I help war widows. Trump's callous insult of military won't be forgotten this Memorial Day.

Thirteen years before Donald Trump referred to the American service members who died in France during World War I as “suckers" and "losers,” I was already driving around with a Costco-size pack of toilet paper in the back of my SUV. New widows, I had learned, always need toilet paper.

I started leading Care Teams in 2005, only we didn’t call them that then. We didn’t call them anything back then. We just helped. We, military spouses, showed up after the soldiers in dress uniforms notified someone just like us that the person she loved most in this world was never coming home. As the wife of an enlisted U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who spent more time deployed than home, my husband’s friends were the ones dying, and my friends were their widows.

Sometimes we were there to simply be a friend to a woman who didn’t have any friends nearby, but mostly we quietly did all the little things life requires of people, things people can’t do when they’re in shock and grieving. Because most military families live far from their hometowns, they rarely have a local network to lean on during a tragedy. We became their local network.

We vacuumed, we washed dishes, we walked their dogs. We prepared their houses for the stream of people who were about to appear. We bought groceries, arranged meal trains, picked up their family members from the airport and met their kids at the bus stop, fully aware – though those children weren’t yet – that they were having the last normal moments of their entire lives.

Furious and disgusted

Early in 2005 I learned to always bring toilet paper with me. When the widow wasn’t looking, I would sneak a few rolls into her bathroom. It seems like a tiny, insignificant thing, and it was, but I quickly saw that the last thing anyone needs when their world has collapsed is to also be out of toilet paper. Some of those years, the casualties came often enough that I just kept a giant pack in my car.

I was still leading Care Teams and still carting around toilet paper in November 2018 when then-President Trump called the U.S. Marines who died at Belleau Wood in France as “suckers” and the American soldiers buried at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery outside Paris “losers.”

I was furious and disgusted even though, like everyone else, I had become conditioned to our president saying horrible things. but there were some lines that even the most ardently antiwar protesters were too decent to cross, and this man – the president of the United States – had just spit on those lines. But I didn’t have time to stay mad then.

We were at war, and we were still getting new widows.

Military heroes need our help: We fail veterans once they return to civilian lives. That doesn't have to be the case.

In the months following President Trump’s callous insult, my husband’s unit would lose six more soldiers in Afghanistan. I had the privilege of knowing most of them before the deployment and there was not a sucker or a loser among them. They were committed, proud, well-trained and highly competent patriots, and they were some of the greatest people I’ve ever known.

We spouses readied and filled the chapel for their memorials. We gave crayons to their children to help them sit through the service. We held their mothers’ hands. We had no time to ruminate on our president’s inability to display even the most basic level of respect.

There were dogs that needed walking and meals to be made. And – for one family – a lot of baby formula and diapers to buy for a very shy widow with a very small baby living in a tiny rural town.

A commander in chief should honor service

There was no time to dwell on Trump’s comments then, but there is time now, especially as he is again within reach of being commander in chief of the world’s greatest fighting force.

In military communities, and in most civilian communities, we revere the people who gave their lives for our country. We honor them and we take care of their families. Not because there’s something in it for us, but because it’s the right thing to do. We do it because when they saw a need, they stepped up, and we owe them at least that much. We do it because we know our large, diverse country is held together only by an understanding of shared sacrifice.

My son died by suicide. We must be brave enough to admit the problem and help veterans like him.

How did we get to a place where mocking our nation’s war dead is not an immediate disqualifier for a commander in chief?

Why would any young person agree to wear a military uniform knowing that even their president does not honor their service?

And why would anyone who has served in our military ever forgive Donald Trump for denigrating their brothers who were killed in action?

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The irony in Trump’s "Make America Great Again" slogan is that, in the years since Trump entered politics, he has remade our country in his own image, a "what’s in it for me" nation where mocking the very concept of sacrifice carries no political repercussions.

If we elect him again, we are the suckers and losers.

Rebekah Sanderlin is a writer, a military advocate and the longtime spouse of a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran. She is a former columnist and reporter for The Fayetteville Observer, where this column first appeared.

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This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: I'm an Army wife who helps war widows. Trump's military insults matter