As President Trump prepares to visit Normandy, France, on Thursday to honor some of the bravest soldiers in history, he said he is “making up” for his own lack of military service by strengthening U.S. armed forces.
“I think I’m making up for it rapidly, because we’re rebuilding our military at a level that’s never seen before,” he told a British interviewer.
Mr. Trump, who received five deferments during the Vietnam War, will attend ceremonies in France marking the 75th anniversary of the Allied D-Day invasion that freed Western Europe from occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II.
The landings of nearly 160,000 U.S. and other Allied troops on exposed beaches under heavy German machine gun fire on June 6, 1944, “may have been the greatest battle ever in history,” Mr. Trump told interviewer Piers Morgan. Thousands of paratroopers were dropped into enemy territory in the hours before the amphibious assault from nearly 5,000 vessels.
About 300 veterans of the legendary invasion, most in their 90s, were honored by Mr. Trump and other world leaders Wednesday at a ceremony in Portsmouth, England, which served as one of the launching points for the D-Day crossing of the English Channel.
Mr. Trump read aloud a prayer delivered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the fateful day. For the troops, Roosevelt prayed, “Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.”
It’s the kind of courage that Mr. Trump, who never wore the uniform, has repeatedly praised in modern U.S. armed forces and in veterans.
The president has come under criticism from several Democrats who have served in the military for his Vietnam deferments, including one in 1968 for the diagnosis of bone spurs.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, who served in Afghanistan and is a 2020 Democratic presidential primary hopeful, said last week that Mr. Trump “took advantage of the fact that he was a child of a multimillionaire in order to pretend to be disabled so that somebody could go to war in his place.”
Rep. Max Rose, New York Democrat and an Army veteran, called Mr. Trump a “draft dodger” Wednesday.
“There’s nothing he can do now to excuse for that or to make up for it, but I think there’s a larger issue and question at play here because what the president seemed to infer was that he did not want to serve because he did not agree with American” policy, he said, adding that he does not believe in “a la carte service.”
“I enlisted in the military … but did not think the war in Iraq was a great idea. In fact, I think it’s the greatest foreign policy mistake in modern American political history, but that doesn’t take away from the service,” he said.
Mr. Morgan asked the president on “Good Morning Britain” whether he wished he had been able to serve in Vietnam.
“Well, I was never a fan of that war, I’ll be honest with you,” Mr. Trump said. “I thought it was a terrible war. I thought it was very far away, and at that time nobody ever heard of the country. So many people dying, what is happening over there? So I was never a fan — like we’re fighting against Nazi Germany, we’re fighting against Hitler.”
He added, “I wasn’t out in the streets marching. I wasn’t saying, you know, I’m going to move to Canada, which a lot of people did.”
Asked whether he wished he could have served in the military at all, Mr. Trump said, “I would not have minded that at all. I would have been honored.
“But I think I make up for it right now,” he said. “Seven hundred billion dollars I gave last year, and then this year $716 billion. And I think I’m making up for it rapidly, because we’re rebuilding our military at a level that’s never seen before.”
The president has often criticized the Obama administration for shortchanging the defense budget, saying his military buildup is needed to make up for years of spending caps.
Mr. Trump also defended his policy of banning transgender people from serving in the armed forces. He asserted again that the cost of medication and surgery is too expensive for the government.
“Because they take massive amounts of drugs, they have to — and also, and you’re not allowed to take drugs,” he said. “You’re in the military; you’re not allowed to take any drugs.”
Transgender advocates note that the military does not ban as illicit “drugs” the sort of hormone therapy medications used in gender transitions.
Mr. Morgan also pushed back on Mr. Trump’s rationale. He pointed out that the military spends more on Viagra for soldiers than it does on transgender soldiers’ medical bills.
Mr. Trump responded that he wasn’t aware of that statistic but added, “It is what it is.”
⦁ Bailey Vogt contributed to this report.