Hearing Khizr Khan speak movingly at last week's Democratic National Convention about his son, who was killed by a suicide bomber while serving in Iraq, brought Mountain View Gold Star mother Karen Meredith to tears. Hearing Donald Trump's subsequent comments attacking the Khan family has moved her to action.
"For the first time in a long time, I cried," she said.
On Tuesday, she told the Mountain View Voice (the Palo Alto Weekly's sister paper) that she hasn't gotten a response from Trump to her Aug. 1 letter, signed by Gold Star families, demanding an apology for his comments.
"Republican leadership needs to stand up and pull its endorsement of him if he doesn't stop insulting the segment of the country that serves in the military," said Meredith, whose son, Army Lt. Ken Ballard, was killed in Iraq. "(They say) 'thank you for your service' and 'everybody respects you,' but they're not calling him on his behavior."
The letter says that attacking one Gold Star family is an attack on everyone who has lost a family member serving in the military.
"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 is akin to our sacrifice, you are attacking our sacrifice," the letter says.
"We feel we must speak out and demand you apologize to the Khans, to all Gold Star families, and to all Americans for your offensive, and frankly anti-American, comments."
Trump, the Republican candidate for president, implied that Ghazala Khan, the mother of Capt. Humayun Khan who stood silently by her husband while he addressed the convention, was prohibited from speaking because she is a Muslim woman. Trump also objected to Khizr Khan questioning his grasp of the United States Constitution. It has since escalated into something of a feud, with Trump refusing to back down from his comments and complaining that he was "viciously attacked" by Khan.
Meredith said she was moved to write the letter because of the hurt expressed by some of her fellow Gold Star families, who felt that Trump's comments about the Khans belittled the losses experienced by all of them. She said she could completely identify with the difficulty of addressing such a large audience while standing in front of a giant photo of the son they'd lost.
"Seeing Mrs. Khan, so clearly bereaved and standing by her husband when he pulled out the Constitution, I practically stood up to give a standing ovation," she said. "When he accused Trump of not sacrificing anybody or anything, I was so moved. He was describing the civilian-military divide in our country. Most people have never served in the military."
There's another link connecting Meredith with the Khans: Their sons are buried in the same section of Arlington National Cemetery.
"For me, it's been 12 years. Ken was killed the week before Capt. Khan. They're in the same row at Arlington; (the Khans) are on the same 12 years of grief that I've been on," she said.
After losing her son in 2004, Meredith has kept busy volunteering with groups supporting veterans and the families of military service members who were killed, both locally at the Palo Alto VA Hospital and the Mountain View Veterans Memorial, and with national organizations.
"It keeps me out of trouble ... until Donald Trump," she quips.
"When Donald Trump ... described his sacrifices as hiring tens of thousands of people, I was thinking it sounds like more of a business plan," Meredith said. "I was waiting for him to get to his sacrifice, but he never did. I guess he uses a different dictionary than normal people do."
It was the latest in what Meredith considers Trump's troubling behavior toward America's military, ranging from last year's derisive comments about Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, to promising donations to veterans and not delivering, she said.
"The numerous instances of disrespect to the military, it goes beyond not being presidential," she said. "How much respect could the military have for him?"
She said she is particularly troubled by the idea of a President Trump commanding the military to engage in torture.
"Troops are not allowed to have political opinions; they have to do what their commander tells them," Meredith said. "If he tells them to torture, what does that say about our country?"
Since posting the letter on VoteVets.org, Meredith's plea for respect for the American military and grieving family members is getting national attention. A number of families have asked for their names to be added to the original 11 signers as of Tuesday, it was just under 30.
She said she's been interviewed by national media outlets and cable news channels, and her fellow Gold Star families around the country have been speaking out to their local media. The goal is to get more people who will say that Trump's comments do not represent the United States, she said.
"My philosophy is that if you don't like what's happening, you'd better say something or people think you're OK with it," she said. "And I am not OK with disrespect of the military, and (Trump) is not fit to be commander in chief."