Hair Force One

Donald Trump was never involved with Tower Air, nor could we find any evidence he ever transported stranded Gulf War soldiers.

Claim: Donald Trump's Tower Air supplied flights home for Gulf War soldiers in 1991 when they faced otherwise long waits for military transportation.

False

Example: [Collected via e-mail, March 2016]

Loyal by Ron Knouse

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?

Origin:An anecdote about Donald Trump, Tower Air, and stranded Gulf War soldiers appeared from the ether in February 2016.  The story, attributed to a veteran named "Ron Knouse," held that Trump stepped in with his airline (Tower Air, according to this story) to aid soldiers during that conflict when the military failed to do right by them, and seemed to originate from a web site called The Trump Times.

Tower Air went out of business in 2000, and we could find no evidence linking Trump to the company in any capacity during its operational years. A December 1994 New York Times article (about an incident of vandalism at John F. Kennedy Airport) named former El Al marketing official Morris K. Nachtomi as the airline's CEO and founder:

Mr. Nachtomi, who founded Tower after retiring as a marketing official at El Al, said that no operational systems were disabled, only monitoring systems, like equipment that tells whether an engine is running too hot.

A December 1985 New York Times article included Tower among several airlines chartered to transport United States military servicemen:

Altogether, the Military Airlift Command, which is the main long-range air transport unit for the American armed forces, will have chartered about 2,000 flights aboard commercial aircraft this year by the end of the month.

Those chartered carriers will have moved 1.2 million passengers for the Defense Department between the United States and duty overseas, or between foreign nations, according to Air Force officers ... Air Force officers said the chartering of commercial aircraft to transport troops and other Defense Department personnel was a policy set by Congress in 1960. That policy, they said, was intended to keep the Government out of the military passenger business and to have the Military Airlift Command concentrate on carrying cargo.

In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Government paid $422 million to airlines chartered to transport military personnel ... Among the other companies from which chartered flights are obtained, Air Force officers said, are well-known airlines like United, Continental, and Pan American, as well as less-known lines like Tower International, America Trans Air, and Evergreen International.

The National Air Carrier Association provided further information about charters during the first Gulf War. The airlines' involvement (including that of Tower) was described as "commercial" in nature:

NACA's member carriers were essential to the early and sustained success of the United States military in the Persian Gulf War (Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm) in 1990 and 1991.  NACA's members were the first to volunteer to assist DOD as soon as the Iraqi invasion was discovered and more than a week before CRAF was activated. On August 8, 1990, World Airways, a NACA founding member, landed the first commercial airlift of U.S. troops to Dhahran Air Base, Saudi Arabia. American Trans Air, Evergreen, Southern Air Transport, and Tower offered similar early and frequent volunteer airlift. Early in the Operation, American Trans Air offered all of its long-range fleet DOD if DOD would promise to keep them gainfully occupied. NACA member carriers offered continuing strong support throughout the following year of operations, with members American Trans Air, Evergreen, Southern Air Transport, Tower Air, and World Airways flying more than 1500 of the approximately 5000 commercial missions to and from the Arabian Peninsula.

A July 2015 article in NYC Aviation detailed Trump's short-lived airline industry involvement, but with an entirely separate carrier, Eastern Air Shuttle (which he immediately rebranded Trump Shuttle):

CEO Frank Lorenzo ... began selling off assets including the prized Shuttle operation. Donald Trump placed a winning bid for the Shuttle, its aircraft and landing slots at LaGuardia and National for $380 million dollars that was financed through no less than 22 banks. The newly branded Trump Shuttle took the skies on June 7, 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 ... In September of 1990 Trump defaulted on his loan and control of the airline went back to the banks led by Citibank.

Trump did have a short-lived foray into commercial air travel, and it took place during the same timeframe as the first Gulf War conflict.  However, Trump Shuttle operated only domestically and was never in the Gulf region.

Further, Trump was never a known investor or stakeholder in the now-defunct Tower Air, which was one of several airlines that contracted with the Department of Defense to provide charter flights to soldiers abroad (funded not by altruism, but by the United States government).

A reader who identified herself as a former flight attendant for Tower Air told us that he had no connection with the company: 

As a former Flight Attendant with Tower Air, I can confirm Donald Trump had no connection with Tower Air ... this is a [farce]. Morris Nachtomi was the owner. We did take troops in and out of the Gulf area as well as many other war areas. But not with or thru DT...

It's possible the writer of this piece confused Tower Air as the airline with which Trump was briefly involved during the same period, mistakenly associating the "Tower" portion of the carrier's name with the prominent Trump Tower. It's also possible the author's gratitude about returning home in time for Easter created a rose-tinted (but inaccurate) memory that Donald Trump had saved the holiday for him in 1991. However, the chain of events detailed in rumors today doesn't match the records of ownership and DoD charter airline contracts from the 1980s and 1990s.

In May 2016, syndicated talk radio host Sean Hannity aired a similar item, saying that Donald Trump had sent a plane to give 200 stranded U.S. marines a needed ride home after Operation Desert Storm in 1991:

When Corporal Ryan Stickney and 200 of his fellow Marines prepared to return to their families after Operation Desert Storm in 1991, a logistics error forced them to turn to a surprising source for a ride home: Donald J. Trump.

Today, Stickney would like to say "thank you."

Stickney (left), was a squad leader in a TOW company of a Marine reserve unit based in Miami, FL and spent approximately six months in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War between 1990 and 1991.

Upon his unit’s return to the United States, the former Marine says the group spent several weeks decompressing at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina before heading back to Miami.

Stickney recalls being told that a mistake had been made within the logistics unit and that an aircraft wasn’t available to take the Marines home on their scheduled departure date.

This — according to Stickney — is where Donald Trump comes in.

"The way the story was told to us was that Mr. Trump found out about it and sent the airline down to take care of us. And that’s all we knew….I remember asking 'Who is Donald Trump?' I truly didn't know anything about him," the former Marine said.

Corporal Stickney snapped a photo to remember the day by:

plane

The unit in question is the Anti-Tank (TOW) Company out of Broward County. They shipped out in late November, 1990 for Camp Lejeune using chartered commercial flights, which is actually quite relevant and will come up again.

After serving and returning to Camp Lejeune, the TOW Company was scheduled to return on either the 21st or 22nd of April, 1991. They eventually made it back on the 22nd after experiencing flight delays, which seems to corroborate the story a bit from CPL Ryan Stickney. In fact, I was also able to confirm that there was a CPL “Stickey” in the unit and, due to the obvious issues with the scanning technology used to ingest the Command Chronology, there could have easily been a missed letter there or something to that nature. I’m fairly certain it’s him.

So the story up until that point seems pretty much on-point. The photo in that article even had a plane with the TRUMP name on the side. So I started to think it might be legitimate.

I then researched the other side of the equation: the “Trump Side”. First, that’s not Trump’s private 727 jet; it’s one of the jets in the Trump Shuttle fleet. I wondered if maybe Trump’s jet back in those days was painted differently, so I researched his private jet as of April 1991. I found that Trump was deep in the red, financially, and having to liquidate assets, one of which was his personal 727. The sale of that jet was finalized in the first week of May 1991, making it highly unlikely he was also flying reservists around while discussing the sale at the end of April.

(Additionally, not that the source is incredibly reliable, but in the book TRUMPED! the author is quoted as saying that Trump “wouldn't let big-time gamblers fly to Atlantic City on his private jet because 'I don't want these high-roller slobs {urinating} on my toilet seat.'" If true, I have a hard time believing he would let Marines, to whom he had shown no prior affinity, do the same either.)

Then, my thoughts turned to Trump Shuttle: could Trump have ordered one of the company jets to take on this mission? Even that turns out to be hardly plausible, because “In September 1990, Trump defaulted on the loan and the banks took over (Trump Shuttle). During 1991, the price of oil surged to $32 as war raged in Kuwait. The banks searched far and wide for a buyer before they reached a long-term agreement with US Air to manage the airline until 1996, and then to buy it.” So by April 1991, Donald Trump no longer even controlled the planes that flew with his name on them.

My thought is that the Marine, CPL Stickney, flew back on a Trump Shuttle commercial flight that the folks at Lejeune were able to get to help them after experiencing logistical issues, but the association with Donald Trump himself seems to be purely hearsay from Stickney, who referenced "the way the story was told to us ..." but never stated who said it or where that information came from. I could understand if he simply misunderstood the underlying nature of things at play back in 1991 and has since attributed it to his now-favorite candidate.

Last updated: 31 May 2016

Originally published: 01 March 2016

sources:

Andino, Gabe.   "Remember That One Time Donald Trump Owned an Airline?" 
  NYC Aviation.   9 July 2015.

Halloran, Richard.   "Charter Airlines Carry Many Military Travellers."
  The New York Times.   19 December 1985.

O'Donnell, John R. and Rutherford, James.  
  Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump-His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall.   Simon & Schuster: May 1991.   ISBN: 978-0671737351

  "Our History."   National Air Carrier Association.



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