DOWNTOWN — Local Gold Star families gathered near Trump Tower on Thursday to criticize Donald Trump over what they say is the Republican presidential candidate's lack of sensitivity to those who've lost loved ones in battle.
"Where is the decency? Where is the empathy?" said James Frazier, a longtime Streeterville resident who now lives in Lake in the Hills, who lost a son in Afghanistan in 2003.
In front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and directly across the Chicago River from Trump Tower, Frazier spoke for the handful of families gathered who lost relations defending the United States in the military.
They took issue with Trump's attack on Khizr Khan, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week about the death of his son in Iraq in 2004. Khan, angered by Trump's aim to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the United States, told the candidate: "You have sacrificed nothing and no one."
Trump dismissed the attack and suggested Khan's wife, Ghazala, did not speak as well because she couldn't as a Muslim woman. Pressed to explain what he had sacrificed in a TV interview, Trump said he had made sacrifices as a business executive.
Frazier said that, if he had been asked to speak at the convention, he probably would have declined because, "I am not a Muslim American, as the Khans" are.
"I have not borne the brunt of political attacks" such as those Trump has made against Muslims "so I can't speak for them," Frazier said. "What I can speak to, though, [is] the concept that someone can compare burying a child, a loved one, to building a building and hiring people and making money.
"Where is the decency? Where is the empathy?" he said.
Frazier added, "our Gold Star families suffered."
"I don't know if 'sacrifice' is the word, because it's our kids who sacrificed their lives. But we have big holes in our hearts. We have a pain — immeasurable sadness — that never goes away, never ever goes away," he said.
Frazier asked that "in the future, what I hope is that the people we elect to office understand empathy and understand you do not compare a life to making money."
Former Bridgeport Ald. James Balcer, a Vietnam veteran and U.S. Marine who has been active in veterans' issues and with Gold Star families since the '70s, said, "You cannot understand the hurt that the families go through and what they've been through to lose a loved one."
"I thought Mr. Trump's comments were off base, uncalled for, and he owes the Khan family an apology," said Balcer, who organized the demonstration. "You can't compare losing a son in the defense or our nation to doing work with your company and saying you sacrificed. I completely think that's wrong."
Balcer also took issue with Trump's acceptance this week of a replica Purple Heart from a Vietnam vet at a Virginia campaign stop with the comment: "I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier."
"That is not to be taken lightly," Balcer said.
Balcer also cited U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth's response on Twitter with a photograph of her being awarded the Purple Heart in a hospital while being treated for the loss of her legs in an Iraq helicopter downing. Duckworth, a Democrat, running for the U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Mark Kirk, tweeted: "This is how one usually looks when you are awarded the Purple Heart. Nothing easy about it."
"I got three of them," Balcer said of his Purple Hearts received in Vietnam. "Nothing like Tammy, though."
Efforts to reach the Trump campaign for comment on the Chicago gathering were not immediately successful.
But Trump on Wednesday reportedly met in Florida with families of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Military Times quoted one mother as saying after the 30-minute private meeting “I walked out feeling like I understood where his heart is, regardless of the comments that he made that may seem insensitive to some.”
Prvt Mtg w our next CIC. Compassionate, kind, warm-hearted. This Gold Star mom knows he's the right one for the job. pic.twitter.com/QjanLVZXCW— Karen Vaughn (@KarenVaughn_GSM) August 4, 2016