American military veterans are wondering whether allegations are true that President Donald Trump labeled those who served and died on the battlefields as “losers” and “suckers.”

Trump has flatly denied the claims made in The Atlantic magazine article written by Editor in Chief Jeffrey Goldberg. Trump called the article a “fake story” made up by The Atlantic because the magazine is “dying” and it is seeking relevance.

Trump critics jumped on The Atlantic story and claimed that if the magazine allegations are true, it would not be out of character for Trump. Although Trump claims he never called the late Sen. John McCain a loser, video of an interview with the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, shows the contrary.

Trump labeled McCain a “loser” who lost a presidential election to Barack Obama. Trump also disagreed with claims McCain was a hero who spent years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

“He was not a hero,” Trump said of McCain. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

The Atlantic story is based on unnamed sources. Fox News reminded viewers of the anonymous allegations, however, in a story defending Trump and disputing The Atlantic story, Fox News relied on a host of unnamed sources.

In many cases during his presidency, Trump’s statements and tweets are noted and quickly forgotten as the media moves on to the next “breaking news” issue. The “losers” and “suckers” allegations might linger.

There’s a lot on the line for The Atlantic. If Goldberg simply made up the story, or if the magazine did not fact check the unnamed sources and the story is simply not true, it’s all over for the magazine.

Rolling Stone published a false story that Duke University lacrosse players raped a woman. The magazine lost its credibility. Its former readers, including me, will never believe a word it prints.

Similarly, there’s a political future and a lifetime of credibility on the line for Trump. If he said what is reported in The Atlantic, he will be shamed into obscurity.

This issue rises to the level where it must be resolved. In the end, enough people will step forward, identify themselves and put to rest the speculation.

In the meantime, we need to listen to what veterans are saying.

“Regarding The Atlantic article, I keep thinking back to what Trump said about John McCain,” said Tom Stehura, the president of the Janesville Patriotic Society and a past president and current treasurer of the Vietnam Veterans of America Rock River Chapter 236.

“I know what he said about Sen. McCain,” Stehura said. “I can’t explain why anyone, especially the commander in chief, would say that McCain was not a hero and those not captured are preferable than those who were.

“All veterans are heroes, especially those who remain missing in action, those who were prisoners of war, those who were wounded and those who gave their lives for their country,” Stehura said. “Trump has a lot of explaining to do, regardless of whether The Atlantic article is ever confirmed.”

Stehura speaks as an Air Force Vietnam vet. He flew reconnaissance missions over Vietnam and nearby areas with the 6990th Security Squadron. He remembers losing fellow airmen who were shot down, killed and some who were never recovered.

“To claim that they were not heroes is disgusting,” Stehura said. “Beyond that, I have no words to describe how I feel.”

It’s hard to imagine The Atlantic article will simply blow over, but it’s possible. Washington Post’s Bob Woodward has released a taped conversation with Trump in which the president confirms that in January and February of this year he intentionally downplayed the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and lied to the American public about it to, in his words, “prevent panic.”

Stan Milam, a Janesville native, is the host of the “Stan Milam Show” on WCLO Radio.

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