Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) set off a media frenzy this week, claiming she had overheard President Trump make a heartless comment to the widow of slain U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson, that the soldier “knew what he signed up for.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not deny that the president made the comments when she was asked about them during an afternoon press briefing on Wednesday (Oct. 18), but said that his words were well-intentioned and “taken very far out of context.”
Yesterday (Oct. 19), an emotional White House Chief of Staff (retired Marine Corps) General John Kelly made an impromptu appearance at the White House press briefing. He described how the U.S. military treats, with great dignity, the bodies of military members slain overseas, how the families of slain soldiers are informed, and that he was “stunned” and “broken hearted” by Congresswoman Wilson’s negative description of President Trump’s call to the widow of Sgt. Johnson.
General Kelly himself had lost a son, 29-year-old First Lieutenant Robert Kelly, in Afghanistan in 2010. He said that “typically,” it’s the company commander — as well as the Secretary of Defense and the President of the United States — who writes a letter of condolence to the family.
As for phone calls, while all presidents write letters, only “some presidents have elected to call,” and that “there’s no perfect way” to make that very difficult phone call.
Kelly said when President Trump asked him about making the phone call, his first recommendation was “not do it because it’s not the phone call that the family members are looking forward to.” Trump then asked Kelly what previous presidents had said to the families of slain soldiers. Kelly said:
“I said I could tell you that President Obama — who was my commander in chief when I was on active duty — did not call my family. That was not a criticism. That was just to simply say I don’t believe President Obama called. That’s not a negative thing. I don’t believe President Bush called in all cases. I don’t believe any president, particularly when the casualty rates are very, very high, that presidents call. I believe they all write.”
Kelly said that Trump decided to make phone calls to the families of four soldiers killed earlier this month, and asked what he should say. Kelly told Trump what his best friend and casualty officer Joe Dumphy had said when he delivered the news of Robert Kelly’s death:
“He was doing exactly what he wanted to when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining the Marines, that one 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.”
In other words, what President Trump said to the widow of Sgt. Johnson was precisely what the casualty officer had said to General Kelly about his slain son.
Today, Natasha De Alencar, a Gold Star widow of Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, a member of the 7th Special Forces group who was fatally shot in Afghanistan on April 8, 2017, released the transcript and video of the phone call she’d received from President Trump on April 12.
In the video of the 4-minute phone call obtained by CNN, President Trump is heard saying how sorry he was about the “whole situation”. Trump said about Sgt. De Alencar:
“He’s an unbelievable hero and you know all the people that served with him are saying how incredible he was. If you’re around Washington, you come over and see me in the Oval Office.”
Natasha De Alencar told the Washington Post of President Trump’s call:
“At that moment when my world was upside down and me and my kids didn’t know which way we were going, it felt like I was talking to just another regular human. It was a moment of niceness that we needed because we were going through hell.”
To Congresswoman Frederica Wilson:
Go fornicate yourself!