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Donald Trump says he regrets not serving in Vietnam

Trump in Virginia
Trump in Virginia 01:04:15

ASHBURN, VA - Donald Trump, facing frayed relations with veterans groups, tried to show that he still had the support of veterans - and while doing so, might have managed to say something that some once again took as disrespectful.

Near the top of his speech here on Tuesday, Trump told the story about how a retired Army Lt. Colonel, Louis Dorfman, gave him a Purple Heart backstage.

"I said to him, 'Is that like the real one or is that a copy?'" Trump said. "And he said, 'That's my real Purple Heart. I have such confidence in you.'"

Obama: Trump is unfit 05:59

It might've been a touching story, until Trump followed up with another aside.

"And I said, "'Man, that's like big stuff.'" Trump said. "I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier."

The Purple Heart is among the military's highest honors and is given to those who have been wounded in combat. Trump himself was given numerous deferments during the Vietnam War, mostly because he was in school, although one was because of bone spurs.

After the rally, Trump told Gray TV's Kellie Meyer that he regretted not serving.

"I was fortunate to really not have to go - this was during the Vietnam period and we were in a very, very highly contested and unpopular war," Trump said. "And yeah, I was lucky in two ways. But I was also - it 's something I've always missed.

"And you know, I built and helped build the Vietnam Memorial in downtown Manhattan. To me, that was a very important thing to do. I've regretted not serving in many ways, because so many of the greatest people I know have served and you saw that today, where the gentleman got up and gave me his Purple Heart, which is right here. And we've had just a tremendous relationship with the vets. "

Some veterans' groups immediately pounced.

"It is absolutely horrible for anyone to wear or to have the Purple Heart medal who is not entitled to it," says John Bircher, a spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a service organization that lobbies on behalf of those who have received the honor.

"Donald Trump did not get the Purple Heart, and there's no 'easy way' to get it," Bircher said to CBS News. "I don't think he has any clue as to the meaning of the Purple Heart medal."

Trump losing support 07:30

Trump's comments concerning veterans have been in the spotlight over the last week due to his feud with the Khan family, whose son, Humayun Khan, died in Iraq in 2004. The Khans have blasted Trump, starting with a speech by Khizr Khan at the Democratic National Convention. Trump has struck back, at one point wondering if Khazr Khan's wife, Ghazala Khan, was silent on stage during the speech due to her Muslim faith.

Trump received an immediate backlash from veterans groups and from lawmakers all over the spectrum, including from his own party. House Speaker Paul Ryan issued multiple statements paying tribute to the Khans, and Arizona Sen. John McCain issued a lengthy statement denouncing Trump - but not withdrawing his endorsement.

That didn't go both ways. On Tuesday, Trump told the Washington Post that he is not ready to endorse Ryan or McCain in their primary battles, another extraordinary turn in an extraordinary race.

Yet, as with many of Trump's past incendiary comments, nothing may change. Trump has, thus far, managed to largely elude political gravity, and his support has held steady.

CBS News' Steven Portnoy contributed reporting to this story

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