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'It is awful and I hope there is a firestorm': South Carolina Gold Star families outraged by Trump comments

The monument naming the York County chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for the late Marine T.J. Dudley who died in Afghanistan in 2011.
The monument naming the York County chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for the late Marine T.J. Dudley who died in Afghanistan in 2011. adys@heraldonline.com

His name was T.J. Dudley, and he was a United States Marine from Fort Mill with three kids with a wife and a momma. He died five years ago in July in Afghanistan. He was 29. It was his sixth deployment.

T.J. Dudley never ran for office. He was a firefighter, a rescue squad member and a Marine.

Donald Trump was and is none of these.

Yet Trump, who wants to be president and is the Republican nominee, slammed both the father and mother of a Muslim American soldier who died in Iraq in war. Trump took to task these parents who dared challenge Trump’s proposal to keep Muslim immigrants out of the country when their son died fighting for America and freedom.

Donald Trump, says, Robyn Dudley, mother of T.J. Dudley, has crossed the line. The death of a son in a war is not for a politician to deride.

“My son, every one of the men and women who died in those wars, they gave their lives, sacrificed their lives, for the freedoms we all have every day,” Robyn Dudley said. “What Trump said – it is awful and I hope there is a firestorm over this.”

The troops who give their lives for America’s safety, of any religion or race or anything else, are “not a political game,” Robyn Dudley said. Her reaction has nothing to do with politics, who she will vote for, or anything else, she says. The death of troops is far too important for politics.

Robyn Dudley is the woman who – when thousands of York County residents lined the streets of Fort Mill, Rock Hill and Tega Cay with flags, salutes and tears when her son was brought home for burial in 2011 – held up a handwritten sign in the window of the funeral home limousine. The sign said simply: ‘Thank You!’

It is a gesture that remains, perhaps, the most powerful tribute to a York County military man ever. It brought grown men to tears in the middle of the street. And now Trump talks of Gold Star families as if they were political rivals at a barbecue.

“What he said, it hit a raw nerve – it is devastating,” Robyn Dudley said. “There is no sacrifice like the sacrifice of a child’s life for this country.”

Troy Adams of Rock Hill, whose father, Jesse Adams, was killed in Vietnam in 1968 when Troy was just 3 months old, never met his father. Troy Adams knows sacrifice. Jesse Adams died at age 19 for his country.

Troy Adams has been a Gold Star family man since then. And right now he is as mad, upset, as he has ever been for Trump running down any family of any military man or woman killed in war.

“It is despicable. I can’t understand how or why he would say it,” Adams said. “He is making a lot of people mad. And I am one of them.”

Rock Hill’s Cynthia Butler, whose Marine grandson Kenneth James Butler died at age 19 in Iraq in 2005, said that all Gold Star families have a connection that a guy like Trump would never understand. Every one of those families, of all religions and races, lost a family member, an American, to war.

“Trump has professional foot in mouth disease,” Cynthia Butler said. “I hope I don’t see him so I don’t have to embarrass him for saying this kind of nonsense.”

Trump even received a veteran’s Purple Heart at a rally Tuesday in Virginia. But Kenneth James Butler and Jesse Adams and T.J Dudley never got to wear their Purple Hearts. They died in wars to get the medals they never wore or even held.

They earned them. In blood.

Dudley’s valor and sacrifice was so great, his honor so strong, that the York County chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart changed its name to the T.J. Dudley Memorial chapter. The group ordered a monument of granite with Purple Heart replica etched on it.

It states; “My stone is red for the blood they shed. The medal I bear is my country’s way to show they care. If I could be seen by all mankind maybe peace will come in my lifetime.”

This Sunday at 3 p.m. at the city of York recreation complex on 4th Street, the monument will be dedicated. Unless Donald Trump crashes the party, he has not been invited.

But Robyn Dudley will be there. She will proudly accept the dedication honor for her son, and for all who were wounded or died serving America.

The dead cannot speak but the living can roar.

“I will be there for all Gold Star families,” Robyn Dudley said. “We all share a common bond. Mr. Trump apparently does not know what that is.”

That bond is sacrifice, and love for country, and death.

Want to go?

The Military Order of the Purple Heart will dedicate the T.J. Dudley Memorial Chapter 2008 monument in York to all combat wounded veterans at 3 p.m. Sunday. The event on National Purple Heart Day is at the monument, located at York Recreation Complex, 74 4th St. York. There is no seating: Bring a chair or blanket to sit on.

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