As Donald Trump gave his first Memorial Day address as president at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, there was clearly an elephant in the room. While Trump touched on the sacrifices of Gold Star families in his speech Monday, it was hard not to recall how he'd once spent nearly a week disparaging a Gold Star family during the election. In fact, Trump's Memorial Day address about Gold Star families can't erase his very public feud with Khizr and Ghazala Khan.
On Monday, Trump spoke at Arlington National Cemetery, asking the crowd to pledge "to make the most of that freedom that they [fallen soldiers] so gallantly and brilliantly fought for and that they died to protect."
To every Gold Star family, God is with you and your loved ones are with them. They died in war so that we could live in peace. I believe that God has a special place in heaven for those who lay down their lives so that others may live free from fear and this horrible oppression.
Yet Trump hasn't always spoken so respectfully of Gold Star families. In July 2016, the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, a Muslim-American soldier killed in Iraq in 2004, spoke out against Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States in an emotional speech at the Democratic National Convention. "Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America," Khizr Khan said in remarks directed at Trump. "You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one."
In an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos two days after the Khans' speech, Trump played to Muslim stereotypes when he implied Ghazala had not spoken at the DNC because, as a Muslim woman, "she wasn't allowed to have anything to say." He also characterized his personal business ventures as a sacrifice equal to that made by Gold Star families.
As criticism against his comments continued to mount in the days that followed Trump's ABC interview, the then-GOP nominee repeatedly defended himself by claiming the Khans had "viciously attacked" him. On Aug. 1, Trump appeared to be trying to tie Khizr Khan to "radical Islamic terrorism" in a tweet published to his official account. "This story is not about Mr. Khan, who is all over the place doing interviews, but rather RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM and the U.S. Get smart!" Trump tweeted.
As Trump attempted to disparage the Khan family for opposing him, nearly a dozen other Gold Star families wrote him a letter in which they demanded an apology for his "repugnant and personally offensive" comments and accused him of "cheapening the sacrifice made by those we lost."
In October, Trump claimed that had he been president, the Khans' son would still be alive in an interview with ABC News. Khizr Khan later told ABC he felt Trump's comment was "the most cruel thing you can say to grieving parents" and questioned his sincerity.
"[There] is one character [trait] that a leader must have to be the leader of a great country, to be the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the United States: empathy," Khizr Khan said. "And this person totally lacks that." And though Trump addressed Gold Star families collectively on Memorial Day, he has yet to apologize to the Gold Star family he treated so horribly months prior.