army Capt. Harry G. Schwegler.
That letter notes that after the crash landing, my grandfather's "long bone of the left thigh has been broken in two places and he has also suffered a fracture of the skull." He was also suffering from shock. As a woman whose first language was not English, my great-grandmother may not have understood all or most of the letter. Even if she could, I can't imagine how she felt reading it in her Brooklyn apartment. Her son was barely 20 at the time, and thousands of miles away.
The letter to my great-grandmother (which my mother keeps framed in our home and was kind enough to transcribe for me) notified her that my grandfather would receive the Purple Heart, "the symbol of his country’s thankfulness for his devotion to duty at the sacrifice of sustaining wounds." Now, Trump is bragging that he's got one, too. As The New York Times reported, Trump used the diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels to avoid being drafted during the Vietnam War.
My grandfather never fully recovered from his war injuries. He spent several months in hospitals before he could be discharged and return to his family, during which time he had to reteach himself how to write. Trump was able to use his time in college to file for four draft deferments, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, my grandfather never became an engineer, discouraged because the course load was believed to be too rigorous to take on with the injuries he had sustained.
However, my grandfather persevered, and not only went to college, but went on to earn a master's degree and served New York City public schools for over 30 years. His whole life, he would suffer from severe tinnitus (a ringing in his ears). He would have chronic pain in his back and legs because of his war injuries, but even though he was told to take it easy, he refused to sit out any activity that would bring joy to his loved ones. As the family story goes, he told anyone who said he needed to slow down, "I need to take my bride dancing." (He and my grandmother married in 1955.)
My grandfather passed away in 2014. His Purple Heart is one of the most treasured items our family has. We could not be prouder of the way he served the United States, and his patriotism was a defining part of his beautiful, humble life, which included being the most devoted husband, father, and grandfather one could imagine.
It is an honor to be his granddaughter, and it especially disgusts me when Trump dismisses the sacrifices and bravery of the people who serve our military. I will never stop fuming when I'm reminded of his callous treatment of John McCain, saying that the Arizona senator, who was a prisoner of war for five years, "was not a war hero." Trump then mocked McCain for being a POW: "I like people that weren't captured, OK?" That he has been unrelenting in attacking the Khan family (regardless of his Republican colleagues' advice) is further enraging. Such comments are infuriating from any fool, but even moreso from someone who thinks he is fit to be president, and even moreso from a man who did not even serve his county.
That hypocritical and whiny quality in Trump could never be found in my grandfather. Even lying in an overseas hospital in horrific pain, his chief concern was only that his family know — or at least take comfort in believing — that he was okay. The Purple Heart letter to my great-grandmother states:
I don't know if Trump has ever told someone to worry about him less or pay less attention to him.
My grandfather lived a life which involved far more challenges, hardships, and sacrifices than Trump has ever faced or made. Yet he was the most humble and modest man you'd ever have the wonderful fortune of meeting. I truly can never recall him ever complaining, even as he labored tirelessly for his family and his chronic health problems only worsened. He was a solider through and through, never whining and never insulting others. He was generous and loyal, and he could not have been prouder or happier when the people around him found success and joy.
I only wish politicians — especially Trump — would emulate one ounce of the bravery, modesty, and devotion my grandfather maintained throughout his service and his life.