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'Losers' and 'suckers': Military service made men in my family nothing like Donald Trump

President Donald Trump was the smart guy who passed up the chance to serve his country through military service for the thrill of making real money.

Ross K. Baker
Opinion columnist

It was my bad luck to be born into a family of losers.

My uncle — my dad’s youngest brother — wanted to join the Marines in 1918 but was told by a recruiting sergeant who wasn't fooled by my uncle’s youthful appearance. They don’t need no drummer boys, he was told. So he went home, forged my grandfather’s immigration papers and was accepted by the Army, which made him a medic and sent him to France. He arrived just in time for the Germans’ last desperate push on the Marne River. He wasn’t just unlucky; he was a loser who should have been prepping for college.

If allegations in The Atlantic magazine by editor Jeffrey Goldberg are to be believed, the terms “loser” and “sucker” were applied to Americans in the military by President Donald Trump; publicly in the case of Sen. John McCain. The Atlantic cites four anonymous sources who say they have firsthand knowledge of the discussion but Trump denies the allegations.

If Trump did make the remarks, maybe he was right in the case of members of my family.

Service before self

There was good money to be made in the black market in the states during World War II, but my mother’s younger brother allowed himself to be suckered into Charlie Company of the 397th Infantry Regiment as they battled the Nazis in the Vosges Mountains of Alsace-Lorraine in the winter of 1944. He became one of those losers with a Purple Heart when he stepped on a German mine. The Germans were pretty good knocking off suckers like him.

USA TODAY News:Trump accused of describing war dead as 'losers' and 'suckers.' He denies allegations. Here's what we know

At roughly the same time, my brother-in-law left his 17-year-old bride, my sister, to string telephone wires in the Signal Corps in New Guinea and the Philippines and be shot at for sport by the Japanese who practiced their marksmanship on the American linemen. He came home safe but the terror never left him.

Morris Lieberman, Ross Baker's uncle.

It seems as if all of my male cousins were losers in one way or other. They joined the Navy. Maybe it was with the idea of avoiding land combat but they certainly got a bellyful of it off Okinawa when the Japanese launched the fanatical kamikaze raids against their aircraft carriers. The Navy had really suckered them in.

Black walls, gold stars

The list of losers grew during Vietnam. My wife’s first husband was a Marine second lieutenant who had served his tour and had packed to go home when he was killed by a 122 mm. rocket just a few weeks after his son was born, who he never lived to see. What a loser. You see, Mr. President, some of the biggest losers have gold stars after their names and are also inscribed on a black wall in Washington, D.C., a short walk from the White House where you live.

You should visit it some time; it’s a great photo op.

2nd Lt. John W. Hulme, USMC, Ross Baker's wife's first husband.

My youngest daughter never had a chance to meet her prospective father-in-law, one of those losers with two Bronze Stars. He was a Green Beret and came home after serving honorably in Vietnam, part of a real pack of suckers who could have made real money dealing in commercial real estate.

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You were the smart guy who passed up military service for a chance to make real money. You simulate respect for the soldiers and sailors, airmen and Coast Guard when you pop your flaccid salute walking down the stairs from Air Force One, but your feigned respect for these young people must conceal an inner contempt for them. Instead of guarding our nation, they could be doing real work managing hedge funds.

Ross K. Baker is a distinguished professor of political science at Rutgers University and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @Rosbake1