Due to the controversy surrounding President Trump’s phone call to a Gold Star family whose son was killed recently while serving in Niger, White House Press Secretary turned the podium over to Chief of Staff John Kelly at the White House press briefing Thursday afternoon.
Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson stirred up a media firestorm this week, claiming that President Trump was insensitive in the way he handled his call to the wife of fallen soldier Sgt. La David Johnson, who was one of four U.S. Army Special Forces members killed during a mission in Niger this month.
Wilson said she overheard the president say to Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, on Tuesday, that Johnson “must have known what he signed up for.”
President Trump has said that was taken completely out of context.
“Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!” President Trump tweeted out Wednesday morning.
John Kelly’s own son, Marine Second Lieutenant Robert Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. With emotion in his voice, he explained Thursday just what happens with an American military member loses their life in combat while serving in a foreign country. He explained how the soldier’s body is recovered by their comrades, flown to Europe, then flown to Dover Air Force Base, where the body is embalmed and escorted home to their families.
He also described how the casualty officer goes to the home of the fallen soldier’s family and breaks the sad news.
“These are the best one percent this country produces,” Kelly said of the fallen heroes. He explained which military officials, to include the president, write letters to the families, and said the phone calls that mean the most to the families are those from the fallen soldier’s comrades.
“Some presidents have elected to call, and all presidents send letters,” Kelly said, adding that there’s no perfect way to make such a difficult phone call.
He said he first recommended to President Trump that he not make the phone calls to the families because it is such a difficult circumstance.
Kelly recollected that when his own son was killed, President Obama did not call his family, and said President Bush did not call in every case either. However, President Trump elected to make the phone call to the families of the four military members killed in Niger and asked Kelly for advice on the best way to do it.
Kelly explained that he told Trump: “There’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden of these families,” but he explained that what meant the most to him was when his best friend said of his own son, “He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining the 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.”
“That’s what the president tried to say to the four families the other day. I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning … and broken-hearted, when I saw what a member of Congress was doing,” Kelly said, slamming Wilson’s criticism of President Trump’s efforts to express his condolences.
“He’s a brave man, a fallen hero, he knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted, there’s no reason to enlist, he enlisted,” Kelly said of Johnson. “And it was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken. That was the message that was transmitted.”
“It stuns me that a member of congress listened in on that conversation,” Kelly said, adding, “I thought at least that was sacred. I just thought the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that might be sacred.”
“When I listened to this woman and what she was saying, and what she was doing on TV, the only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go and walk among the finest men and women on this earth, at the Arlington National Cemetery,” Kelly said.
Watch video of Kelly’s complete statement below:
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