Five hours, nine minutes and 17 seconds into Wednesday's nationally televised impeachment hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York, began asking Ambassador William B. Taylor Jr. a series of questions about his military service.
The career diplomat's brief, matter-of-fact answers illustrated the core of his character, and how a hero never lays claim to the title.
Maloney: "Ambassador Taylor, what year did you graduate from West Point?"
Taylor: "1969, sir."
Maloney: "It was the height of the Vietnam War, wasn't it, sir?"
Taylor: "The height was about that time."
Maloney: "What was your class rank?"
Taylor: "I was number five."
Maloney: "How many people were in your class?"
Maloney: "800 cadets, and you were number five. So, when you're top 1% of your class at West Point, you probably get your pick of assignments. But you picked the infantry."
Taylor: "I did, sir. Yes, sir."
Maloney: "You were a rifle company commander."
Taylor: (Nodding) "Sir."
Maloney: "Where'd you serve?"
Taylor: "In Vietnam."
Maloney: "See combat in Vietnam, sir?"
Taylor: "I did."
Maloney: "Did you earn any commendations for that service?"
Taylor: "Uh, I was awarded the combat infantryman's badge, which is my highest, I'm proudest of. There was a bronze star. There was an air medal with V."
Maloney: "That's for valor, isn't it, sir?"
Taylor: "It is."
Taylor is the top American diplomat in Ukraine, and news coverage of his testimony has rightly focused on his descriptions about how President Donald Trump abused his office by trying to enlist a foreign power to help him win in 2020.
During the morning segment of the testimony, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham insisted that Trump was not watching. "He's in the Oval in meetings," she said. "Not watching. He's working."
PBS White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor shared Grisham's claim, adding this observation: "But, Pres. Trump, as I type, is retweeting videos of Republican lawmakers from the hearing."
More than a dozen times, Trump retweeted Republican posts about the hearing, including this one by Rep. Matt Gaetz, who shared a video clip of an exchange between ever-dignified Taylor and tactless, coatless Jim Jordan with this caption: "Their star witness knows nothing."
So, when you're top 1% of your class at West Point, you probably get your pick of assignments. But you picked the infantry.
I did, sir. Yes, sir.
What a contrast to the man at the heart of these impeachment hearings.
My mind raced with memories as I watched Taylor's testimony about his service in Vietnam.
I thought of my home county in northeast Ohio, full of working-class boys and farm boys who had no college deferments. Twenty-six of them died. Countless others returned forever changed.
I thought of Donald Trump's five deferments, too — four of them as a student, another because of his alleged bone spurs — and how he once bragged to Howard Stern about avoiding venereal disease from his many sexual encounters.
"I've been so lucky in terms of that whole world," Trump said. "It is a dangerous world out there — it's scary, like Vietnam. Sort of like the Vietnam era. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave solider."
Shortly after Taylor completed his testimony, a reporter asked Trump for his impression of the hearing as he stood next to the president of Turkey.
"Are you talkin' about the witch hunt, is that what you mean? Is that what you're talkin' about?" Trump said. "I hear it's a joke. I haven't watched. I haven't watched for a minute. ... This is a sham and shouldn't be allowed. ... I want to find out who is the whistleblower."
"I hear it's a hoax," he added, "and it's being played as a hoax."
I was awarded the combat infantryman's badge, which is my highest, I'm proudest of. There was a bronze star. There was an air medal with V.
That's for valor, isn't it, sir?
It most certainly is.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Her novel, "The Daughters of Erietown," will be published by Random House in Spring 2020. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.