Marine: Trump, you don't have a clue about what a Purple Heart means

Story highlights

  • Sean Barney floored Trump answered vet's gift of Purple Heart: I always wanted Purple Heart. "This was much easier"
  • Barney nearly died when shot in neck in Iraq; was awarded Purple Heart: "No one should ever 'want' to get a Purple Heart
  • Barney: With his slam of Gold Star parents of slain soldier, Trump shows he lacks character to be commander in chief

Sean Barney is a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Delaware and a combat-wounded Marine and Iraq War veteran. He previously served as policy director to Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and senior aide to Delaware Sen. Tom Carper. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Last Tuesday, a veteran supporter handed Donald Trump a Purple Heart medal. Trump's flippant response: "I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier."

As a veteran, I was quite simply astonished.
    I fought for our country in Iraq. I was wounded, and was awarded a Purple Heart. I can tell you, no one should ever "want" to get a Purple Heart.
    Sean Barney
    I enlisted in the Marines after September 11, 2001. I did not want others to be sent to fight in my place in Afghanistan. I am proud of my service, and beyond proud of those I served with, even though I was ultimately sent to fight not in Afghanistan, but in our war in Iraq, a war this country never should have fought.
    In May 2006, on a combat patrol in Falluja, I was shot through the neck by an enemy sniper. I survived because I was lucky: The bullet severed my carotid artery but the heat of the round cauterized my artery to my jugular vein. I survived because I served with Marines and a Navy corpsman who are honest-to-God heroes.
    As I struggled to remain conscious, they rushed me from a street corner in the center of the city to a surgical center on the outskirts of the city in in 12 minutes flat. The Navy corpsman used his fingers to pinch off bleeding from my jugular vein, refusing to let go until surgeons gave him the signal.
    When I regained consciousness at the naval hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, the doctor who greeted me said, "I wouldn't believe you survived this if I weren't looking at you with my own two eyes."
    I was left partially paralyzed. I underwent multiple surgeries and a year of physical therapy. I received skilled care from dedicated medical professionals, and slowly recovered physically. Still, I struggled with post-traumatic stress. Because of the intense effort it took to remain conscious after I was shot, after returning home I had difficulty relaxing enough to sleep. With treatment, I recovered and began to lead a normal life again.
    Sean Barney in April 2006, at the Civil-Military Operations Center in Fallujah, Iraq, a month before he survived being shot through the neck by an enemy sniper, an injury for which he was awarded a Purple Heart.
    I am conscious every day of how fortunate I was, to have improbably survived and to have friends and loved ones with me at the ceremony presided over by the Commandant of the Marine Corps at which I was awarded my Purple Heart.
    The Purple Heart bears the image of our first commander in chief, George Washington, but Donald Trump, who seeks to be our commander in chief, plainly does not understand what the medal represents.
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    One of the Marines I served with in Iraq, a Republican, remarked to me after Trump spoke, "Does he understand that many Marines have gotten their Purple Hearts at their funerals? Wonder if he would still want one."
    Disturbingly, Trump's comments are part of a pattern. Only one day before his Purple Heart comments, he doubled-down on his attacks on Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan.
    Trump was responding to criticism from the Khans of his proposed "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."
    Khizr Khan made the point at the Democratic Convention that the Khans, immigrants who would have been denied entry to the United States if a policy like the one Trump proposes had been in place, had sacrificed more for their adopted country than Trump ever has. The Khans lost their son, Capt. Humayun Khan, in 2004 when, acting to protect his fellow soldiers, he was killed by a car bomb in Iraq.
    Trump could have ignored the Khans. He could have responded to their criticism with the respect they have earned. But instead -- in keeping with what we are learning about his character -- he resorted to innuendo, bigotry and bullying.
    He accused Khizr Khan of not writing his own speech and insinuated that Ghazala Khan was not allowed to speak because she is a Muslim woman — never mind that just the day before, Ghazala Khan spoke about her son with tears in her eyes.
    Meanwhile, Trump's team launched a racist and xenophobic smear campaign against the Khans. Longtime ally Roger Stone and "veteran co-chair" Al Baldasaro spread baseless articles on Twitter that Khizr Khan is a secret agent of the Muslim Brotherhood.
    If there was any question before, there should be no question now: Donald Trump does not have the character or temperament to serve as commander in chief. The first responsibility of the commander in chief is to treat the willingness to sacrifice of those who voluntarily step forward to serve our country with the utmost seriousness.
    The President's power to draw on that willingness to sacrifice and to send young men and women into harm's way is a sacred trust. Having thick enough skin to receive criticism from military families without lashing out at them is a baseline prerequisite for assuming the responsibility for making decisions that can end up leaving empty seats at family dinner tables.
    In the Marine Corps, we say that the title of Marine is "earned, never given." So, too, with the salute the commander in chief receives. Earned, not given, and Trump has not earned it.