BY NICK WEIG, KGAN/KFXA
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CIRCA via KGAN/KFXA) — The President of the United States is the supreme commander of the country's military. So it's no surprise that the Commander-in-Chief would deliver a speech in front of factory workers in Ohio that produce equipment for the U.S. military. But some of President Trump's comments Wednesday caught many veterans off guard.
The President has long been a critic of the late-Sen. John McCain. During the 2016 campaign, Trump attacked McCain, claiming the Arizona Senator was no war hero. "He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured, OK?"
McCain, who died last year after battling inoperable brain cancer, served during the Vietnam War. The son of a Naval Admiral, McCain was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese. He endured years of torture and imprisonment, permanently disabling his body. When his captors learned of his lineage, McCain was offered release from the prison. But he chose to stay with his fellow soldiers, denying any special treatment. After more than five years of captivity, McCain was freed. He later went on to serve in Congress, finally as a U.S. Senator.
Meanwhile, Trump was exempted from the draft because of a "bone spurs" diagnosis, which some have claimed was given as a favor to Trump's father.
During Wednesday's speech in Ohio, Trump seemed to attack McCain for a variety of political opinions and actions, including McCain's decision to report disturbing info regarding possible connections between Trump and Russia to the FBI during the 2016 campaign.
But it's the more personal attacks that have left many veterans upset. Wednesday, President Trump bemoaned the fact that he was never "thanked" for the funeral that McCain received.
"And I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted which as president I had to approve. I don't care about this. I didn't get a thank you, that's OK. We sent him on the way, but I wasn't a fan of John McCain."
"There are a lot of other words I could use but, it's broadcast television, I'm disappointed will have to suffice," said Joe Stutler, a veteran of the first Iraq War. Stutler is a member of the Iowa Democratic Party's Veterans' Caucus. Stutler says he was rarely a fan of Sen. McCain's political views, especially during the 2008 campaign for President, but that political differences should never cloud the service McCain and millions of other veterans have made to their country. "But what we're seeing now is attacking the man, the person, the hero and as a Democrat I can stand here and say this is a terrible thing someone should do something, but words aren't really going to matter."
We reached out to several veterans' groups in Iowa who declined to speak to us about this matter on camera, many saying they prefer to refrain from any political discussion. Others, who also declined a taped interview, said they simply could not understand why anyone would continue to attack a decorated war hero, after his death, over political differences.
Stutler says it's up to the President's own Republican Party to stand up to his attack on McCain and others who have done nothing personal against him. "It is not befitting the occupant of the oval, the personal who sits behind the resolute, the person who sends men and women to fight and die for our country."
Some Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have expressed their admiration and respect for the late-John McCain, but few have included criticism of the President in their response. Circa partner KGAN/KFXA reached out to both Senator Chuck Grassley, a longtime colleague of McCain's, and Senator Joni Ernst, a fellow war veteran, but have not received a response from either Iowa Republican.