Trump jokes that he wanted to give himself the Medal of Honor while speaking at national veterans convention

Savannah Behrmann

President Donald Trump joked with Medal of Honor recipient Ret. Marine Corps Cpl. Hershel "Woody" Williams while speaking at the 75th American Veterans convention on Wednesday in Louisville, Kentucky, "There's nothing like the Medal of Honor. I wanted one but they told me I don't qualify, Woody."

“I said: Could I give it to myself anyway?” he continued with a smile, “They said: I don't think that's a good idea.”

The Department of Defense explains on its website that: "The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration that may be awarded by the United States government. It is presented by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, and is conferred only upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty."

Trump never served in the military, and received five deferments from the draft for military service during the Vietnam War. He received four educational deferments while he was a college student and a fifth deferment in 1968 for a medical exemption after he graduated, for a bone spurs in his heel.

During an interview with NBC News in 1999, Trump went into detail about the war and him not serving. 

"Well, I got very lucky. We had lottery numbers. And I guess this was my biggest factor of luck in my life, because during the Vietnam War, I had a very, very high -- my date, which was June 14th, was a very high date in the lottery, so I never got drafted, so I was very lucky," Trump said.

During a campaign stop in 2016, Ret. Army Lt. Col. Louis Dorfman gave then-presidential candidate Donald Trump his Purple Heart medal, to which Trump responded, “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart — this was much easier," and placed the medal in his suit jacket pocket.  

In June, Trump presented the Medal of Honor to David Bellavia, who is the first living Iraq War veteran to receive the award. He received it for his "conspicuous gallantry" during the Second Battle of Fallujah, the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War. 

Bellavia was previously awarded a Silver Star for his actions. The presentation of the Medal of Honor came after the Pentagon reviewed valor awards and upgraded them for many service members.

In October of 2018, Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to Marine Sgt. Maj. John Canley, who served in Vietnam. Canley's daughter Patricia Sargent recalled how her father took command of the undermanned Company A, First Battalion, First Marines despite shrapnel wounds during the bloody battle of Hue in 1968. 

"John raced straight into enemy fire over and over again, saving numerous American lives and defeating a large group of communist fighters," Trump said in conferring the Medal of Honor last year at a White House ceremony. The president lauded the former gunnery sergeant for "unmatched bravery" and fearlessness.

"Despite sustaining serious injuries – very, very serious injuries – he continued to face down the enemy with no thought for his own safety," Trump said of Canley..

Contributing: Nicholas Wu. Tom Vanden Brook and David Jackson

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump jokes that he wanted to give himself the Medal of Honor