‘A slap in the face’

LIHUE — Korean War veteran Steve Uyehara says Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump “has no business talking about war heroes.” 

“He himself stayed out of the Vietnam War because of exemptions,” he said. “He will never be a good U.S. president because all he does is open his mouth.”

Uyehara is referring to Trump’s comments during the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa on Saturday when the real estate mogul questioned Sen. John McCain’s, R-Arizona, status as a war hero.

“He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured,” Trump said. “I like people that weren’t captured.”

The GOP front-runner’s remarks have drawn criticism from the Republican establishment.

On top of that, military veterans like Uyehara interviewed by The Garden Island at the Kauai Veterans Center on Tuesday didn’t take too kindly to Trump’s criticism of McCain, who was a five-year prisoner of war in the infamous Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam.

Uyehara, who served in the Army, said Trump “shouldn’t be calling Sen. McCain anything other than a war hero.”

“I don’t think Trump has gotten any support from veterans if he runs for president,” he said. “He’ll never get elected no matter what.”

When ask about McCain’s status as a war hero, Uyehara said he highly respects the former GOP presidential nominee.

“I think very much of McCain of what he went through in the Vietnam War,” he said. “Anybody that was POW under the north Vietnamese suffered a lot. In what they went through, there are not too many people that can do that.”

James Oyabomari, a Korean War Army veteran, was with Uyehara at the KVC on Tuesday preparing for their annual Korean War Veteran Reunion this weekend.

“I’m sure he (Trump) wasn’t a prisoner of war, so he’s not in a position to make a comment like that to somebody who was in prison camp for five years,” he said. “McCain suffered through humiliation, torture and everything.”

Both veterans said Trump should apologize to McCain and all military personal.

“I don’t think he was thinking when he made that comment because he never went through the experience,” Oyabomari said. “I feel he doesn’t have the right to make degrading comments like that.”

But as the fallout intensifies for the billionaire businessman, The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Trump’s supporters are more excited than ever about his chances.

“I love to see them jump all over him ‘cause they’re just giving him a clear road. I love it!” said Trump supporter Frank Candelieri, 89, from Merrimack, N.H., of the backlash his candidate faced in recent days.

Candelieri, a World War II vet who said he won a Purple Heart fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, said he wasn’t offended by Trump’s comments.

But on Kauai, the reaction was much different.

Merland Kelstrom, KVC Museum volunteer tour guide, said McCain is “absolutely” a war hero.

“The comment that Trump made to McCain was not only a slap in the face of McCain, but a slap in the face of everyone who has worn a uniform,” he said. “To survive there in Vietnam, they weren’t very kind. When you go in there you’re fat and sassy, and when you come out you’re skinny and humble.”

Christopher “Wild Dog” Takenaka, U.S. Army veteran of Operation Desert Shield, said “the comments made by Mr. Trump were ‘very communistic.’”

“For McCain to lose his weapon, his maintenance of defense, to be humiliated by his enemy, Trump’s comments reflect a lot of ignorance,” he said.

Takenaka said Trump needs to experience war for himself in order to understand McCain’s POW experience.

“He’s been on too much prime time TV and he needs to see what the war was all about,” he said. “He needs somebody to get up to his face and put a gun to his head and starve him for a week. Maybe that will put some sense into him.”

It’s important for Trump, Takenaka said, to be respectful to all the men and women in the military — especially those who served in past wars.

“On top of that, most of these guys aren’t around any more. They have no say. As younger veterans, we need to stand up for those older veterans,” he said.

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