Less than a few weeks ago, Khizr Khan — the father of fallen U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan — took the podium at the Democratic convention and literally whipped out the U.S. Constitution on Donald Trump. He questioned whether the Republican presidential nominee had even read the document, which is a fair question since Trump has claimed to defend articles of the document that don’t exist. Trump’s response about his enormous “sacrifices” included an assumption that Khizr did not allow his wife, Ghazala, to speak. In reality, she remains too overcome by grief to discuss her son’s 2004 death from a car bomb in Iraq.
What followed were several exchanges between the Khans and Trump, which kicked off the beginning of a very bad week for the real estate mogul. The Khans feel a bit overwhelmed by their instant celebrity, but a few days ago, Khan spoke with NPR and expressed no regrets for his DNC speech. Khan said he’d “do it [a] hundred million times” in order to show the world “the true America, the decent America, the good America.”
The New York Times has now published a sprawling profile of the Khan family. The piece goes way back to the Khans’ 1970s courtship in Pakistan and their immigration to the U.S., where Khizr graduated from Harvard Law School in 1986, and both became citizens. Over the decades, he has always carried a pocket constitution and disbursed them to anyone who visited his home:
In the Khan home, a stack of them always lay at the ready. Guests showed up and they were handed one, in the way other hosts might distribute a party favor. Mr. Khan wanted it to stimulate a conversation about liberty, a cherished topic of his. He liked to point out that he lives nearly in the shadow of Monticello, home of one of his heroes, Thomas Jefferson. Mrs. Khan liked to say, “We need Thomas Jefferson.”
The Khans lived in several cities, including Houston, but after Humayan’s death, they settled in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they became regulars at events for the Army R.O.T.C. program at the University of Virginia. The program’s former commander, Tim Leroux, describes Khizr as “the most patriotic person I’ve ever met.” He distances Khizr from the bumper-sticker crowd, for Khizr has “a more profound … a complete understanding of what liberty and democracy mean.” Through their patronage of entering Army cadets, the Khan family began healing:
The Army R.O.T.C. program became a part of their restoration. Tim Leroux, who was the commander from 2009 to 2012 and retired a lieutenant colonel, saw them as the “mom and pop of the department.” It became one of their rocks. They attended all its formal events.
At the annual commissioning ceremony, Mr. Khan always spoke. When the cadets took the oath, he told them, they needed to think hard about their pledge to defend the Constitution, to reflect on what they were pledging to defend, because his son died for that document.
And he would give each graduate one of his pocket Constitutions.
The profile also contains details from Captain Humayun Khan’s last months in Iraq. One of his former soldiers, Sgt. Crystal Selby, spoke to The Times about how Humayun taught everyone how to be a “better human being” through his own actions, which can be read in the full profile. Selby also discussed the day of Khan’s death, which happened on his scheduled day off. Khan wanted to check his compound’s gate, so Selby drove him to the destination. Two suicide bombers were approaching the gate in a taxi, and Khan “shouted for his men to hit the dirt” but walked towards the taxi in an attempt to stop it. In 2004, he was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.