The Route 225 bridge that spans the Concord River is dedicated in memory of two Bedford High School graduates killed in action in Iraq – Army Pfc. John D. Hart in October 2003 and Marine Lance Cpl. Travis R. Desiato in November 2004.
It is hallowed ground for the town’s two Gold Star Families, and they chose the boat launch area in the shadow of the bridge to express their outrage and hurt, responding to President Donald J. Trump’s reported disdain for military service and for those who choose that path.
Trump has denied the report, first published in the Atlantic magazine, and confirmed by several other media outlets.
Brian Hart told the gathering, attended only by invited media and a few friends, that when he heard of Trump’s characterization of deceased veterans as “losers,” there was a flashback to the emotions he felt when learning of his son’s death.
“It has taken us a week to pull our thoughts together because it was so beyond the pale,” Hart explained.
Dr. Joseph Desiato, who remarked that he was “making the most important speech of my life,” declared, “We are outraged and offended, but more deeply saddened, by what Donald Trump did.”
Noting the date, he said Travis Desiato and John Hart were motivated to enlist by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. “They responded to the call from President Bush and America’s leaders “to do what they knew was right. Our adult children died as heroes, as true patriots.”.
Desiato, his voice breaking, said, “We are here to answer the call to fight for the memories of John and Travis, even if the person who leveled the attack was our own president.”
Alma Hart took a different approach. “Think of what his ugly words signal to the next generations. Today, how many parents, spouses, and friends are discouraging the bright and able from enlisting? America will always need an engaged and resilient military. To do their difficult jobs, they must have our enduring support.”
She continued, “How can we, the American citizens, be confident our military is being used for significant moral and constitutional ends if the commander-in-chief thinks of them as suckers?”
Hart said President Trump “will continue to deny it until the sources step up.” She called on retired Gen. John F. Kelly, retired White House chief of staff, to publicly confirm the published report that Trump couldn’t comprehend the motivation of enlistees.
Kelly, she said, “believes it’s inappropriate for a retired general to speak out against a sitting president in the midst of an election. We need him to tell us what he knows about this matter … We need to understand President Trump’s true character before this election. If Trump doesn’t respect our military personnel and our wounded veterans, how can we trust him with the health and welfare of ordinary citizens?”
Bedford representatives, all Democrats, in the U.S. House and the Massachusetts General Court were the other speakers.
Desiato and Hart “believed so much in the idea of America that they gave their lives to defend it,” said Congressman Seth Moulton. The president, he said, “does not understand what it means to serve your country, to give your life for the idea of America.”
A president who did not support the military is unprecedented in U.S. history, Moulton said “There is nothing more dangerous than a commander-in-chief who doesn’t understand that sacred obligation to keep the country safe.”
State Rep. Ken Gordon, author of the bill to name the memorial bridge, served as master of ceremonies. He said he was contacted by the Gold Star families after news broke of the president’s alleged comments. Their sons, Gordon said, “were not losers,” and “we hold our arms open to them.”
Gordon’s counterpart in the State Senate, Mike Barrett, said Trump’s “words were vile.” He observed that as there is no political constituency that supports the position, Trump was expressing his “personal reflections of contempt for people who have their lives for this nation.”
In his remarks, Dr. Desiato recounted a recent ride in a kayak beneath the memorial bridge. “I wish there wasn’t a reason to have that sign,” he said. Gordon said the bridge “shows that we will never forget them and we honor their service.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763
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