PHILADELPHIA — Khizr Khan, who shamed Donald Trump in front of a whole nation last week, spoke to the Democratic Convention two days after Rocco Renell Isaac’s birthday, one of many through history who also made a great sacrifice. Mr Khan was talking about his family, his son, and his country all suffering a lasting loss when Army Capt. Humayun Khan was killed in Iraq in 2004 at the age of 27.
LCpl. Isaac was 19, a rifleman with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, Fifth Marines when he was killed in Vietnam July 26, 1968, a particularly lethal year. He was a graduate of Philadelphia’s Edison High School, which holds the sad record of having the most graduates killed in Vietnam of any high school in America: 64.
Captain Khan was a patriot who wanted to be a military lawyer upon finishing his tour in an increasingly unpopular war. LCpl. Isacc was a patriot who had dreams of starting his own business someday after finishing his 13 months fighting a war that was dividing his country. Both wars were nurtured by political deceit.
Humayun left his parents and two brothers. Isacc left his parents, three brothers and four sisters. Both left a hole in the heart that neither time nor memory can ever heal.
Captain Khan is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, his headstone is in a line of sight with Memorial Bridge and the Lincoln Memorial. LCpl. Isaac is buried in Philadelphia National Cemetery and his name is carved into the long, black marble wall of the Vietnam Memorial on Panel W50, Line 14 not far from Captain Khan’s grave.
In the past few days Donald Trump has displayed an appalling ignorance of what loss, sacrifice, and true pride of country mean as he continually attempted to diminish the Khan family. Sunday, the thin-skinned billionaire used his favorite lethal weapon, Twitter, to complain he had been “viciously attacked” by Khizar Khan. In Trump’s twisted imagination he must think he’s fighting a war of words and is thus as brave as men like Humayun Khan and Rocco Isaac.
A few days ago I stood in the hallway of Edison High looking at a plaque that hangs on the wall a few yards from the metal detector at the school’s front door. I studied the names on the plaque and realized that, together, they define America; names like Antonelli, Brookins, Burton, Cobarrubio, Jefferson, Johnson, Maguire, Mieeczowski, Santiago, Whalen, Woewlcke, Zerggen and all the others..
In my mind’s eye, I saw LCpl. Rocco Isaac, home on leave, summer 1967, before he shipped out for Vietnam. I saw him walking along West Luzerne Street in Northeast Philly, splendid and proud in his dress blues, the uniform a declaration that Rocco Isaac was a man of strength, purpose, and dedication to a cause larger than himself.
A few miles from Edison High, on Greenway Avenue where Isaac lived before he enlisted in the Marine Corps, there was little trace of his family nearly 50 years after his death. A man who gave his name as Eddie Cruz and walked in the heat with the aid of a cane said he was once friendly with Cpl. Isaac’s brother.
“Raymond,” Cruz said. “Raymond Isaac. Rocco’s younger brother Raymond. He was about 10 or so, younger brother. My age then.”
“Do you remember Rocco?” he was asked.
“Kind of,” he replied. “ I ’member he went in the Marines and got killed there, in Vietnam. Was a lot of boys from around here gettin’ killed there. I ’member that.”
Now we have a war—the war on terror being waged daily in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world—that has stretched across 15 years and promises to continue for a time that cannot be defined. The responsibility of fighting that war will fall to the winner of the presidency this November, a victory that brings with it the duty and burden of being commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States of America.
Capt. Humayun Khan was 27 when his life ended in an explosion far from home. LCpl Rocco Isaac was 19 when he died half a world away from the streets of Philadelphia. He would have been 67 last week.
And here in the middle of an American summer one of the candidates to become Commander in Chief has proven with words and tweets that he is without the grace, the humility, the compassion or the simple comprehension of what it’s like for a mother and a father to lose a child in service of the nation. Donald J. Trump often speaks and tweets without thought but this week he spoke and tweeted without a heart.