The families of two Massachusetts men who were killed in action in the Iraq War more than a decade ago stood next to a bridge named after their sons and expressed the pain they felt when they heard President Trump's disparaging descriptions of fallen American troops.
The president has denied the comments, reported by the Atlantic, but they've been confirmed by other media outlets. And the families of Army PFC John Hart and Marine Lance Corporal Travis Desiato want the president to know they're taking his remarks personally.
Hart had turned 20 one month before he was killed in Taza, Iraq in October 2003. Desiato was just 19 when he was killed in the bloody battle of Fallujah in November 2004. Their deaths, just 13 months apart, hit their hometown of Bedford hard. All these years later, so did the president's words.
"We, the Harts and Desiatos, are outraged and offended — but, more deeply, saddened — that the president called them losers and suckers," Joseph Desiato said during a press conference the families called Thursday morning. Brian Hart, John's farther, said the president's words were "so beyond the pale" it had taken the families a week to collect their thoughts about what they wanted to say.
"We know all Americans have a right to their opinion and we respect that," said Jo Desiato. "The Gold Star Families such as ours should never have to read that the president of the United States has ridiculed our sons and daughters' decisions to stand up and serve in the U.S. military."
"Think of what his ugly words signal to the next generations," said Alma Hart, John's mother. "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?"
The families spoke the day before the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, which they say inspired both young men to volunteer to serve in the military.
"They listened to the call from President Bush and other American leaders and they responded," said Joe Desiato. "They could have gone off to college. They had plans. They had dreams. But they put those aside to fight for the values of our nation and to defend it from those who would take it down."
The bridge spans the Concord River near Bedford, where both Hart and Desiato graduated from high school.
Joe Desiato recalled a recent day when he paddled down the river under the bridge, wishing his son was in a kayak next to him. "This is a hallowed ground for my family," he said. "I'm not here for politics. I'm here for John and Travis."