WASHINGTON, D.C. - Two veteran organizations, VoteVets.org and Rags of Honor, are joining forces to distribute thousands of shirts featuring the USS John S. McCain during this year's Fourth of July celebration in Washington D.C.
Veterans will be handing the shirts out at the National Mall and House and Senate buildings in Washington, D.C. during President Trump's "Salute to America" event.
"Whether it was Sen. McCain, his father, his grandfather or his sons, the McCain family has given more to this country than most, and America's birthday seems like a great time to honor that service and sacrifice," said Mark Doyle, founder of Rags of Honor. "After all, people like them – and there aren't many – made these kinds of celebrations possible."
The shirts are made in the United States by military veterans employed by Rags of Honor, who have been working diligently to fill orders and create the necessary stock to hand out on the Fourth. Rags of Honor has been collecting donations through a campaign called #fundtheshirt to fund the production and printing.
Rags of Honor, an apparel company that is devoted to hiring unemployed and homeless veterans, was founded in 2006 by Mark Doyle, who spent a year in Afghanistan as part of a special anti-corruption task force. Upon returning to Chicago, he was disturbed by the homeless veteran situation and founded Rags of Honor to help his fellow vets.
Rags of Honor now operates a manufacturing facility and warehouse in Chicago, where the USS John S. McCain shirts are being made ahead of July Fourth.
At the top, the shirt design reads "USS John S. McCain" in bright red lettering. Below is a blue image of the Navy battleship — named for three generations of John S. McCains — with the ship's nickname, "Big Bad John."
The Trump Administration has been touting the "Salute to America" extravaganza as a celebration meant to honor the American military. Trump, however, has come under significant criticism from veterans and legislators who say that his event is putting undue stress on armed service members, politicizing a traditionally non-partisan celebration of American independence, and costing taxpayers too much money.
Trump tweeted on Tuesday that military leaders are "thrilled" to participate. Pentagon officials, meanwhile, referred questions to the White House. Military officials would not say on the record whether Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, plans to attend.
After learning of President Trump's plans, VoteVets sent out an email newsletter Sunday, which in part read, "Donald Trump is turning the national 4th of July celebration into a 2020 campaign event... That's not what America is about."
The USS John S. McCain shirts are intended to redirect focus onto celebrating independence and honoring those who have served or are serving this country selflessly to defend the freedom of all Americans, according to the organizations.
"July 4 is about coming together as a country, to celebrate what has bound us together since 1776 – the belief in something bigger than yourself," said Jon Soltz, Iraq War veteran and chair of VoteVets. "While VoteVets and John McCain never much saw eye-to-eye on policy, and probably still would not if he was around today, his family's service to America spoke to that sense of realizing this nation is bigger than just one man. Honoring that kind legacy – especially of a political opponent's – seemed fitting for July 4."
VoteVets was founded in 2006 to use public issue campaigns as a tool to give a voice to veterans on policy issues that affect them, like matters of national security and veterans' care. More than 600,000 veterans, military family members and their supporters have backed VoteVets.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.