By now, every American who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past two weeks knows who Khizr Khan is. Given the media coverage, you might have thought the father of the Muslim solider killed in Iraq was not only the most important speaker of the Democrat National Convention — but that somehow, Khan had become an essential arbiter in the 2016 presidential election. And if you listened to Khan and the frenzied liberal media coverage surrounding him, you would think GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is absolutely unfit to be president. (Never mind that, as we reported, Mr. Khan has a personally vested financial interest in keeping Trump out of office; of course, that couldn’t possibly color his view, could it?)
But isn’t it curious that while the media obsessed over one Gold Star family’s “interaction” with Donald Trump, they’ve all but ignored another one. Yes, while we were all hearing day and night about Khizr Khan last week, the Republican presidential nominee was quietly meeting with 10 Gold Star families privately.
No TV cameras, no script, no agenda.
The Gold Star families in attendance arrived skeptical of the purpose of the meeting but left with strengthened resolve to back Trump in November.
As the Tampa Bay Times reports:Tuesday night, Craig Gross received an offer he could not refuse from one of the few men in America who understands the pain he feels. “Do you want to meet Donald Trump?” Kris Hager asked Gross, a fellow Gold Star father.
So Gross had to decide: Go to work as scheduled, at Frankie’s Patriot BBQ, the Tarpon Springs restaurant he owns and has dedicated to the son he lost during the war in Afghanistan, or make the long drive from his home in Oldsmar to Jacksonville with Hager and his wife Wendy, who lost his son to combat in Iraq.
“It was an easy choice,” said Gross. “I suffer from FOMO — Fear of Missing Out.”
At a time when Trump was embroiled in a feud with another Gold Star father, who took the stage at the Democratic National Convention to criticize his plan for cracking down on Muslim immigration, Gross and Hager made the 200 mile trip to see the Republican presidential nominee at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville.
The two men were wary at first, wondering whether they had been summoned merely to help calm the political waters for Trump. They left surprised that their meeting was held in private and impressed at the nominee’s sincerity.
“We all go into these things with preconceived ideas,” said Gross, whose son, Army Cpl. Frank Gross, was 25 when he died in Afghanistan in July 2011. “I didn’t want to be used as a pawn to deflate the Khan controversy.”
Gross and Hager arrived not to the bank of TV crews they had expected but to a table in room where Trump’s campaign photographer wielded the only camera.
“Mr. Trump was very gracious,” said Hager, of Parrish, whose son Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Hager was 30 when he was killed in Iraq in 2007. “There was no script. No agenda. He wanted to know our stories and what we have gone through. He was absolutely empathetic.”
Gross said he was “totally shocked” that Trump spent as much time with them as he did, more than half an hour.
“All I expected was a handshake and, ‘Thank you for your service,” Gross said.
Khan’s name never came up.
“It was a non-event for the Gold Star families attending,” he said.
Hager said he told Trump that, if elected, he needs to have a Gold Star family in the West Wing every day “so that you can look at someone in the eyes whose son or daughter have given their life and know what that is all about.”
Trump, said Hager, looked at Michael Flynn, a retired Army three-star general who has been supporting the candidate, and said, “‘You are right.'”
Gross said he offered a subtle bit of advice to Trump.
“I said, ‘Mr. Trump, please stay focused.’ I did not elaborate. He knew what I was talking about.”
There were 10 Gold Star family members who attended the meetings, said Hager, including Billy and Karen Vaughn. Their son, Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator Aaron Vaughn, 30, was a member of SEAL Team 6 and one of 30 U.S. troops killed in the worst single day in the history of both the U.S. Special Operations Forces and the Afghanistan war.
On Aug. 6, 2011, the Taliban shot down a twin-engine CH-47 Chinook helicopter with the call sign Extortion 17, killing members of the SEAL team as well as naval special warfare operators, Army flight crewmen, Air Force personnel, Afghan soldiers and an Afghan interpreter.
Gross supported Trump to begin with. The meeting strengthened his resolve. Hager, who was leaning toward Trump, fully supports him now and will vote for him in November.
The Khans and all of the Gold Star families who met with Trump in Florida last week share the profound grief of having lost a child in service to our nation — and, for that, we owe them our sympathy and gratitude.
But there is one key difference in what we’ve seen play out over the past couple weeks. While the DNC used the Khans as a political pawns — and they appeared to willingly play along — Donald Trump and his campaign did not use the meeting as a political event. Rather, as reported by the Gold Star families in attendance, he was “absolutely empathetic” and wanted to know their stories and what they’ve gone through. Not pretending to care in front of the camera — but rather conveying that care in a personal way.
Which of these scenarios strikes you as authentically caring about the plight of our veterans and their families — and just Americans in general?
Yes, there are times when we all wish Trump was “smoother” with his sound bites, but at the end of the day, do you want a Panderer in Chief or one who actually takes the time to show he cares when the cameras aren’t rolling?
[Note: This article was written by Michelle Jesse, Associate Editor]