The perpetually abrasive and universally disrespectful Republican nominee Donald Trump continues to astound the nation at his insistence on escalating his verbal attacks against the family of slain Muslim war hero Capt. Humayun Khan. To see a presidential nominee denigrate and insult the service of a United States armed forces member – a hero who courageously sacrificed himself to save the rest of his unit – is beyond the pale of anything we have ever seen in politics, and it has prompted a growing backlash among horrified Americans from all walks of life.
Major-General Dana H. Pittard (ret.) of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division was Captain Humayun Khan (201st Forward Support Battalion)’s commanding officer in Iraq, and she wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post celebrating the life of this true American hero and slammed Trump for his “despicable” and “un-American” attacks on Humayun’s legacy and on his mourning family.
I am a former soldier who served our nation in uniform for more than 34 years. I was also Capt. Humayun Khan’s combat brigade commander in Diyala province, Iraq, in 2004. I came to know Humayun after taking command of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, in Germany in 2002. The motto of our unit was “No mission too difficult. No sacrifice too great. Duty First!” Humayun was a wonderful person, liked and respected by all who knew him. I used to joke with him about the tank platoon he once led, which I had led 20 years earlier. I often told him that we were kindred spirits. I remember clearly the day he died.
Maj. Pittard then goes on to describe what exactly happened that day in Diyala, Iraq, and what made Humayun’s sacrifice so much the more meaningful. Distraught over the frequency of accidental killings of local Iraqi civilians over miscommunications, Humayun and his unit took it upon themselves to build a warm rapport with local day laborers and to strengthen the tenuous relationship between Iraqis and the American occupation force.
Humayun probably moved toward the suspicious vehicle to avoid killing the driver unnecessarily, but at some point, he concluded that something was wrong and ordered his men to hit the dirt. The driver detonated his car bomb, killing Humayun and two Iraqi citizens. Humayun died trying to save the lives of innocent Iraqis. His brave effort to approach the vehicle probably saved American lives as well.
Maj. Pittard finishes with a beautiful description of just what it means to be an American service member, what the values of our nation truly represent – and has some harsh words for Trump and his racist attacks.
Humayun was one of 36 men and one woman in our brigade who died during our year in Iraq. Our fallen comrades were of all races, religions and genders. They represented sacrifice, service, duty and the essence of what makes our country great. And, yes, it is a great country right now. Despite our flaws, the United States remains a beacon of hope around the world.
Blue Star families are those with a member deployed to combat in the service of our country. Gold Star families are families that have lost a loved one in a combat zone. In our military culture, we hold Blue Star families in the highest regard. But we have absolute reverence for our Gold Star families.
I join all those who stand in support of the Khan family. This family is our family, and any attack on this wonderful American Gold Star family is an attack on all patriotic and loyal Americans who have sacrificed to make our country great. Any politically or racially motivated attack on the Khans is despicable and un-American.
I am no politician. I have stayed away from politics my entire adult life. My family has been Republican ever since my maternal grandparents migrated from Jim Crow South Carolina to Philadelphia in the late 1920s. My grandmother voted for Herbert Hoover in 1928. Though I am a Republican, I have voted my conscience — for both Democrats and Republicans — for the past 32 years. I’m going to vote my conscience again this year.
We live in a dangerous and complex world. We need leaders who are steady, patient and empathetic, especially at the national level, during this troubled time. We need somebody who has respect for our Gold Star families.
But, above all, our country needs more men and women like Humayun Khan and the countless others who willingly and humbly served this great nation of ours without reservation or recognition.
Khan was so beloved by his unit that three memorial services were held in his honor and the 201st Battalion headquarters was renamed the Khan building in his honor. Make no mistake. Donald J. Trump is a selfish coward and a liar with no conception of what “duty” really means. Humayun Khan was an exemplary American, representative of all the convictions and ethics that make our country truly great. Trump represents all the fear, hate, and ignorance that brings our country shame. These unnecessary and cruel attacks against a real American hero aren’t enough to convince the American people that this man doesn’t deserve to be President, then they don’t deserve to call themselves Americans.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.