Donald Trump joked Tuesday that he "always wanted" a Purple Heart and it was "much easier" to receive one from a supporter than earn the military decoration given to wounded and killed service members.
The seemingly light-hearted comments come amid Trump's ongoing controversy with Gold Star families and new reports detailing his own draft deferments.
"You know something very nice just happened to me. A man came up to me and he handed me his Purple Heart," Trump said during an event in Virginia.
"He said, 'that’s my real Purple Heart I have such confidence in you.' And I said, 'Man that’s like big stuff. I’ve always wanted to get the real Purple Heart.' This was much easier," he added before inviting the veteran on stage.
The man, however, told NBC News before the rally that it was actually a copy of his Purple Heart.
The GOP presidential nominee’s comments come amid media reports that he received five draft deferments despite a seemingly unblemished health record. Trump was also criticized on Monday by members of Gold Star families, a designation given to the relatives of killed during military service.
Speaking simultaneously at the White House, Obama issued his strongest rebuke yet of Trump, calling him "unfit" and "woefully unprepared" to be president.
A spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart said in a statement that while the Purple Heart is normally passed down to family members, "anyone who has received a Purple Heart medal is obviously entitled to give it to whomever he or she wants." A veteran gave their Purple Heart to U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords after she was shot in 2011.
The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the military wounded or killed in combat.
"I would hope than anyone who receives a Purple Heart medal for any other reason, understands its importance and meaning, and would not do anything with it that would in any way denigrate its special meaning for those who have received it," Military Order of the Purple Heart spokesman John Bircher said.
A veteran wounded in Iraq and running for Congress in Delaware as a progressive Democrat criticized what he called Trump’s "flippant and repugnant" comments.
"As someone who fought for our country in Iraq, was injured, and was awarded a Purple Heart, I can tell you, no one should ever "want" to get a Purple Heart," Sean Barney, who was shot in the neck in Fallujah in 2006, wrote on Facebook.
Sarah Palin's son-in-law, Marine veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer on Tuesday called on Trump to apologize to the Khan family.
The GOP nominee’s aggressively anti-Clinton message resonated with supporters at the rally – some of whom cheered “lock her up!” when Trump called her a liar. One child, seated behind the press, reacted to Trump calling Clinton a “crook” and “thief” by screaming “take the bitch down.” The adults accompanying the child were not interested in being interviewed after the rally, but did tell NBC News as she left “children are children.”
Departing from his usual stump speech, Trump called out a baby who began crying during his remakes. “Don’t worry about that baby, I love babies,” Trump assured. “I hear that baby crying, I like it. What a baby, what a beautiful baby.” Minutes later, as the baby’s cries rang out once again, Trump changed his tune. “Actually, I was only kidding. You can get the baby out of here. that’s alright - don’t worry. I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I’m speaking."