President Donald Trump in a televised interview Wednesday said he would have liked to have served in the U.S. military but not during the height of fighting in Vietnam because “I was never a fan of that war.”
The comments came during a sit-down on “Good Morning Britain” at the end of Trump’s visit to London this week. Trump said that he “would have been honored” to enlist in the armed forces but that “I think I’m making up for (not serving) as we’re rebuilding the military as we never have before.”
Trump received five deferments during the height of the Vietnam War. Four were for education, while the fifth was a medical waiver for bone spurs in his feet. Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified before Congress in February that the injury was made up so Trump could avoid the draft.
Asked about whether he wished he had served in Vietnam, Trump said that “it was a terrible war” and he did not support U.S. efforts there.
“Nobody had ever heard of (Vietnam),” he said. “What are we doing? So many people are dying. What is happening over there?
“This wasn’t like, ‘I’m fighting against Nazi Germany, we were fighting against Hilter.’ I was like a lot of people. I wasn’t out in streets marching. I wasn’t saying I was going to move to Canada, which a lot of people did. But I wasn’t a fan of that war, generally.”
Trump’s critics have attacked him in the past for his attacks on military and veteran critics — including former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain — despite Trump’s lack of military service. The president noted in the interview Wednesday that he has pushed for record-high defense budgets since he became commander in chief, which he sees as a different kind of service to the military.
Trump was also pressed on his decision to overturn Defense Department policy and ban transgender individuals from enlisting in the military, arguing that it was a matter of cost and military rules regarding prescription drug use.
“In the military, you’re not allowed to take any drugs,” he said. “You take an aspirin. And (transgender individuals) have to (use prescription drugs) after the operation. They have no choice. You would have to break rules and regulations to have that.”
When reminded that the military spent more on erectile dysfunction drugs than transgender troops’ medication, Trump repeated that “you have to stick by the standard … They blow it out of the water.”
Officials from the Palm Center, which advocates for LGBT service members, said the comment “shows (Trump’s) ignorance about the realities of military service and regulations, as well as a lack of knowledge of the science and medical research on transgender people.”
They noted that many troops take prescription drugs and the rules Trump seemed to refer to involve illegal substances, not doctor-approved medication.
Trump is traveling to France later this week to participate in ceremonies honoring the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings there.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.