Pence touts Trump respect for military in speech at VMI

Associated Press
September 11, 2020 - 8:53 am
Mike Pence

Associated Press

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LEXINGTON, Va. (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday emphasized the respect President Donald Trump has for the armed forces to an audience of cadets at Virginia Military Institute, one week after reports indicated he referred to captured and fallen members of the military as “suckers” and “losers."

Pence saluted the current cadets and referred to those former cadets who lost their lives in the 2001 terror attacks on the U.S. one day shy of the 19th anniversary of those events. He was accompanied on his visit to Lexington, Virginia, by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, a VMI graduate.

Video from Thursday's event showed the cadets wearing masks in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and spaced in accordance with guidelines of medical experts.

“I couldn't be more proud to be vice president to a president who cares so deeply about the men and women of our armed forces and their families,” Pence told the cadets.

The allegations of Trump's disparaging comments were first reported in The Atlantic. A senior Defense Department official with firsthand knowledge of events and a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer who was told about Trump’s comments confirmed some of the remarks to The Associated Press, including comments at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France in 2018. The president called the story “totally false.”

The vice president then launched into campaign mode, telling the cadets how the Trump administration inherited a military that was “hollowed out” by budget cuts during the administration of President Barack Obama. He mentioned how service members hadn't received a pay raise in years and how soldiers and sailors were not properly equipped. He said that and other things changed when Trump took office, adding that the administration established the U.S. Space Force.

“For all of those gathered here who will answer the call to serve ... in President Donald Trump, you have a commander-in-chief who will always have your back,” Pence said.

“I can tell you first hand, the president reveres the men and women of our armed forces,” he added and repeated later in his remarks.

Virginia Military Institute was founded in 1839, and its website describes it as the oldest state-supported military college in the U.S. Cadets from the school fought in the Civil War, and some cadets who died in the war are buried on the VMI grounds.

Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was on the faculty at VMI before the outbreak of the war, according to the school's history. He is buried in Lexington and a large statue in his memory stands on the campus.

The Washington Post reported that a petition drive launched by a Black cadet who played football at VMI sought to have the Jackson statue removed and for the school “to acknowledge the racism and black prejudice that still occurs at VMI.” Confederate statues have been taken down across Virginia in recent months.

In late July, the VMI superintendent, retired Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, released a seven-page letter on the school’s future, saying he wouldn’t remove any VMI statues or rename any campus buildings. The letter also praised Jackson as “a military genius” and a “staunch Christian.”

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