Christina Ayube’s son James died on December 8, 2010 in Chehel Gazi, Afghanistan. James was an Army medic. “He was killed by a suicide bomber. They were in an alleyway; it was an elderly gentleman who came up to speak with them,” Ayube remembers being told about her son and his colleague, Kelly Mixon. “They turned around to walk away, and the gentleman detonated the vest he had on.”
A loss like that isn’t something that ever goes away, Ayube tells Rolling Stone. “It’s a very hard thing to deal with; it’s different from other deaths because you are constantly having that Band-Aid ripped off,” she says. “Every Veteran’s Day, every Memorial Day it comes off again. You’re reliving that experience.”
On Thursday evening, the Band-Aid came off again as Ayube watched Khizr Khan speak about losing his son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Humayun Khan, his father told the DNC that night, aspired to become a military lawyer, but “he put those dreams aside the day he sacrificed his life to save the lives of his fellow soldiers.”
If Republican nominee Donald Trump were president, Khan told the stadium in Philadelphia, he and his son would not have been allowed to immigrate to the United States in the first place. Addressing Trump directly, Khan said, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.” His speech has emerged as one of the most indelible moments of the four-day convention.
Ayube is one of more than two dozen Gold Star families who signed a letter addressed to Donald Trump, calling the comments he has since made about the Khan family “repugnant and personally offensive.”
“Ours is a sacrifice you will never know. Ours is a sacrifice we would never want you to know,” the families wrote. “When you question a mother’s pain, by implying that her religion, not her grief, kept her from addressing an arena of people, you are attacking us. When you say your job building buildings is akin to our sacrifice, you are attacking our sacrifice. You are not just attacking us, you are cheapening the sacrifice made by those we lost. You are minimizing the risk our service members make for all of us. This goes beyond politics. It is about a sense of decency.”
As painful as it was to watch Khan’s DNC speech, Ayube says, she felt “an immense amount of pride for what this father stood up there and did. The pain that is continually brought up when you lose a child, and then you have to speak about it … The courage that it took for him to do that was just amazing.”
Khan has continued speaking out about his son’s service and Trump’s repeated attacks on Muslim immigrants like him in the days since, with Trump mainly answering Khan’s criticism with derision. In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump bristled at the suggestion that he had “sacrificed nothing,” saying, “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures.”
The Republican candidate downplayed the Khan family’s loss and wondered aloud if Khizr Khan forbid his wife to speak because she was a woman. (Ghazala Khan answered Trump’s question with her own powerful op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday.)
Ayube and the other Gold Star families who co-authored the letter called on Trump to apologize to both the Khans and all families who have lost children serving in the military for comments that the families characterized as “frankly anti-American.” They are not alone; several Republican leaders have released statements distancing themselves from Trump over the comments.
President Obama obliquely referenced the controversy on Monday afternoon too, as he addressed the annual Disabled American Veterans National Convention. “Our Gold Star families have made a sacrifice that most of us cannot even begin to imagine. We have to do whatever we can for those families and honor them and be humbled by them,” Obama said.
Ayube says Trump’s comments flippantly equating the death of Khan’s son, and her own, with the sacrifices he has made over the course of his business career left her speechless.
“You’ve lost your future when your child dies. Your future is gone,” she says. “Here is a man who stands onstage with all of his children — none of them have ever served in the military; he has never served in the military. He has no concept of what it’s like to be in our shoes. In any form. And it’s just overwhelming to think he could sit in that Oval Office and make decisions to send more young Americans off to do God knows what.”
If she could speak to Trump directly, Ayube says she would tell him to take a moment to consider the things he’s saying. “You’re not the smartest person in the room. You need to stop, step back, talk to people who know more than you do about different subjects and just listen to them and take their advice.”
If he can’t do that, then she has one other piece of advice: “Stop running for president.”
John McCain has condemned Donald Trump over comments the Republican presidential candidate made regarding Khizr and Ghazala Khan. Watch here.