Trump and Lt. Colonel L.B. Hillsinger – A  Contrast in Courage


A lot has been said about former President Trump. There are the endless screeds by those for and against – the hyperbole, the tag lines, and the eye candy headlines.  There is also the reality of the Trump University fraud, the injectable bleach as a COVID cure, the Insurrection, support for some of the worst Senatorial candidates known to humankind, QAnon’s embrace of Trump, Trump’s embrace of a holocaust denier, and now – the digital trading card grift.

It is a place of familiarity, which has bred complacency.  Trump has become part of our political landscape; another aspect of tribalism in a tribal society. To the point where for many his emptiness (past, present and future) has receded into the mind-numbing, grey mist of “Trump being Trump.”

What would Lt. Colonel L.B. Hillsinger, who served in the American Army Air Corp (now the U.S. Air Force) have said about this?  He cannot speak to us directly. He died in 1966. But actions speak louder than words. Here are some of Lt. Hillsinger’s actions.

The American Air Museum relates that after a severe injury on a British ship in 1942 during the Dieppe raid (which was an incursion in force by the Allies into Nazi occupied France that ended quite badly for us), Hillsinger remained at his post.  And was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (being one grade below the Congressional Medal of Honor).

But there is more to it than that. Two men standing next to Hillsinger on the ship that day were killed instantly by a German bomb.  Hillsinger, “blown off the bridge to the forward deck, stared in anger and consternation at the place where his right foot had been,” which was visible in the water, still inside a blown off shoe. Two American sailors who came to his aid witnessed what came next. Hillsinger sat up, “staring alternately at his right stump and at his missing foot wearing the shoe. Suddenly with a gesture of intense irritation he tore the shoe from his good left foot and flung it after the other into the water, yelling ‘take the goddamn pair.’  The Colonel then turned to the two sailors.  ’New shoes,’ he said ‘Bought them this week.  First time on.’”

That was Hillsinger.  Trump’s war time actions were a little different.

About 3.1 million Americans served in Vietnam.  Trump didn’t.  Instead, he received five draft deferments. Four were education deferments while he was a college student.  The fifth, in 1968, was a medical exemption for bone spurs after he graduated.

When asked years later about this, Trump could have said – “look, I was young, I was scared, that war was a mess, and I did what I could to stay out of it.”  That would have been the honest thing to do.  It would have demonstrated personal integrity. And for many, it would have been relatable or, at least, understandable.   But that is not how Trump rolls.  The adult Trump said that:

a doctor wrote him a letter for the draft board about the bone spurs – which Trump said were “temporary” and “minor” – but he could not recall the doctor’s name.

“I had a doctor that gave me a letter – a very strong letter on the heels,” Trump told the Times.

The thing is – bone spurs are virtually never temporary.  In 1968, they could only be removed surgically.

None of which is reflected in the digital trading cards Trump recently promoted. He claims these cards “feature AMAZING art” pertaining to his “life and career.”  One of them pictures Trump as a super hero.  Another suggests he was a fighter pilot/astronaut.  A third – a sheriff.  Unsurprisingly, there is no depiction of Trump’s feet.  Or the unlucky American who served in Trump’s place in Vietnam.

What might Lt. Colonel Hillsinger say to this? My guess – that Trump is a flabby coward who disgraces any uniform he depicts himself in.

What might Lt. Colonel Hillsinger say to us?  That in a nation of 330 million people, many (indeed, most) of us are better than this.

What does Lt. Colonel Hillsinger say to me? That in every generation. Americans have faced a clear and present danger to our freedom. Which, at its most fundamental core, is the simple ability to decide for ourselves how we live and by whom we are governed.

Prior generations spent their blood and treasure to preserve that freedom.  To defend it now, we need not demand perfection from our politicians.  Or that they always be right.  Or even always truthful. We need only hold them at a standard of basic decency that we all intuitively understand, can readily recognize in others, and hold ourselves to.

Making this a reality does not require forming a new political party, running for office, making campaign contributions, debating friends and family members, or writing articles like this one.  A personal decision – however quietly made – to stop being complacent, is enough.  In your own mind.  When you listen to the avalanche of lies that is coming on Facebook (to which Trump was just re-instated).  And when, eventually, you vote.

We have done it since the birth of this nation.  We must do it now.


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