Trump denies damning reports he repeatedly called U.S. troops captured or killed in battle 'losers' and 'suckers'

Trump and John Kelly at Arlington Cemetery
(Image credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

President Trump has privately said on several occasions that U.S. military personnel captured or killed in battle are "losers" and "suckers," The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg reported late Thursday, citing several people with first-hand knowledge of Trump's comments.

For example, when Trump declined to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France in 2018, he blamed the weather and the Secret Service, but four first-hand witnesses told Goldberg the president had complained to senior staff that the rain would mess up his hair and asked: "Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers." He also reportedly called the 1,800 U.S. Marines buried there "suckers" for getting killed.

A senior Pentagon official confirmed Trump's comments to The Associated Press and also verified Goldberg's anecdote about Trump's visit to Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day 2017, accompanied by retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, then homeland security secretary. They were visiting the grave of Kelly's son, Robert, killed in action in 2010 at age 29, Goldberg reports, when Trump turned and said: "I don't get it. What was in it for them?"

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In another story, also confirmed by AP, Trump berated his staff for lowering the White House flag to half-mast to honor the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), telling them: "What the f--k are we doing that for? Guy was a f---ing loser." The Washington Post, citing a former senior administration official, added that Trump "frequently made disparaging comments about veterans and soldiers missing in action, referring to them at times as 'losers,'" and "told senior advisers that he didn't understand why the U.S. government placed such value on finding soldiers missing in action because they had performed poorly and gotten caught and deserved what they got." He has gone to meet the bodies of slain service members at Dover Air Force Base only four times as president.

Trump called the reports "totally false," slammed The Atlantic's sources as "lowlifes," and asked reporters: "What animal would say such a thing?" White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said "it's sad the depths that people will go to during a lead-up to a presidential campaign to try to smear somebody."

Trump publicly criticized McCain during the 2016 GOP primary for being a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and has continued criticizing him after his death. "He's not a war hero," Trump said in 2015. "I like people who weren't captured." The anti-Trump Lincoln Project spun that line into an ad released Wednesday.

Goldberg laid out a couple of theories about why Trump evidently genuinely can't understand military service, heroism, and sacrifice, ranging from personal fear of disfigurement to an immutable view of life as self-interested transactions. Read more at The Atlantic.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.