From an editorial Friday in the Chicago Tribune:
President Donald Trump may or may not have said something insensitive or excessively blunt to the widow of a soldier killed earlier this month in Niger. We don’t know. No one has produced a transcript of the conversation yet.
But when Trump called the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida also listened in.
That’s less than ideal. The congresswoman is reportedly a close friend of the family, but also a noted Trump detractor. That injects politics where it shouldn’t be.
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But our point is a larger one than whether Trump’s remarks were misconstrued or inappropriate.
The fact is, Trump made the call – even after his chief of staff, John Kelly, a retired Marine general whose son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, advised against it. Trump made the call after Kelly told him that other presidents didn’t always call every family of a fallen soldier. Kelly said that when his son was killed, his family did not get a call.
“If you elect to call a family like this, it is about the most difficult thing you could imagine,” Kelly said. “There’s no perfect way to make that phone call. When I took this job and talked to President Trump about how to do it, my first recommendation was he not do it. Because it’s not the phone call that parents, family members, are looking forward to.”
Kelly elaborated: “Typically the only phone calls the family receives are the most important phone calls they could imagine, and that is from their buddies. In my case, hours after my son was killed, his friends were calling us from Afghanistan telling us what a great guy he was. Those are the only phone calls that really matter, and yeah, the letters count to a degree, but there’s not much that really can take the edge off what a family member’s going through.”
Kelly said Trump asked him what he should say. Kelly responded with something that every American should hear, something that his casualty officer said to him when his son was killed: “He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war, and when he died … he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends.”
He was doing what he wanted to do. Strip out the politics and that’s the essence.
Let’s all take a deep breath, set aside political rancor and honor the four soldiers who died serving this country in Niger.