A claim that Donald Trump is an unsung hero for the military is often accompanied by a claim that he provided free flights to American military veterans returning home from Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s.
The rumor emerged in a widely circulated open letter by a man named Ron Knouse arguing that Donald Trump’s airline, Trump Shuttle, provided free flights to veterans returning from Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s. In the letter, its author claims that Trump’s airline gave stranded soldiers free transport home, but that media outlets had failed to report on his good deed.
In 1991, at the end of Desert Storm, a 19 yr old US Army Cavalry Scout Private who had just spent 8 months at war sat out on a street at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. He sat there on his duffle bag with his Battalion around him for 4 days waiting for the buses to come and take him to the King Fahad Airport so he could go home. Unfortunately, the politicians of the day never planned for how to bring so many soldiers home after the war ended so there was a shortage of planes. Politicians are great at talking, but terrible at doing. Finally, the buses came, and took the young man to the airport.
The planes waiting were from Tower Air. The owner of Tower Air had volunteered his planes and staff to bring soldiers home for the cost of fuel only. Happily, the young veteran got home just in time for Easter weekend in 1991, and spent that time emotionally healing with friends and family surrounding him. That Private was me. The Airline owner – Donald J Trump. That is why I will vote Trump. Loyalty for loyalty, respect for respect. Any questions?
The story was given a fresh breath of life by a now-deleted story that Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity posted in 2016:
The Trump campaign has confirmed to Hannity.com that Mr. Trump did indeed send his plane to make two trips from North Carolina to Miami, Florida to transport over 200 Gulf War Marines back home. No further details were provided.
The Marine says he and his family are—to this day—grateful for Trump’s kind gesture. “It may not seem like much to most people, but it was very important to a bunch of jar heads and more importantly their families waiting for them on the hot tarmac.”
Stickney says that his father—a Korean War veteran and former Eastern Airlines captain—claimed to have never seen a 727 turn around and refuel so quickly. His father was so appreciative of Mr. Trump’s help; he said he would fly for Trump for free to thank him for what he did.
First, it is true that Donald Trump briefly operated an airline, Trump Shuttle. NYC Aviation, a website that caters to aviation enthusiasts, has a summary of Trump’s journey into the airline industry here. It reports that Trump acquired Eastern Airlines Air Shuttle for $380 million and rebranded it as Trump Shuttle. The first flight took off in 1989:
Timing is everything in business, and unfortunately for Trump he entered the airline game at the wrong time. The US entered an economic recession in the late-‘80’s leading many corporations to cut back on business travel. In addition, tensions in the Middle East leading up to the first Gulf war caused oil prices to spike. This 1-2 punch was devastating for the airline industry and led to the demise of a number of airlines including Eastern and Pan Am. Given these circumstances, the Trump Shuttle lost money, and with Trump continuing to accumulate debt in his other ventures it was becoming increasingly difficult to pay back the loans taken to purchase the airline.
We looked into whether Trump Shuttle gave soldiers free flights. We also looked into whether Donald Trump was involved with Tower Air, an airline that contracted with the Department of Defense to transport soldiers in the early 1990s.
Trump defaulted on his loan for Trump Shuttle in September 1990. By 1991, when Knouse recalled he was flown home by Trump Shuttle from the Gulf War, the airline had already been sold. Beyond that, Trump Shuttle only provided service throughout the northeastern United States, so there is no way it would have traveled to Saudi Arabia.
Tower Air, on the other hand, contracted with the Department of Defense to provide charter flights around the time of the Gulf War, according to a New York Times report. But we weren’t able to find anything linking Trump to Tower Air. Zev Melamid, Mordechi Gill, Morris Nachtomi and Sam Fondlierprovid established the airline in 1982, Airline History records show. Tower Air provided passenger service from New York to Brussels and Tel Aviv, a line previously operated by Metro International Airways, according to the World Airline Directory.
Tower Air officially declared bankruptcy in 2000. At the time, Morris Nachtomi was listed as the airline’s CEO in a New York Post report.
We found nothing linking Donald Trump to the airline in the nearly twenty years that it was operational.
For all these reasons, we’re calling this one fiction.