Carlos Arredondo and his family found purpose in building a community with other families like theirs that lost children in war, but he fears Donald Trump could lead to more families like his.
Arredondo is the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo, who was killed in Iraq by a sniper. The news of Alexander's death set in motion a series of events that brought further grief and turmoil, the suicide of another son and near financial ruin.
Arredondo and his wife Melida Arredondo, Alexander Arredondo’s stepmother, joined with 17 other Gold Star Families – families of fallen service members - and blasted Trump’s comments on Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala as “repugnant” and “offensive to us.” Their criticisms were contained in a letter sent to Trump Monday.
"He is supposed to be up there to unite with me as a grieving father,” Arredondo said in a telephone interview with NBC Latino. “To have someone like that in charge, I don’t want someone to die in war because of his comments.”
The Khan’s son, Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq. Khizr Khan spoke at the Democratic National Convention, where he blasted Trump and his policies on Muslims and questioned whether the GOP presidential nominee had read the Constitution.
When Trump was asked about the Khans' appearance at the convention, Trump said he wanted to know why Mrs. Khan didn't talk, suggesting that the mother had not "been allowed" to speak because she was Muslim. In the letter, the Gold Star families said, “you are not just attacking us, you are cheapening the sacrifice made by those we lost."
“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,” the letter states.
Alfonso Aguilar, who is spokesman for a group of Republican Hispanics who condemned Trump in the primaries and now is backing him, said he's "certainly not going to defend every comment Trump makes."
But he said "as unpleasant as some of his comments are, like many Americans, I'm more concerned with her (Hillary Clinton's) dangerous policies and views on national security, the economy and Supreme Court appointments as well as her inability to tell the truth."
Massey Villarreal, a Houston businessman who is part of the Hispanic Republicans group that previously denounced Trump and is now supporting him, expressed disappointment with Trump's comments in an email to NBC Latino. He said "there is no room in any political party to be critical of anyone who has worn a uniform for this country, been a prisoner of war (POW) and least for a God Star family."
But he said he's sticking with Trump "because Hillary Clinton has not earned my vote – yet!."
"There are still serious questions about the 30,000 missing emails and potentially appointing a majority of liberal judges to the Supreme Court is concerning. There will be little balance and that is not good for America," Villarreal said.
After learning of his son’s death when two Marines visited his home, Arredondo set afire the Marines’ vehicle, severely burning himself and ending up hospitalized. Arredondo was a hero at the Boston Marathon – the man with the cowboy hat who jumped a barrier to assist the injured. Two years before that heroic act, his second son, Brian, still distraught over his brother Alex’s death, committed suicide.
In their struggle to recover from their losses, the Arredondos have turned to other families of members of the military killed while serving and Boston Marathon bombing survivors.
Those communities and the support they provide are very important to the Arredondos, Arredondo said. He feels a kinship to Khan, because like him, he is an immigrant. Arredondo is originally from Costa Rica but became a U.S. citizen in 2006. He equates Trump with the bullies he’s endured because of his accent.
He fears the politics of this year’s election may divide the Gold Star families' community, because of the differences in political views. Patricia Smith, mother of U.S. Foreign Officer Sean Smith, who was killed in the embassy attack in Benghazi, is a Trump supporter and spoke at the Republican convention. She blamed Hillary Clinton for her son’s death.
“We are a community. We’ve been together a long time, so we are very concerned with these comments that they’ve made,” Arredondo said.
“I don’t want this to get out of hand with dividing people. That’s the way politics happens,” he said.