Donald Trump's diplomatic trip to Vietnam represents a first for the president. At 71 years old, the visit marks the first time Trump is representing the United States in the southeast Asian country. The story behind how this landmark visit didn't occur earlier, particularly during the '70s, is best explained by the answer to a question multiple reporters figured out during the 2016 presidential campaign: How did Trump avoid the draft for the Vietnam War?
The question was indeed worth asking.
After all, when the Vietnam War was going on, Trump had been eligible to be drafted by American armed forces, which recruited soldiers via lottery at the time. According to the Los Angeles Times, Trump had also registered in 1964 to be available for the draft, which all men at 18 were required to do by law.
He had been spared from being drafted, however, after receiving five deferments, according to the New York Times. Four of those deferments came when he was in college, studying at Fordham and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
When Trump gradated from Wharton, however, he was no longer eligible for educational deferments. Instead, he received a medical deferment for bone spurs in his heels, despite having what the Times reported to be a previously "unblemished" medical history. The report of Trump's medical deferment is notable for a number. Among them is the fact that Trump himself had given accounts about his experience with the draft in ways that avoided mention of the deferments.
In a 2011 interview with a local New York news station, Trump implied that he had avoided the draft out of sheer luck. "I’ll never forget; that was an amazing period of time in my life, " he told Fox 5 New York, per the New York Times, "I was going to the Wharton School of Finance, and I was watching as they did the draft numbers, and I got a very, very high number."
The two timelines Trump alluded to during that interview, however, did not occur at the same time. Trump had graduated from Wharton in 1968. Though men had registered for the draft years prior, the first draft lottery for the Vietnam War wasn't actually held until 1969.
In addition, the story behind why and how Trump received a medical deferment is further complicated by the fact that had been physically examined by the armed forced in 1966, two years before he was diagnosed with bone spurs, according to the Washington Post. On that occasion, Trump did not receive a deferment, the Post reports, indicating that he was fit for service.
Complicating the subject even further is the fact that Trump's memory about his medical deferment seems hazy itself. The New York Times reported that during an interview with the paper in August 2016, Trump could not remember the name of the doctor that issued the diagnosis.
"I had a doctor that gave me a letter — a very strong letter on the heels," Trump told the Times.
Yet another reason why Trump's history with the draft is notable is his criticism of someone else who actually did serve in the war. While he was on the campaign trail, Trump downplayed Senator John McCain's (R-AZ) hero-like status.
"He’s not a war hero," Trump said in July 2015. "He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured."
This past October, however, McCain appeared to have the last word on all matters Vietnam, with a quote that was perceived to have been about Trump.
"One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest income level of America and the highest income level found a doctor that would say they had a bone spur," Sen. McCain said.
The 81-year-old congressman would later insist he wasn't taking a shot at Trump. Still, there seems to be no doubt about what McCain thinks of the type of deferment the president received during the Vietnam War.