Donald Trump has declared a national prisoner of war recognition day in the US – in spite of once mocking an opponent by saying: “Heroes don’t get captured”.
Mr Trump made his comments about Republican rival, Senator John McCain when he was campaigning for the party’s nomination for the Presidency in 2015.
During an interview in Iowa, the presenter said Mr McCain was a “war hero” to which Mr Trump replied: “He’s not a hero… He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK? I hate to tell you that.”
The remarks, made at the Family Leadership Summit, caused a storm of protest at the time.
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Mr McCain, a former Navy pilot, spent five and a half years in a notorious Vietnamese prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton” where he was repeatedly tortured and spent years in solitary confinement.
Mr Trump, who avoided serving in Vietnam with four college deferrals and one for having a foot problem, put out a statement to announce that 9 April will be the date of this year’s National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day .There is already a day to honour those currently captured or missing in action in September.
Using his powers of presidential proclamation, he said: “On National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, America honours our service men and women imprisoned during war. These patriots have moved and inspired our nation through their unyielding sacrifices and devout allegiance.
“We honour the strength through adversity of all of these heroes from our Nation’s wars and conflicts, from the American Revolution to the World Wars, from Korea to Vietnam, from Desert Storm to the War on Terror.”
It adds: “As President, I am committed to providing our veterans, and especially our former PoWs, with the support, care, and resources they deserve. Our country owes a debt to our heroes that we can never adequately repay, but which we will always honour each day.”
The announcement prompted a flurry of tweets from those who recalled Mr Trump’s earlier comments on Mr McCain.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper posted a series of pictures of US war heroes who spent time as prisoners of war, along with a link to the interview where Mr Trump made his comments.
Mr Tapper reminded his followers: “Challenged on the comments. Trump said, ‘You know after I said that, my poll numbers went up seven points.’”
Following Mr Trump’s comments about him, Mr McCain said he was not personally offended but wanted an apology for all the military personnel who had been captured.
“What he said about me, John McCain, that’s fine. I don’t require any repair of that,” he told CNN’s Manu Raju in an interview.
“But when he said, ‘I don’t like people who were captured,’ then there’s a great body — there’s a body of American heroes that I would — that I would like to see him retract that statement, not about me, but about the others.”
In an interview with Howard Stern, Mr Trump alluded to not having fought in Vietnam by joking that his sex life was his “own personal Vietnam”.
“I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world,” Mr Trump told Stern in a conversation about avoiding avoiding STDs. “It is a dangerous world out there. It’s scary, like Vietnam. Sort of like the Vietnam era. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”
Although he said repeatedly during his election campaign that he wanted to make sure former military personnel were taken care of, he has been criticised for budget cuts to services they rely on including meals on wheels, affordable housing and homelessness services and for his plans to repeal Obamacare, which many veterans rely on.