27/09/2017 2:16 AM AEST | Updated 28/09/2017 3:35 AM AEST

This 97-Year-Old World War II Vet Joined NFL Players By Bending A Knee

On Saturday, President Donald Trump harshly criticized National Football League players who kneel during the national anthem — saying that someone who does so is a “son of a bitch” and that players who kneel should be fired.

John Middlemas, a 97-year-old World War II veteran who lives in Missouri, could not stand for the president’s contempt of the first amendment.

So, on Sunday he bent a knee to show his solidarity with the athletes, who kneel as a way to protest racial injustice. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick spearheaded the movement last season.

And a photo of Middlemas kneeling has gone viral.

“My grandfather really did not like the president using vulgar language to basically say that people didn’t have the right to protest and the right to expression,” Brennan Gilmore, Middlemas’ grandson told HuffPost. Gilmore, 38, posted the photo on Twitter Sunday.

“He is very inspired by the belief that we as a country need to have discussions and we can’t stifle them,” Gilmore added. “He believes that the core American values of free speech, the ability to protest and the need to discuss in a unified way is fundamental to who we are as a country.”

Brennan Gilmore
Brennan Gilmore with his grandpa, John Middlemas.

In fact, Middlemas believes in those convictions so deeply that he served on submarines in the Navy for 21 years during World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War to protect them.

Brennan Gilmore
John Middlemas during his 21 years of service.

“He’s fiercely proud of his country and his service,” Gilmore said. “The photo of him kneeling is a nice statement from someone who had moral authority to speak of what veterans fought for.”

Other veterans have also been expressing their support for NFL players who choose to take a knee.

Gilmore said that his grandpa, who considers Martin Luther King Jr. as one of heroes, has always had a commitment to social justice and civil rights.

“Those values stem from his deep Christian faith,” Gilmore said. “I think he sees the messages of Christ about unity, equality and taking care of your fellow man should be followed, regardless of your race. He’s always taught and emphasized that to all of his 32 grandkids.”

Middlemas backs up that statement in a brief interview he did with Missouri newspaper, the Springfield News-Leader.

“I wanted to communicate what I always told to my grand-kids and everybody else,” Middlemas told the paper. “When they’d go to bed at night, we’d tell the kids we wanted to be like Jesus.”

And as one of Middlemas’ brood, Gilmore thanks his granddad for instilling those values in him.

“It’s impossible for my heart to be more full for my grandfather,” Gilmore told HuffPost. “He is a magical person and has always been. He’s just full of life, vitality, love and trust. There’s been an overwhelming positive response to his picture, and for me, it’s just amazing to share his beauty with the world.”