DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — Vietnam War veteran Leland Jenson of Detroit Lakes, Minn., has launched a one-man protest against President Donald Trump’s characterization of military veterans as “suckers,” and American military personnel taken prisoner, being wounded or dying in combat as “losers.”

Jenson has been wearing a vest bedecked with service medals, ribbons and patches, with a sign on his back that says, “Was I a loser, a sucker for serving for you? Eight years.”

He said he spent eight years in the Army, including 20 months in Vietnam.

Jenson’s sign is referring to a story in The Atlantic that looked into Trump’s understanding of concepts such as patriotism, service and sacrifice, a story that Trump vehemently denied. The Atlantic's story was confirmed at least partially by other news sources, including Fox News, New York Times, Washington Post and others.

Jenson said he has received varying responses to his protest sign. “One woman cheered me at the Moorhead Walmart,” he said. “A young man gave me a shoulder bump.”

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Leland Jenson of Detroit Lakes spent 20 months "in-country" in Vietnam. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)
Leland Jenson of Detroit Lakes spent 20 months "in-country" in Vietnam. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

He said he passed “one of those young militia guys,” as he went into a store into Detroit Lakes, and he was “kind of laughing at me,” for wearing the Army vest, Jenson said. “After he saw the sign on my back, he had nothing to say.”

Jenson has been seeing “those young militia guys” more and more often around the area. “They’re hung up on groupthink, it’s peer pressure, all the way,” he said. “They go out and spend $1,000 on an M-15 (semi-automatic rifle) that they're never going to use. They might be wishing they could get their money back soon.”

Jenson said he has paid a lasting price for the 20 months he spent “in-country” in Vietnam: He has had two 30-day service-related hospitalizations for post-traumatic stress disorder issues, years of nightmares and suicidal thoughts that still linger, and he continues with the therapy he started more than six years ago.

“I was a volunteer all the way,” he said. “For all of you Trump supporters and those of you currently holding or running for office, was I and others too stupid serving this ‘shattered’ United States of America for you?”

Which is it, he asked, “support our troops, or pay lip service?”