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Three Notable Presidential Visits to Our Wounded Military Heroes

Trump traveled to Walter Reed to award the Purple Heart — here's a look at other tributes by commanders-in-chief

President Donald Trump in April 2017 visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland — his first such visit there as commander-in-chief.

His wife, first lady Melania Trump, accompanied him.

“Looking forward to seeing our bravest and greatest Americans!” Trump tweeted before visiting the military rehab facility in suburban Maryland.

During the short ceremony, Trump awarded a Purple Heart to an Army Sgt. 1st Class Alvaro Barrientos, who was wounded in Afghanistan on March 17.

The president thanked him for his service to America. “When I heard about this … I wanted to do it myself,” Trump said during the ceremony.

Barrientos, whose right leg below the knee was amputated, was wheeled into an atrium at the hospital, accompanied by his wife, Tammy, as multiple media outlets reported.

Trump kissed Tammy Barrientos and pinned the medal to the sergeant’s shirt collar. He grasped Barrientos by the shoulders and shook his hand.

The Purple Heart, of course, is given to U.S. service members who are wounded or killed in action. The Purple Heart dates back to 1917, when Woodrow Wilson was president, and is the oldest continuously given military medal in this country.

Trump was also expected to meet privately with other service members who are at Walter Reed for medical care; he was also expected to hold a press conference about veterans’ issues.

Interestingly, former President Barack Obama visited Walter Reed some two dozen times during his two terms in office — but never allowed the press to view his visits. He awarded Purple Heart medals in private, behind closed doors. Usually only family members were present during those visits.

The New York Times had this to say in a glowing piece on Nov. 26, 2016, about Obama’s 23rd visit to Walter Reed, made in late November 2016, while he was in the waning days of his presidency:

On Tuesday, for his 23rd and probably last time as president, Mr. Obama traveled to the military hospital to spend an afternoon with the wounded from Afghanistan and Iraq. Because of the weather, he arrived in a motorcade, not his usual helicopter …

With a minimum of ceremony, the president’s motorcade pulled up to a side entrance, where a military aide met him with the latest update on the conditions of those he was about to see. He then climbed four flights of stairs to 4 West and 4 Center, known as the soldiers ward. After greeting the doctors and nurses on duty, he began his rounds, eventually meeting 13 soldiers and awarding 12 Purple Hearts.

For Mr. Obama, who has served as a wartime commander longer than any of his predecessors, meeting with the wounded and their families is among the most sacred duties of his presidency. He rarely talks about his trips to Walter Reed, but his aides say they have affected him deeply.

In 2005, during his time in the White House, President George W. Bush — as widely reported back then — couldn’t help but shed a few tears while visiting families at Walter Reed. Just after Bush awarded a Purple Heart to a wounded Marine who had not opened his eyes since being hit by an IED in Iraq, the soldier regained consciousness.

Bush then awarded the Purple Heart for a second time to the same soldier — while he was awake and could experience it.

“So we stood silently as the military aide presented the Marine with the award for a second time. The president had tears dripping from his eyes onto the Marine’s face,” commentator and author Dana Perino, who did a stint as press secretary during Bush’s presidency, wrote in her book, “And The Good News Is: Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side.”

Later that same day, Bush also shed another tear or two after the mother of a dying soldier berated him for her son’s condition, asking him why her son had to suffer when his own two daughters did not.

Bush stood there and took it — and later told Perino, “That mama sure was mad at me … and I don’t blame her a bit,” as Perino wrote.